Buildingeye: Mapping A Clearer City Plan

Open data — we all agree it’s awesome. Until you’re looking through thousands of lines of it on a spreadsheet for a few nuggets. Then you’re ready to tear your hair out.

Say, for instance, you want to get a handle on what planning applications or building permits have been issued in your neighborhood. There’s no way to know the permit numbers, which is the way the City’s Building or Planning Departments reference things. And you don’t really have the time (or knowledge) to pour over tabular data looking for street names and zip codes.

But, you (and anyone else) would know how to find this information on a map.

The mission of Buildingeye is to do just that — to create maps which help citizens discover building permits, planning applications, business licenses, capital projects, engineering works, public events, and other civic activities in a convenient, accessible way.

Not only can citizens get online to see their city’s map, they can also subscribe to email alerts based on zip code, historic district, planning district, neighborhood, or any other shape the city offers. The data is updated daily, so citizens can tell what’s happening day-to-day.

Buildingeye is especially handy for realtors who can follow properties in their offices, turning off ones when they leave the pipeline or after a designated amount of time. They can also conduct keyword searches, use Buildingeye’s integrated analytical tools, and retrieve contact information of the city planner responsible for any given project.

“We are giving the public self-service access to this information,” Buildingeye’s CEO and Founder, Ciaran Gilsenan, told Socrata in a phone interview. “Even though many cities offer this information online already, it’s not easily accessed by people. Our app is solving that problem.”

In turn, Buildingeye is saving governments time. More comprehensible information for the public means fewer questions for municipalities to answer. But the app’s visualizations also help cities better understand their own building and planning.

Buildingeye’s head of product and operations, Geoff Scott, says, “We are creating a platform not just to get information out to the public, but also to share between agencies, providing more visibility within government.”

When Buildingeye mapped all of Palo Alto’s building planning applications, the city was surprised to see a high number of projects which should have been closed out were still open. The maps Buildingeye created helped the city see what records were not being tended to and guided them to update their records.

Buildingeye also allows cities to dissect how long it’s taking to process applications, how many come in a month, and provides other tools to help manage workflows and public relations.

As a civil engineer involved in building and planning for over 12 years, Gilsenan understands what information cities actually need. “We know the pain points for planners, so BuildingEye visualizes what’s happening in the city as a whole. That helps planners spot trends and analyze them geographically.”

“We have a lot of GIS, data analytics, and domain expertise,” Gilsenan asserts. “So we can do the analytics that others don’t. That includes analyzing data by neighborhoods and districts, looking at backlogs and application types, and benchmarking how one city is performing versus another.”

Although the data analysis is comprehensive, for municipalities with Socrata platforms, Buildingeye can set up instances of the app in 3 to 4 hours.

In the future, Buildingeye plans to expand into code enforcement, planning, and capital projects, which could include transportation lines, roads, and other infrastructure. This will help cities get an even clearer picture of out-year plans and potential buyers tell if an area is up-and-coming. For citizens, later versions of the app will also integrate public hearings, to keep the public informed about upcoming meetings.

This post is part of a series about apps available through the Socrata Marketplace.

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