311 calls in brooklyn (by zip code)
AbstractThroughout New York City (as with many urban areas) there are a multitude of community gardens, a neighborhood effort to create a green collective space.  Research has shown that the construction and maintenance of these spaces has positive mental health benefits for a community.  This article studies whether these positive effects can be seen on an aggregate level.  To determine this, I used 311 noise complaint data, which serves as a proxy for neighborhood cohesion.  Both datasets were mapped, to compare regions at the zip code level.  A two sample null hypothesis t-test was conducted, showing a statistically significant difference in 311 counts between zip codes with gardens and zip codes without.  Finally, a Pearson's R Correlation Coefficient was taken between 311 counts and community garden counts was taken, indicating a moderate correlation between the two variables.IntroductionGlobally, researchers have commented at great length on the increased societal problems that come with increased urbanization.  According to Kingsley et al. (2006, pp 526)1 at the University of Melbourne, Australia, there is an increased isolation and atomization inherent in modern cities.  This isolation brings a host of physical, mental, and social deficiencies in city residents.  Kingsley cites that  such isolation has been linked even to increased mortality rates, through physical ailments such as a strokes, or increased risk of suicide.  One potential answer to this problem is the introduction of community gardens and other green spaces.  While results are preliminary (and primarily anecdotal), researchers at Western Sydney University cite positive sentiments on the part of residents they interviewed for the Royal Botanical Garden2.  Participants recalled a "sense of safety" from working with others, as well as making new friends.  There was also a feeling of accomplishment an purpose in life, which served as a strengthening mechanism.A great deal of the past and current research on the benefits of community gardens has focused on individual benefits.  However, is it possible to see these benefits on a grander scale?  Do entire neighborhoods exhibit symptoms that indicate the positive societal benefits that community gardens potentially bring?  Finding such a variable is not a simple exercise, as many social outcomes are highly covariant.  It can be difficult to settle on something an parse out a specific causation.  However, one must start somewhere.  The focus of this piece was a proxy variable that has a lot of data, and that can potentially serve as an aggregate indicator of community garden impact.The invention of 311 was in Baltimore, in 1996.  The purpose was to create a central customer-service directory for citizens to call and deal with any issues they may have in their neighborhoods.  It made its way to the NYC municipality in 2003.  Data was collected on every call, including address, zip code, status, etc.  All of this data (for NYC) was publicly released in 2013, with the advent of the NYC Open Data portal system.  Researchers have identified that there is a bias in 311 calls towards neighborhoods with higher rates of homeownership and quantities of families with small children (Minkoff 2015)3.  Despite the potential biases inherent in the dataset, there are useful patterns to be gleaned from this large dataset (19million rows and counting).DataIn order to conduct this analysis, three datasets were used.  As was previously noted, the NYC OpenData Portal holds a dataset of all 311 calls from 2010 to present day.  This dataset is updated daily, so results are always changing.  I downloaded the dataset on December 14, to ensure the most up-to-date data was present.  Additionally, the Department of Parks and Recreation has also uploaded a dataset of all community gardens in their registry.  This dataset is uploaded monthly, although the according to the site, the last update was September 10, 2018.  A shape file (dataset of geographical location for map plotting) was also downloaded from NYC Open Data, to create plots at the zip code level.All datasets were downloaded programmatically using Python, where subsequent data wrangling and analysis was conducted.  The 311 dataset was filtered as follows:1) Only Brooklyn zip codes2) Only call type "Noise Complaint Residential"This filtering took place for several reasons.  Analyzing one borough made the dataset more manageable.  It also allows for future, more robust analysis in the future.  It is possible that when studying all five boroughs, any mistakes made here can be corrected.  Noise complaints were the ideal proxy for social cohesion, due to the range of complaint types.  It seems like a sound theoretical basis to study whether Brooklyn residents call the government on their neighbors, as opposed to calling to fix a road.Once filtered, both 311 calls and community gardens were mapped, as an exploratory tool.  The purpose of this plotting was to look for any overlapping of frequency.
Introduction        One of society's most pressing - and oft overlooked - issues is the question of food security.  Particularly, how will a growing population, increasingly moving to urban locations, produce and distribute enough food for everyone.  According to the United Nations1, the human population will exceed 9 billion by the year 2050.  More than half of that population will be living in cities, far removed from sources of food production.  At the same time, current agricultural practices are depleting arable land resources, and producing greenhouses gases, affecting the global climate.  To combat this, scientists, entrepreneurs, and the citizenry at large have sought various solutions.  However, what if there was a solution that dealt with all agricultural issues at once?  There may in fact be such a solution: vertical farms.          Constructed within cities, vertical farms are completely enclosed indoor spaces, using advanced farming and data science techniques to create the most ideal growing conditions possible.  Having local-grown fresh produce in such a scalable way would be the future of agriculture.  However, imagining such vertical farms and bringing them to life are entirely different tasks.  The rest of the essay will deal with the promise of vertical farms, as well barriers to them truly being a viable alternative to conventional farming.  Finally we attempt a preliminary inquiry into the benefit vertical farms serve at this current moment.Conventional Farming and its Discontents        Dr. Dickson Despommier, professor of Microbiology at Columbia University, is one of the leading academics on vertical farms.  In his book, The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st century, he states that current arable land usage is approximately the size of South America.  As the population grows, nations will need even more land, about the size of Brazil, in order to feed everyone2.  This amount of land just doesn't exist.  Clearing forests for the sake of agriculture also has tremendous side-effects.  Trees contribute to carbon sequestration, removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere that would otherwise lead to increased global warming.  Even on land that has already been cleared, farming practices make it such that the land cannot be used for successive generations.  