The Big Urban Apps

Mayor Bloomberg at the NYC Big Apps 2.0 awards ceremony, photo: Kristin Artz/Office of the Mayor, via the New York Times.

How do you take the enormous amount of critical information gathered every day by city agencies and make it actually useful to citizens? On the City of New York’s DataMine web site, just looking through the list of datasets generated by the Department of Transportation alone is enough to give you a headache. Enter the annual NYC Big Apps competition – a call to software developers who can mine this data and find ingenious ways to put it at the fingertips, or keyboard clicks, of the average New Yorker. This April, winners received a total of $20,000 in cash, the wide exposure their work deserves, investment meetings with BMW, and a chance to talk to Mayor Bloomberg about their ideas.

Here’s a round-up of this year’s Big Apps:


Scott Kolber and his team took top honors at NYC Big Apps 2011 for an app that will help New Yorkers get around their city even faster, combining up-to-date MTA information, DOT’s real time traffic speed data, garage locations, and gas prices with user-sourced word-on-the-street.


Finding a  last-minute squash partner was never this easy. Aaron Royston and Omar Haroun synthesized data available from the Department of Parks and Recreation to make it possible for anyone to act on their impulse to kick a ball around—no prior planning required. Sportaneous placed second, but won the Popular Choice prize.

Best Parking

If you’re trying to find affordable parking in Manhattan, this app feels your pain. Using the Department of Transportation’s parking regulations dataset, Benjamin Sann created a tool that allows you to keep your options open: you can drive around looking for free parking, but also reserve a space in a garage, just in case. Little surprise, then, that it won the Investor’s Choice award.

NYU student Max Stoller received the Student prize for what you might call an anti-Yelp. Using the Department of Health’s restaurant inspection results, sends you a warning text message whenever you use foursquare to check into a restaurant that violates the health codes.


Here’s one for the culture vultures—a ready reference of over 1000 public art and architecture sites. But that’s not all—this nifty little app is not called the Museum Without Walls for no reason. Also included are 70 podcasts by artists, historians, and planners, and 6 walking tours.


Despite what the name sounds like, this is not another food app—it is a tool for activism and community organizing. If you have a pet peeve that you want support on, use your handheld device to start a petition. Each petition is tied to a location, so strangers who also log into the same location will know exactly what you think of it.

Weeels and NextStop

Transportation is clearly an obsession with New Yorkers. Weeels lets you book a cab ride, co-ordinate cab shares with absolute strangers, and even negotiate the best routes and cab fares. NextStop is the answer to the vagaries of the subway. It takes the element of chance out of taking a train, letting you know exactly when trains will arrive at the closest station.


This is a little gift for out-of-towners—a handy way to navigate the Big Apple. It may not look like much, and the narration on the video above is a little somnolent, but don’t underestimate this app. It actually does manage all the million different acts of co-ordination required to ensure that you waste no time at all on your New York trip.

NYC Data Web

Cut through all the geeky jargon in the video above, and you realize that this app has probably the biggest task of all—while the other apps use specific sets of data from the Data Mine, this one sets out to organize the data mine itself. The language is a little clunky, and the looks aren’t the best, but this app is the solid spade work that might make the development of future apps much easier—which is why it won the Large Organization Recognition Award.

If you have an idea for an app that should exist, submit it to NYC Big Apps Ideas. The top 10 ideas will receive $250 each.

Categories: Uncategorized