The Disrupt Property database features a number of startups using technology to understand neighbourhood data, land parcels and unearth development opportunities. Citiesense is the most recent one we have discovered, currently in beta stage while it fine tunes its New York city focused platform. We got in touch with Co-Founder Starling Childs to understand their approach to unlocking city data.

What is the story behind citiesense?

The neighbourhood is a fundamental unit in the city planning and development process. However, analysing neighbourhoods and understanding the drivers behind economic performance of specific areas in cities remains a big challenge, for which there is no real solution – even in cities with a lot of available data, like New York City. Considering how much of the world’s population is moving to cities, forcing urban areas to change, in some cases, dramatically, neighbourhood communities simply can’t afford not to be more proactive and responsive to opportunities for local development going forward.

Decisions about where, what and when to build new buildings, improve infrastructure, or open new businesses are big decisions that impact cities at the neighbourhood scale. To help with these decisions, Citiesense is establishing a ‘Neighbourhood Knowledge Platform™’,  enabling cities to organise fresh information for the real estate industry, from the neighbourhood up, and drive development toward the best outcomes. The platform is currently being created and tested in partnership with several neighbourhood organisations in New York City that manage Business Improvement Districts (BIDs).

Who is the team behind it?

The team behind Citiesense has backgrounds in city planning, real estate development, and smart cities technology. Before starting Citiesense, I worked as a land use consultant and urban designer, helping neighbourhood communities around the world create plans for development. Carl has a background in real estate development and architecture. Volkan is a full-stack software engineer and was a former Code for America brigade captain. He joined Citiesense after getting to know me through working together at hackathons and early prototypes of their Neighborhood Knowledge Platform.

What is the business model?

Citiesense is a B2B SaaS platform. We have freemium features available to anyone interested in analysing specific areas or neighbourhoods in New York City and tracking the development activity in these areas in real time. We are also currently in the process of private beta testing our Neighbourhood Knowledge Platform™ with a subset of New York City’s local development organisations managing Business Improvement Districts.

What technology is the platform built on?

Our stack is built on Ruby on Rails on the backend and React on the frontend. We use Postgres as our database and the PostGIS extension for geospatial queries.

Who are you clients?

Our clients are neighbourhood organisations that manage Business Improvement Districts in New York City. Citiesense also provides services to municipal clients, including the City of Bridgeport, CT. These early adopters represent some of the most innovative neighbourhoods in the world.

How is this different to something like OppSites or Land Insight?

As a knowledge management platform for neighbourhoods, Citiesense offers services for organising and maintaining local information about cities. Citiesense is not a property search website. While some of the features of the platform can be used to search for specific properties in a city, the service is designed for neighbourhood-scale data analysis and information sharing, and this requires us to do things a differently than sites like Oppsites and in particular. Our customers rely on Citiesense more for data management and analysis than for promoting or searching for specific properties.

What are your plans for expansion?

We’re focused on our private beta testing in New York City for 2017, however, we have early conversations started with several cities and neighbourhoods outside NYC interested in deploying the platform for their local communities. We will begin scaling geographically in 2018 and publicly launch the platform for the rest of country then.

Tell us about the Urban-X process / experience?

URBAN-X is an accelerator program in New York City that focuses on startups solving complex urban challenges and changing people’s lives in cities. We participated in the second cohort for the program. This culminated in a demo day a few weeks ago on May 4th. It was a great experience. It helped us strengthen our existing value proposition and focus on a long-term strategy for our platform’s growth and development. One of the most rewarding aspects of the program was, without a doubt, the people we connected with through it – including the other 7 amazing urban tech companies in our cohort.

The focus is on BIDs – how does this mean the information is different if the focus were on development opportunities?

Focusing on BIDs simply means providing services that serve the needs of these unique groups, specifically the local community organisations that manage BIDs. The information BIDs maintain about their areas in cities is similar to the information that a developer or broker might manage, but it goes deeper. BIDs make it there job to know all there is to know about a neighbourhood, which is something our platform helps them with by connecting their data with data from many fragmented government sources. Connecting BIDs to government data sources with a system that enables them to add their own insight, enables them to curate a higher resolution of local insights. They keep track of things like the status and details of real estate, whether vacant retail spaces or new businesses are opening up in the area, or the performance of streetscapes based on traffic counting sensors and surveying assets like bicycle racks, street lights and tree pits as well as tracking outstanding 311 complaints.

What stage are we at in terms of smart cities (in your opinion) and what are the biggest opportunities?

Smart cities are just beginning to become recognisable. The larger cities around the world have now adopted some degree of IoT infrastructure to track the performance of public services and utilities. These systems are all 1.0 for this, generally replacing legacy technologies that for many US cities are roughly a century old. Opportunities to optimise the delivery of infrastructure and utilities have been a sensible beachhead for smart cities technology. Going forward, we’re going to see a more integrated “user experience” approach to making a city ‘smart’, not only from utility sensors but from the interaction of people living and working in cities with their neighbourhoods. As far as we’re concerned, the real opportunities are going to be realised at the neighborhood-scale, where the impact of urban technology on civic society can be measured and shared more effectively, iterated on and adopted elsewhere.

We co-hosted the first Smart Districts Summit earlier this year to start a discourse about how this trend is emerging in New York City. This was the first of a series of events Citiesense is organizing in partnership with other urban tech companies at the Grand Central Tech Hub and the NYC Small Business Services agency to explore the role technology is having on walkable mixed-use neighborhoods in cities.  Stay tuned for our second event to talk more about Smart Districts later this year.

Posted by Jack FitzGerald

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