This includes pollution (through pesticide and herbicide usage) and non-recycling of water.        Weeds, insects, and other pests pose real dangers to crop growth as well, affecting yields for seasons (hence the use of pesticides).  Any pests that do attack crops are potentially ruining a farmer's livelihood for the entire year.  None of this is accounting for the environmental costs that occur post-harvest, including the traveling of crops from farm to market (which adds to greenhouse gas emissions and food waste).A Potential Solution        With such a complex problem, a single solution is bound to be inadequate.  That being said, one solution that does hold quite a bit of promise is the invention of vertical farms.  Instead of growing out, farmers would focus upwards, stacking crops on top of each other.  This reconfiguration would drastically reduce the amount of land needed.  All environmental factors are completely regulated by humans, including light, heat, and water.  Sensors could be uploaded throughout the facility, taking constant readings on crop conditions.  Using machine learning algorithms researchers would be able to adjust conditions automatically, ensuring an ideal environment for crops through the entire growth cycle.  The farm would be entirely enclosed (think more warehouse than greenhouse), which would keep out any unwanted pests.  This would eliminate the need for pesticides and other chemicals, reducing environmental waste.  Such a shift would completely reorient the system by which cities feed themselves.  This local solution would employ city residents along the supply chain, from data scientists and farmers, to sales and product management personnel.  Locally grown food would also reduce transportation costs, in monetary terms as well as environmental harm.        Some firms have already started on this frontier work.  One such company is AeroFarms, based in Newark, New Jersey.  They have four separate facilities, tasked with different roles.  The main site is about 70,000 sq. ft, and deals with the bulk of their commercial production, along with a second commercial farm (30,000 sq. ft)3.  This is a significant reduction as compared to conventional farms (AeroFarms claims to use 1% of the land required for conventional farms with similar production rates4).  It is the next two farms, however, that should be of particular interest to urban agriculturalists, and city dwellers generally.  At 5500 sq. ft, AeroFarms hosts a Research and Development farm, testing out new crops and technologies. Their smallest farm, at only 50 sq. ft, is a school farm, in partnership with a local charter school in Newark.  At this stage, these smaller farms ironically may have the biggest impact in the city.        Given the potential benefits of vertical farms, and the increasing number of companies being supported through venture capital, it seems like the future is bright.  However, there are concerns as to how much of an impact vertical farms can have at this current moment.  Is the technology currently available to maximize the growth of vertical farms?Are We There Yet?        For all of its promise, vertical farms have major hurdles to overcome.  The biggest is crop diversity.  Vertical farms can currently only grow leafy greens (ie: kale, spinach, lettuce) at scale.  These are not viable substitutes for the grains (wheat, rice), legumes, and sugars that are consumed by the world's population.  Professor Emeritus Lou Albright, of Cornell University, conducted an economic analysis on the potential for indoor wheat production, and concluded that it was not economically feasible5.  Part of the issue was the cost associated with energy.  For a completely controlled environment, light and heat costs run high.  Sunlight, while uncontrollable, is comparatively cheap (being free and abundant).  Even the use of photovoltaic panels wouldn't be enough, seeing as the current models are between 15 to 18% efficient on average.  Compare that to modern greenhouses, which are about 70% efficient at capturing sunlight.  Unfortunately these issues are not likely to be rectified within our generation.  This does not mean, however, that vertical farms do not have their place in the urban economy.    Proposal: Vertical Farm in NYC        My proposal was a thought-experiment, to envision whether an AeroFarms-style facility would be possible in a mega city like New York City.  First step was to choose a location for the facility.  Several factors, including plot size, and the surrounding neighborhood, were taken into account.  AeroFarms is located in the industrial part of Newark, and it can be assumed that this is the most ideal location in a modern city.  I went to the NYC Open Data portal, using the dataset "City-owned and Leased Property (Local Law 48 of 2011)"6.  Interestingly enough, the dataset has a column designating whether it would be an ideal location for urban agriculture.  The dataset was imported to Python, where I filtered until I found a few choice candidates.  The ideal location was then plotted using Tableau Software.        Located in the Woodstock, Bronx area (zip code 10455) of NYC, the lot is currently vacant, surrounded by industrial and commercial buildings.  The lot is a collection of several smaller lots, totaling approximately 27,000 sq. ft, almost as big as AeroFarms's second commercial farm.  After consulting Google Maps, I found that across the street (conveniently enough) is a community garden, so the neighborhood has some experience with urban agriculture.  There are 18 public schools in the 10455 zip code, serving over 8,000 children, according to the NYC Department of Education7.  There is more than enough room for multiple school farms in the area, targeting the schools in closest proximity.  Additionally, a research farm could also be built, to train local willing residents on the latest skills in urban farming. Conclusion        Given the state of vertical farming, this education initiative would be the most fruitful experience.  In order for the practice to grow, technology would need to improve.  This cannot be done without a dedicated workforce with the requisite domain knowledge and skills.  Firms or municipalities looking to build urban farms will also need the support of local residents.  It would behoove them to "kill two birds with one stone", ensuring a skilled workforce and community support by training and employing neighborhood residents.  At the same time, future generations of school children will see the importance of food and STEM education through school farms.  While vertical farms may not be the panacea fix envisioned by some (at least not yet), they can still be beneficial in our current moment.Bibliographyhttps://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/world-population-prospects-the-2017-revision.htmlDespommier, Dickson. The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century. Picador, 2010.https://aerofarms.com/farms/https://aerofarms.com/environmental-impact/http://cea.cals.cornell.edu/resourcesPublications/otherResources/Albright%20vertical%20farms%20April%202015.pdfhttps://data.cityofnewyork.us/City-Government/City-owned-and-Leased-Property-Local-Law-48-of-201/4e2n-s75zhttps://www.schools.nyc.gov/