Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Releases Upcoming Activities Data

A public data set has been released from the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR) Program Division. The data, which is a list of upcoming activities, can be found at Open Data Philly. It contains data that have always been available publicly but is now provided in multiple formats. Previously, activity data was only available through the City’s Find a Facility Application. Now that the data is being hosted on Open Data Philly, it can be easily downloaded in a .csv file (comma separated list) or accessed programmatically through two different APIs. Documentation on how to use the data is also provided on the Open Data Philly site.

The data consists of a list of upcoming, “in-house” programs at Philadelphia Parks & Recreation facilities. In-house programs are open to the public and are run by a staff member, volunteer or fee teacher. The data has attributes including type, age, gender, facilitator type, and description. At the time of release, the data contained over 1,000 records, which is about half of the number of programs that PPR hosts each year.

Now that the data is fully accessible to the public, staff at the Program Division hope to find ways to allow for people to more easily use the data. The ultimate goal for the data and any implementation of it is to help more people become involved in PPR programming. Questions about the data or its use can be emailed to Andy Viren.

Re-Innovating Government: A Philadelphia Story

A while back, Steve Goldsmith, of Harvard University’s Ash Center for Governance and Innovation, asked me to present Philadelphia’s innovation story at a National League of Cities event. Leaders from across the country heard and asked great questions about what we have accomplished. The feedback was incredibly positive both on that day and after. The podcast version above is about a half hour long and gives an overview of our efforts that anyone can learn from. It tells the story of how we’ve re-innovated government in Philadelphia. Cities have reached out from across the country to hear about what we have done around innovation and we thought we would share this presentation more broadly in an effort to help others learn from our efforts, challenges and lessons learned. We are proud of this story; it begins with a vision, focuses on our strategy and explains how we worked to build the right team. Yes, it highlights the progress we’ve made but it also emphasizes our continuing goals for the future. We are just getting started. Many of the efforts you will hear about are foundational and are an important part of a modernization effort that is unprecedented in government. As the first City administration to come of age during the “real-time” digital age, our journey has just begun as a City. My favorite part of all of this is our great people. Who didn’t just think “outside the box” but threw that old box away to lead transformational change. It is my wish that these efforts will help keep Philadelphia at the forefront of innovation and technology for generations to come. This is our Philadelphia story. I hope it helps you write your own.

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Rich Negrin is the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director and Deputy Mayor for Administration and Coordination. Service Centered Leadership is the Managing Director’s blog series appearing on PhillyInnovates. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichNegrin.

Streets and Sustainability Data Released for Hackathon

Seven new data sets and five data set refreshes are being released in preparation for the upcoming Sustainability Hackathon, hosted by Code for Philly taking place October 16th-18th. The batch of data sets were prioritized by the Streets Department and the Office of Sustainability for release in response to public feedback received during the open data inventory process.

To see the entire list of data sets from Streets and Sustainability, go to and share your feedback on what data would be helpful if released.

Newly released data sets include:

  • Streets
    • Street Name Aliases – Table to display street names which have aliased street names associated with them.
    • Street Place Names – A listing of “places” and their corresponding addresses to be used for geocoding.
    • Track Streets – Street segments containing train tracks.
    • Intersection Control – Active intersection controls for the Street Lighting and Traffic Engineering Divisions of the City of Philadelphia Streets Department.
    • Snow Categories – Prioritized categories for snow deployment, depending on the severity of snowfall.
  • Sustainability Office

The following data sets have been refreshed:

All are available for bulk download, with most also available via an API, and will be refreshed on an ongoing basis.

What could you do with the data? Do you have ideas about how to improve sustainability efforts or analyze outcomes throughout the city of Philadelphia? Share your thoughts at the hackathon!

For more information about Open Data go to and check out the many data sets available at

New Aerial Imagery Used for World Meeting of Families Public Safety Efforts


We recently wrote about PHLMaps, the City’s mapping platform, and its addition of aerial imagery dating back to 1996.

The effort was part of a major project of the City’s GIS Services Group. The Group created multiple basemaps for the platform that integrated past aerial imagery and migrated hundreds of gigabytes of geodata to a new file server and into a more efficient raster mosaic format. (This makes it easier to publish to the web and improves its performance within server and client GIS applications.) The aerial image mosaics are available internally to the City’s GIS community (all departments and agencies) and are published as image services to PHLmaps for public consumption.  

