Get A Status Update On Your NYC Neighborhood In The Form Of A Weekly Cartoon

What’s the mood in Williamsburg? Or the Upper West Side? These cartoons combine the power of 311 data and creativity to let you know how your ‘hood is faring.

Nations have poet laureates. Imagine cities had a cartoonist version. In Iris Gottleib‘s rendition of New York, street litter in NYC’s Upper West Side is portrayed as an obstacle course. A barking dog’s impatient inner dialogue is shown as it waits tied up outside a Greenwich Village ice cream shop.


Gottleib’s single panel cartoons look like something you’d see in the pages of the New Yorker. But they are a bit more cutting-edge than that. They’re part of a research project run at Microsoft that is looking at how data can be used to create new ways for citizens to engage in and talk about hyperlocal issues.

The project, called HereHere NYC, analyzes the daily data from 311, the city’s line for citizen complaints, to create a weekly “mood” profile for each New York City neighborhood. When we first covered the project in March, citizens were able to sign up for daily email updates that described the mood of their neighborhood, follow a Twitter feed, or play around with a map.

Responding to feedback from the 700 or so subscribers that they wanted something that’s more easily digestable, Microsoft researcher Kati London struck on the idea of a weekly cartoon.

The weekly cartoons for each of 42 NYC neighborhoods are generated through a recipe. Each is based on one critical weekly 311 issue in each neighborhood–it could be an improvement or a worsening condition–and the neighborhood’s “emotional response” to that issue, as calculated by Microsoft’s sentient data server. As the project began, Gottleib pre-generated thousands of assets, including objects, neighborhood settings, and speech bubbles. SheThe computer system then mixes and matches these assets to design a unique cartoon for each neighborhood that responds to the data each week.

Microsoft Research’s FUSE Lab is hoping to get many users subscribing over the next month so it can run a study evaluating its potential impact. London’s hope is that they are a fun way to drive more real-world civic participation.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.