Start-Up Fights Urban Blight

Esri technology has been the catalyst for the success of many technology start-up companies. Their applications are improving communities, businesses, and the environment. Civic Insight is an example of one of these companies.

Civic Insight is a centralized platform that helps citizens find information about their city and work together to improve neighborhoods in their city. Formerly called BlightStatus, Civic Insight was launched by Code for America as a tool for tracking vacant properties. Under the leadership of Alex Pandel and Eddie Tejeda, the service transformed into a successful start-up business called Civic Insight. Its GIS platform hosts a city’s property information and shows where property is changing over time.

In the city of New Orleans, vacant and abandoned properties and other evidence of urban blight had reduced property values. This motivated citizens to get involved in solving this problem. In 2012, the city had 35,000 vacant properties. It used the BlightStatus tool to track these properties. Using the renamed tool, citizens can now go online and get information about dilapidated buildings and report run-down areas.

Civic Insight’s service runs on the Esri ArcGIS Online platform, which makes data accessible, simple to map, and easy to understand. From the City of New Orleans’ website (, residents and local organizations can search for a property on a map and learn about its ownership, inspection, and permitting history. They can also ask to receive real-time notifications about construction progress.

The city of New Orleans benefits from Civic Insight by keeping citizens informed and engaged, making government regulation more transparent, and improving interactions between citizens and city staff.

Civic Insight provides a community platform that lets citizens and local government officials see property activity and status. Before Civic Insight, people who lived in a neighborhood near new construction could not find out what was being built and who was building it. Now, any resident can go to the city’s website and, through a map interface, get information about construction in a given area.

Civic Insight makes it easier for the average person to understand permit information. The user accesses permit information, and Civic Insight shows this data on a simple map. Civic Insight partners work directly with local governments that authorize access to the city’s system for issuing permits and inspecting code violations. Civic Insight then translates the information from government-speak to citizen-speak.

Civic Insight saves time and reduces frustration when citizens interact with city government. Previously, finding out about the status of a property required tracking down a contact at city hall, calling that contact, and perhaps being put on hold or transferred to someone else before getting the right person. When the call reached the right city staff member, that person tracked down the information and called back.

Now citizens can find this information themselves, and staff are free to do other types of work. Civic Insight makes information searchable and understandable. City staff members are using the system to get a simple map that shows the status of properties.

Civic Insight improves day-to-day communications because it is integrated with the New Orleans systems and more people are able to share and combine data with other city information. Like most US cities, New Orleans already uses Esri technology to manage its data. Civic Insight builds on the existing information infrastructure, whether it is Esri technology or another system, and uses the city’s existing tiles and layers.

Organizations have the information they need for renovation. The New Orleans Economic Development group uses Civic Insight for its projects. Community rehabilitation groups, such as Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together, use the tool to better collaborate with the city. Agencies can see where they can best target resources to make the most difference.

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