This imagery has also been used for the upcoming World Meeting of Families event. The City has not only shared the imagery across the organization, it has shared the geodata with external organizations like the Secret Service for public safety efforts around the Pope’s visit. The aerial imagery allows public safety teams to augment their situational awareness for planning, evaluation and for real-time responses. Because the imagery is of a much higher resolution and currency than Google maps, it is vastly superior to free products on the web.

The imagery is a significant component to the mapping analysis used in daily ComStat briefings by the Commissioner of Police and his administrative and analytical staff, providing a real-world backdrop to crime incidents.

You can browse different basemaps and other data on PHLMaps. You can also download the data through the OpenDataPhilly portal.

The NFL Way: Creating a Championship Culture


People love to talk about my NFL experience. Introductions and conversations are often peppered with “and he PLAYED in the NFL!” I minimize my brief experience and say really I just PRACTICED!  In my opinion, my two years in NFL training camps (the Browns and Jets) is notable but it pales in comparison to others who have long careers in the League. I often make light of it with a good joke. It goes something like this:

“I love it when people mention my NFL experience because it gives me a chance to talk about the TERRIBLE debilitating INJURY that ended my career…… [pause] They HURT my feelings when they CUT me.”

This always brings a laugh. I poke fun at my way too short NFL “cup of coffee” but the truth is I learned a great deal in my short time in the League. Lessons that I use everyday. The most important lessons are about what it takes to build a winning culture.

It’s a real understatement to say the NFL has had a tough year. A dubious record on domestic violence, a deflate-gate scandal that marred Superbowl week, a Tom Brady suspension overturned by a federal judge, and now a Hollywood movie starring Will Smith to shine a light on the important concussion issue. All of that is enough to give the NFL a collective headache.

Despite these challenges, the NFL remains intensely popular. Last year, the NFL averaged 17.6 million viewers per regular season game. On any given Sunday (including Mon. and Thurs.), you can check in on an NFL game and see the triumph of the human spirit, the courage and physicality of the sport and, yes, the grace of many of its greatest athletes. You can see well-coordinated teamwork as a great team comes together. You can witness strong leadership and clutch performances. All of these things culminate in a remarkable experience.

It can really make a difference too. Every year, a great team with the right chemistry and culture rises to the challenge and achieves the dream of an NFL championship. And this can strongly impact fans and everyday citizens. There can be no doubt, a great team on a championship run, can LIFT an entire city.

The importance of culture has been all over the headlines. The New York Times recently published a widely read article on the culture inside e-commerce giant, Amazon. Based on interviews with over 100 current or former Amazon employees, the piece details the company’s brutal culture. Employees are pitted against each other in cut-throat competition, encouraged to rip-apart each other’s ideas in meetings and sabotage each other in online feedback. Emails are expected to be answered promptly at all hours of the night and face time rules. Employees are ranked and the lower ranked are fired every year automatically. As a result, it sounds like Amazon lacks a winning culture confirmed by the fact that the company ranks second in turnover rates for Fortune 500 companies.

Amazon could stand to learn something from winning NFL teams. The great teams which are able to strike a careful balance between hard-work, a commitment to excellence and strong team chemistry. NFL teams know that the only way to truly succeed is for everyone in the organization to feel connected to each others success and work to move forward together.  I believe many of the positive NFL lessons around culture and chemistry can be applied in any organization to achieve great results.


Shared experiences help build chemistry. Toiling together in the early morning hours, while most people are still in bed, a football team pushes through the pain and exhaustion of double and triple practices. They come together in the extreme heat of Summer when it’s 95 degrees outside and 120 degrees in their helmets. They spend hour after hour in the weight room, laying the foundation for greatness. Hour after hour in the meeting room with teammates and position coaches, setting expectations, reviewing performance. A football team comes together in the collaborative experience of the shared pursuit of excellence.  Players who are vital to each other’s success must come together for any of them to be successful. The closeness of the quarterbacks and receivers, the cohesion of an offensive line, the linebacker unit that shares a philosophy, are all critical components. These players often room together on the road, work together independently by position and then come together as a team. This happens in the offseason to accelerate chemistry and to make sure they start to get on the same page.

Champions are made when no one is watching. Long before the scrutiny of the crowds and bright lights shine. Long before the interviews and autographs. Long before any scoreboard measures their efforts. If you haven’t done the preparation and developed crucial chemistry before game day, you won’t be successful. All of these shared experiences, executed well, are the building blocks of great chemistry. The same is true for any organization. Productive shared experiences, both professional and social, drive relationship building and build chemistry.


Me sporting the common training camp beard.

