The nonprofit Sunlight Foundation is all about making government more transparent. That mission has led to the creation of time-sucking tools like the Political Ad Sleuth, a database of the groups behind political ads; Inbox Influence, a tool that reveals the political contributions of organizations that people email you; and Upwardly Mobile, an app that uses publicly available data to compare the cost of living and average salaries across the U.S.
Sunlight’s latest tool, a mobile app called Sitegeist, isn’t as outwardly political as some of the foundation’s other projects. Think of it as a quick demographic and cultural snapshot of whatever neighborhood you happen to be in.
Like all of Sunlight’s projects, Sitegeist uses publicly available information—but in this case, it’s used to provide a range of information about your surroundings: age distribution, children under 5, average household income, political contributions, how people commute, average rent, top-rated "local flavor" destinations on Yelp, popular watering holes (calculated by Foursquare check-ins) weather, and more.
Sitegeist won’t tell you much you don’t already know about your neighborhood. Sitting in my living room, the app tells me that the average age of my surrounding neighborhood is 37, there are a relatively few number of kids, an even gender split, an overwhelming number of Democratic political contributions, and large number of people who drive and commute by public transportation—in other words, it’s pretty representative of San Francisco itself.
One thing to note: home values and rental data come from the U.S. Census Bureau. In cities with rapidly changing home and rental markets, this can potentially lead to some misrepresentation. In my neighborhood, for example, the app claims that the average rent is $1,324 per month. With rents skyrocketing in the city (and rising across the country), that seems unlikely.
But it’s still easy to imagine that this could be useful in visiting new areas. Like Walk Score, it’s another tool in the arsenal for prospective renters, buyers, and neighborhood explorers.