SXSW Panel Spotlight: Catherine Cuellar

Cuellar_Catherine  JLD_0759

We submitted a SXSW panel idea for the tech portion of the festival next year. In the next few days, we’re going to highlight the amazing speakers who will join us to discuss the future of quantified cities and how tech can best improve urban environments. First off is Catherine Cuellar, a Dallasite who deals with cutting edge technology while running one of the country’s most innovative arts districts. Voting closes on September 5th—so go on and vote for our panel!

Catherine Cuellar serves as CEO of the Dallas Arts District, the largest contiguous urban cultural neighborhood in the US and world headquarters of the Global Cultural Districts Network. She spent two decades as an award-winning multimedia journalist for national public radio stations and programs, Sojourners magazine and The Dallas Morning News among others. Ms. Cuellar also managed communications for five years at the sixth-largest electric power grid in the US, Oncor.

Cuellar serves on the board of the Rhodes College Alumni Association. She debuted as an author in the Dallas Noir short fiction anthology published in 2013 by Akashic Books. She is a 2014 Next Generation Project Texas Fellow at The Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT-Austin. Cuellar was recognized among the Dallas Business Journal’s 2013 “40 Under 40,” was a 2011 White House Fellows regional finalist, and in 2007 was among the Dallas Junior Chamber of Commerce’s Five Outstanding Young Dallasites.

Catherine is the leader of one of the largest, most innovative cultural districts in the world at the forefront of the smart cities movement. Her excitement and passion about quantifying the district ensures that her hand is on the pulse of this emerging trend in the space. Her curiosity and deep background in community engagement and sustainability makes her the perfect moderator for this panel about the future of smart cities.

An advocate for education, sustainability, non-profits and art and culture, Catherine brings her creativity to everything she does. She is a third generation Dallas native but has had her passport stamped on five continents. Her grandparents were entrepreneurs who lived the American dream, starting Mexican restaurants in Dallas and growing their business to become the largest Latino franchisers in the U.S.

Catherine is a lifetime member of NALEO (National Association of Latino Elected & appointed Officials), a member of the Hispanic 100, and a graduate of Leadership Women. She also has a deep passion in music and has sung at Carnegie Hall as a chorister-in-residence with composer Morten Lauridsen and conductor Timothy Sharp. In addition—and very true to this panel’s nature—Catherine leads a radically pedestrian lifestyle in her hometown, walking, biking, and riding mass transit more than she drives an all-electric plug-in car.

We’re hiring!


Interested in helping us build a platform that will change the way citizens, businesses, and governments interact with their city? Then you should check out the brand spanking new jobs we just posted.

We use computer vision at a massive scale, on a large number of rich and ubiquitous video feeds, to understand what is going in in the physical world in real time. We measure how busy places are, what people do, how fast cars go, and much more. We offer that data to developers, citizens, cities, and retailers, radically changing the way they interact with the physical world.

We built our platform around privacy. We never store any video and we do not identify people. We also make sure no one can reverse engineer our data to identify anyone. You can see some demos at and learn more about us on CNN or on The Atlantic. We are backed by top VC firms from Silicon Valley and New York, alumna of TechStars (Spring 2013), and actively plugged into their vibrant ecosystem of mentors and alumni.

Placemeter is in a phase of rapid expansion, and we want you to join us.


Working at Placemeter, you will benefit from a dynamic environment where we work hard, trust each other, and know how to celebrate our wins! We offer full benefits, French sweets and pastries, French wine, French soccer games, and regular, fun outings.

We need creative and flexible minds, with a complete commitment to building nothing else but perfect software and systems. Make a real impact on your city, the NYC tech community, and a fast growing startup. Put your mark on this truly disruptive, slightly crazy, and ambitious platform we are building.

See the general job listings page, or check out the individual job postings below:


Vote for our SXSW panel!

Vote to see my session at SXSW 2015!