Leaders Leaders Everywhere

Great teams don’t just have great leaders at the top or in key positions like the head coach or quarterback. Great teams have leaders throughout every level: the center calls the blocking scheme on the offensive line and communicates across the entire line, the Safety that calls out the defense and gets the team into position when things shift without notice.

Leaders throughout, both on the field and in the locker room, are not only critical to the success of an NFL team but to the success of any organization. Those who lead by example, who bring the energy level up and are vocal. Those who lead from the front and are the first through the drills in practice. Leaders who have one speed and always give 100%.  These players lead in the offseason while conditioning; they lead in the meeting room; they lead in the weight room; and they lead on the practice field long before they become great leaders on Sunday.

A team struggling without experienced leaders is a team that’s going to struggle. These leaders help drive the chemistry and the culture of the entire organization. They support all those around them to be better, especially the rookies. They coach the least experienced because they understand that each individual makes the whole greater. Sometimes when you see talented players released or traded from a quality team, and don’t understand how it makes sense on paper, it usually means that player has failed to meet the chemistry standards the team has set both on the field and in the locker room.

Success is a Choice

Teams with great chemistry have merit-based relationships. The NFL is the consummate meritocracy. It’s not about potential, reputation or facetime. The goal is clear: an NFL Championship. That goal is made abundantly clear from day one.  My letter from Coach Marty Schottenheimer inviting me to the Cleveland Browns set the tone for the obvious culture of the organization. It spoke about their commitment to the principles of hard work, preparation, and attention to the smallest detail in everything that they did.  And it was those characteristics—all coming together in the culmination of a team—that he knew would allow them to seek and “claim their prize of the NFL championship”. The Browns organization, which was a perennial playoff team when I was there in the 80’s, clearly made the choice to be great.


Organizations that choose to be great share best practices, do constructive after-action reviews, don’t cast blame but focus on performance (not personalities).They do all of the classic management things right, like praise in public and coach in private. The feedback is never personal. It is performance and merit-based and is never ugly or demoralizing. The best coaches are ruthlessly fair and have genuine authenticity. They also make it obvious that they care about the player. They praise the individual profusely when they meet their standards. And they coach the behavior, not the person, when they fail.  They ensure that everyone under their span of control has made the choice to be great. Not just as an individual but as a team.

The End Zone

If you pay attention, signs of a good culture abound on an NFL sideline.  Instead of “sabotaging” a colleague, you see a player who has fumbled surrounded by teammates offering encouragement. They know their teammate is committed to excellence, already feels horrible, and will need to be at their best mentally to help the team win in the end. You see it in the Head Coach who, after his young Quarterback has thrown an interception, puts him back out on the field and immediately calls a high percentage pass to get him back on track. That doesn’t mean that things don’t sometimes get strained in the heat of battle. But the great teams overcome those challenges and ultimately get better from them.

The message is clear, good chemistry and culture can help get through the ups and downs that happen to all teams. A team that has good chemistry and leaders throughout the organization, is poised to win. An organization that puts TEAM before the individual and works collaboratively towards the ultimate goal, creates the kind of culture that leads to success. It’s not easy, but if you can put all these things together, I’m sure your team will end up dancing in the end zone.

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Rich Negrin is the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director and Deputy Mayor for Administration and Coordination. Service Centered Leadership is the Managing Director’s blog series appearing on PhillyInnovates. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichNegrin.

PHLMaps adds Visual Imagery Dating Back to 1996

City Basemap

Do you use Google Maps? Yahoo Maps? If you’re in Philadelphia, you could be using PHLmaps. The City of Philadelphia’s GIS Services Group has created a high-quality, public mapping service packed with valuable data.

Built on the cloud-based ArcGIS platform, the free, interactive service leverages data the City has been producing and acquiring for years. The service includes Philadelphia-specific basemaps designed by the GIS team and over 140 maps showing specific data points such as healthy eating establishments, police stations, evacuation-routes, and zoning districts, among others. While these maps can be viewed on the PHLmaps site, the basemaps are also available to download as APIs through the Open Data Philly portal.  

A basemap on PHLmaps.

A basemap on PHLmaps.


Basemap options on PHLmaps.

Basemap options on PHLmaps.

Most recently, the GIS team added aerial imagery from 1996-2012 to the PHLmaps service. This means that you can view any property or location throughout this period of time, and zoom at a higher quality than is offered through Google Maps or other services. Having access high-quality maps throughout the past fifteen years could be useful to investigate or research a specific property and could also improve permitting processes. Below, you can see the development of Dilworth Park (formerly Dilworth Plaza prior to 2014) through the years using PHLmaps:








2011 (Summer):


2011 (Winter):






Energy Office Completes Data Inventory; New Data Sets from Commerce, GIS Services Group

Today is a big day for open data, with the release of the Energy Office’s data inventory and batches of data sets released for consumption by the Department of Commerce and the City’s GIS Services Group.

