Ezra Haber Glenn

Ezra Haber Glenn is a lecturer in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT, where he teaches courses in quantitative reasoning and statistical methods, and the practice of community development. Prior to this position, he worked in local government in Massachusetts, and in 2002, he was named a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).

He is the founder and executive director of Public Planning, Research, and Implementation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation established in 2002 to provide research and consulting services to public and nonprofit organizations. In his hometown, he is the president of the board of directors of the Somerville Community Corporation. He is also the author of the CityState blog.

New choropleth package in R

R mapping innovation drives on

A while back, on my CityState blog I posted a recipe (based on some great examples on the Revolution Analytics blog) showing how to use the acs package in R to create choropleth maps. Now, through the magic of open-source software development—and the hard work of developer Ari Lamstein and the generosity of his employers—this process has gotten even easier: I call your attention to Ari’s new choroplethr package for R.


Ari is a Senior Software Engineer at Trulia, where he works on data science and visualization, primarily related to real estate and housing markets. As part of the company’s “Innovation Week” he developed the choropleth package, moving well beyond the sample scripts to create a powerful suite of mapping functions. With a single command, a user can now generate maps at the state, county, or zip code level, from any of the data available via the ACS.

Read more…

The public front of the free software campaign: part I

A review of my discussion with Free Software Foundation's Zak Rogoff.

At a recent meeting of the MIT Open Source Planning Tools Group, I had the pleasure of hosting Zak Rogoff — campaigns manager at the Free Software Foundation — for an open-ended discussion on the potential for free and open tools for urban planners, community development organizations, and citizen activists. The conversation ranged over broad terrain in an “exploratory mode,” perhaps uncovering more questions than answers, but we did succeed in identifying some of the more common software (and other) tools needed by planners, designers, developers, and advocates, and shared some thoughts on the current state of FOSS options and their relative levels of adoption.

Included were the usual suspects — LibreOffice for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations; QGIS and OpenStreetMap for mapping; and (my favorite) R for statistical analysis — but we began to explore other areas as well, trying to get a sense of what more advanced tools (and data) planners use for, say, regional economic forecasts, climate change modeling, or real-time transportation management. (Since the event took place in the Department of Urban Studies & Planning at MIT, we mostly centered on planning-related tasks, but we also touched on some tangential non-planning needs of public agencies, and the potential for FOSS solutions there: assessor’s databases, 911 systems, library catalogs, educational software, health care exchanges, and so on.) Read more…

New hope for the vision of metropolitan regionalism

Web portals and mobile apps have the potential to facilitate regional collaboration between municipalities.

Editor’s note: this post originally appeared on Glenn’s CityState blog. This version has been lightly edited.

Others have written — and I’m sure will continue to write — with enthusiasm and hyperbole about the ways that new web portals and mobile apps are changing the landscape of public participation and responsive city planning. It seems that we are constantly being showered (or perhaps barraged?) with fun new social media tools to engage citizens and activate urban sharing networks — for everything from reporting graffiti to mapping public murals (yes, the irony is noteworthy), and from finding a parking space to avoiding being mugged, and so on. Whether or not these apps will ever wind up being the “game changers” we are often promised remains to be seen, but the level of excitement and activity they are generating is undeniable, especially after so many years of resignation and inattention to urban problems.

That said, despite the energy that has been thrown behind developing and promoting these new weapons in our urban information arsenal, one aspect of these tools has been noticeably overlooked: the potential they provide to facilitate regional collaboration between municipalities, an as-of-yet unfulfilled dream of urban planners in the past century. Read more…