Kansas City, Missouri Visualizes Digital Divide

The city of Kansas City, Missouri recently released an open data portal that visualizes the area’s digital divide – the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not. The data set showcases public data available through the Federal Communications Commision as well as income data, monitored by the city’s Housing and Urban Development office. The portal allows the viewer to hover a cursor over the various areas in the city and compare poverty levels with the maximum advertised broadband speeds, as provided by various internet service providers. The data portal also includes real-time location mapping of both the Kansas City Area Transit Authority buses and the Kansas City Streetcar Authority streetcars.

“A picture is worth 1,000 words and I think data visualization is probably worth 10,000,” Rick Usher, assistant city manager for small business and entrepreneurship said.  “This is helping us visualize the neighborhoods that the city needs to focus on most. … The neighborhoods that are the least connected are the same neighborhoods where life expectancy is the lowest. Connectivity is a foundational component of neighborhood stabilization and economic mobility. Digital equity is the infrastructure underneath job creation, education and entrepreneurship — digital citizenship initiatives are really going to help increase people’s chances of economic mobility.”

It is expected that the mapping will assist the city in implementing the recommendations of the Digital Equity Strategic Plan, as well as help residents make informed decisions when subscribing for Internet services. The city also hopes that more community organizations will share the data portal to foster opportunities to improve residents’ lives.

“The city has limited funds so we have to allocate those as the Kansas City Council sees appropriate,” Usher said. “What we really see the city’s role is in connecting all of these digital equity initiatives and helping validate the fact that they are necessary.”