Energy Office

The City of Philadelphia’s Energy Office, part of the Office of Sustainability, joins eight other agencies in sharing the list of data sets generated or maintained through their operations. The list includes data sets like the amount of energy used by the City’s primary offices, captured at 15 minute intervals as well as the costs avoided through energy saving efforts.

The Energy Office serves to manage energy supply and demand for city government operations, with the mission to:

  • Strategically procure cost effective, reliable, safe, clean energy and conventional energy systems for city government;
  • Promote energy conservation and efficiency within City facilities by providing education, technical expertise and analysis of energy used; and
  • Develop and implement projects and programs that promote the efficient use of energy and reduce the City’s environmental impact.

The Office is seeking feedback on how the data sets in the inventory might be utilized for research, application development, and more. As with other agencies participating in the inventory process, this feedback will inform which data sets they then work towards releasing to the public. To check out the list and submit your ideas, go to

Department of Commerce

In addition, the Department of Commerce released three data sets today available now in API format and bulk download. These data sets were prioritized by the department after publishing their own inventory earlier this year and include:

  • Economic Opportunity Plans
    • Capturing Minority/Women/Disabled Owned Business participation in many large construction projects led by public, private, and nonprofit organizations
  • Storefront Improvement Grants
    • Recipients and locations of grant money to improve the exterior of their business, attracting more customers and improving the corridor on which they reside
  • Office of Economic Opportunity Minority/Women/Disabled Owned Business Registry
    • List of all minority, women, and disabled owned businesses that have registered with the Office of Economic Opportunity
    • Note: This data set was already available for bulk download but is now also available in API format and refreshed on a nightly basis for use in applications.

For more information about the data sets catalogued by the Commerce Department and other agencies, check out the data inventory.

GIS Services Group

WMOF Traffic BoxThe City’s G.I.S. Group also released data relating to the World Meeting of Families Traffic Box. The data outlines the boundaries and bordering streets of the Traffic Box which were released during a press conference at City Hall on August 5, 2015. The Traffic Box will go into effect on on Friday, September 25th. Specific details around the Traffic Box and other security measures during the World Meeting of Families can be read about in the press release from the Mayor’s Office.

Along with Traffic Box data, the G.I.S.Services Group also released Zoning Overlay Districts dataCity Council District boundaries data based on 1990 Census population information, neighborhood boundary data, and City-owned or operated building data

Spotlight Innovator: Dan O’Brien


The City’s Innovation Management group concentrates on building an innovation infrastructure within municipal government. Through its innovation academy, lab, and fund, the group works with a wide-range of City employees, all doing interesting things in and around government. We think its important to highlight these employees and their work. Today’s highlight is Dan O’Brien.

Name, title, and department:

Dan O’Brien, Deputy Director of Implementation, Office of Grants, Finance Department.

Describe your role.

Some of my duties include: assisting City agencies with the implementation and management of grant funded programs and activities; actively pursuing grant opportunities that align with the Mayor’s goals and bringing in resources to support implementation of promising, proven or innovative programs; and promoting collaboration and coordination across City agencies and fostering partnerships with the public and private sectors.

Tell us about an interesting project you’re working on.

There are a couple of groundbreaking projects I’m working on, with the help of a number of really amazing City employees and outside partners, that focus on creating jobs and green spaces in North Philadelphia. One that stands out is funded by The Youth Violence Prevention Collaborative. It is a Summer program that brings together two amazing organizations: Philly Urban Creators and The Mural Arts Guild. A team of 13 men and women, all from the 22nd Police District, was hired by Mural Arts and they are spending their Summer painting murals, building garden beds and transforming empty lots into green spaces and community gardens, all in or around their neighborhood. What makes this program so innovative is there is an entrepreneurial component making sure that the guild members are developing transferable skills and practice marketing their experience for future employment. Many City departments have been and will continue to be involved as the crew both improves their neighborhood and hones their life skills.

How has the Innovation Lab, Academy, or Fund changed your experience in working for city government?

I can’t fully calculate what an asset the Innovation Academy has been to my personal development, but also to the City at large, because new benefits continue to emerge. Weekly, I’m reaching out to an alumni of the Academy to assist on a project or helping them move the ball forward with something they’re working on.

I’m a firm believer that if you put creative people who like to solve problems in a room, great things can happen. The City of Philadelphia was forward thinking enough to recognize one of their greatest assets was a thoughtful and diverse set of employees and to create the Innovation Academy to cultivate this resource.

How do you spend your Saturdays?

My Saturdays are generally spent trying to entertain my children (3 and 1). Between my wife and I, it’s generally an unsightly dance between some combination of the Clark Park farmers market, zoo, Please Touch Museum, Camden Aquarium and Academy of Natural Sciences. (The yearly memberships are some of the best bargains in the City!) I did just become a bike owner, because that seems to be the thing to do in the city these days, so I’m trying to incorporate exploring the various bike paths into my Saturday routine as well.

Innovation as a Practice of Patience

As a member of the inaugural cohort in the Academy for Municipal Innovation in 2014, I learned a lot about what innovation is and how to think about my work with the City differently. Soon after graduating from the Academy, a colleague and fellow Academy grad, Moria Miller, and I were able to apply some lessons on innovation as co-project managers of the Plants Make Positive Places (P3) pilot project.

Funded through the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia’s Innovation Fund, P3’s mission is to test and measure the feasibility of expanding plant propagation, reuse, and distribution within the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR) system in order to expand plants’ positive aesthetic, educational, and ecological impact. P3 was inspired by an idea submitted by fellow City worker and avid horticulturalist, Dr. Alvin Powell of the Health Department. Dr. Powell saw an opportunity to reuse City-owned plant material to generate and grow new plant life in the City.

The Fund allowed the P3 Project Team to contract a P3 Coordinator to help us actualize Dr. Powell’s vision. We hired Eric Blasco of Erb Food & Garden, who has brought his horticultural expertise to P3. Additionally, we budgeted for perennial plant material which will act as a capital investment for the department and is designed to make returns back into PPR’s system each season through propagation by trained staff members.

Eric Blasco leading a training on cane fruit.

Eric Blasco leading a training on cane fruit.

Starting in May of this year, Eric installed cane fruit patches (e.g. raspberries, blackberries) at PPR’s in-house nursery, the Greenland Nursery. Through partnerships with Greenland’s manager, Max Blaustein, our Urban Forestry & Ecosystem Management Division, and the Department’s Farm Philly Program, we have begun to better understand the benefits of having a plot of plant material targeted for use by a specific program. This cane fruit will rejuvenate itself while supporting local ecology, PPR educational programs, and operations systems at the same time.

This month we approved a design for a plant menu to be used as part of the P3 project and to be recommended for adoption by PPR. The menu includes a list of perennial plants and modular garden designs for those plants. These garden designs can be arranged in different ways depending on the application (variations of shade, size of bed, etc.). The menu provides PPR with a platform to propagate by limiting the number of plants with which our maintenance staff will have to become familiar, while allowing for multiple combinations of each species of plant.

Part of the Plant Menu

Part of the Plant Menu

For the rest of this year, we plan to apply the plant menu to several sites throughout the city. By conducting site analyses, choosing sites with appropriate physical and community conditions, and then training existing staff on the menu and appropriate plant care, we will complete the first cycle in the P3 process. We look forward to formally adopting this process as a part of what we do as a department further down the line.

A lot of what we are developing with P3 ties into one of the lessons that was introduced at the Academy: Systems Thinking. While we are still building a systems model that represents P3, we have been able to realize one important systems thinking lesson: within each system are built-in delays. After completing the Academy and being able to apply its lessons to the P3 project, I have learned that innovation is not only defined by what you do, but also in having the patience to test your ideas and learn from their results. On behalf of the P3 Project Team, we are striving to do just that.

GIS Team Publishes Third Batch of Data in a Series of Releases

A few weeks ago, we posted a story about the City’s GIS Services Group and a housecleaning project that resulted in three batch releases of geospatial data. Today, the third batch was released, consisting of data related to public health and human services.

Of the data sets released, two include out-of-school programming information for parents making plans for the upcoming school year. This data was released by the Department of Human Services and the Department of Parks and Recreation and is maintained by the Department of Public Health. The remaining three data sets come from the Department of Public Health itself, one of which is a previously released set of Vital Statistics that includes Birth and Death counts by zipcode or census tract. The batch in total includes the following data sets:

The GIS Services Group’s housecleaning project involved taking an inventory of the City’s central data warehouse, working with hundreds of geospatial data sets from across City departments to refresh data sets, metadata, and permissions. The project resulted in dozens of data sets being approved for public release and helped the City’s GIS publishing policies and practices evolve and spread to an internal community of geodata analysts and publishers. Read more about this effort – and its results – in our first blog post of the series.


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