We’re organizing a panel at SXSW entitled, Quantifying our World through Open Platforms, an idea near and dear to our hearts:

Imagine a world where our homes, our streets, our favorite places, our entire cities can quantify their activity, communicate signals, and operate off of each other to optimize the way they work as a whole.

We’ve got a stellar lineup of speakers including Placemeter CEO Alex Winter:

  • Alexandre Winter Placemeter
  • Catherine Cuellar Dallas Arts District
  • Cameron Clayton Weather Underground, The Weather Co.
  • Jan Erik Solem Mapillary

Go check out the whole panel on the SXSW PanelPicker and vote for us!

We’ll be profiling each of our speakers in the next couple of weeks.


Breaking Down July’s Best Data Visualization

Source: New York Observer & NYC Taxis: A Day in the Life

Taxi drivers are the journeymen of New York City. There’s a mystique to the taxi driver, they possess a certain intimacy with the city that few others do. New Yorkers interact with them on a daily basis, but only for a brief moment of a taxi’s day. No wonder that a story about a day in the life of a New York taxi went viral in July.

It was not a story told with words or pictures, though. Rather, it was told with data and maps, a visualization of what it’s like to scamper from fare to fare around the United States’ biggest city. NYC Taxis: A Day in the Life captured imaginations worldwide. In the words of its creator, Chris Whong:

The visualization was published in the early hours of Monday, July 14th, after I spent just about the whole day Sunday putting finishing touches on it and getting it to run on Heroku.  I’d been working on it for over a month, sneaking in a few hours here and there on nights and weekends, and just wanted to get a minimum viable product launched so I could stop thinking about it (that backfired :p ).  By Monday evening it had seen over 80,000 unique visitors, had around 900 to 1000 concurrent users, and had racked up a whopping 600,000 map views on Mapbox.    It was picked up byFiveThirtyEight, The New York Times, Technically Brooklyn, Gizmodo, The New York Observer,Gothamist, TechPresident, Fast Company, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Huffington Post,AM New York, New York Magazine, Quartz, Bustle, mashable, and, most unexpectedly (but so awesome), BuzzFeed.  It even got coverage in the UK, The Netherlands and France.

The visualization captivated so many people because it eloquently unfurls a taxi’s mystique into an easily understood interface that people can play around with and explore.

We’re seeing a proliferation of data visualizations like this as a way of telling stories, explaining how different facets of city life work. One reason why is because only in the past few years have the tools needed to make useful data visualizations become available to the masses. Here’s a roundup of the different organizations, entities, and tools that made NYC Taxis: A Day in the Life possible, culled from Chris’ blog posts and attribution on the app:

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Exploring the future of geospatial mapping at the Esri User Conference

Reporting live from San Diego, I’m Ron…I mean…I’m Jason Novack.

Placemeter spent the week here for the annual Esri User Conference, where we were featured as an emerging business partner. Our booth was part of the Startup Zone, alongside autonomous UAVs for minestravel alert systems for adventurers, and crowdsourced disaster recovery.

We were here to show off our first-ever real-time map service of pedestrian traffic in NYC! As Placemeter continues to build out its real-time map layer of real-world activity, its users & customers will increasingly need Esri’s spatial analytics tools to consume the data efficiently.

Perhaps the best part of the conference—besides the beautiful weather, showcase of amazing technologies, and collection of great people—was the discussions we had surrounding new use cases that could support all kinds of industries. From air quality monitoring to energy efficiency, smart parking to surfing, we are surer than ever that Placemeter’s generating a soon-to-be essential means of analyzing the world.

Just as Esri weds information with geography, and Google organizes the world’s digital content, Placemeter will provide deep and pervasive analysis of human movement to invigorate old industries and create new ones.

Big thanks to Myles & Kurt for organizing the Startup Zone. You stay classy, San Diego.

Want to help Placemeter build the future? Sign up to become a Meter and put your window to work.

Why new metrics will help improve urban mobility

Cars streaming over the Golden Gate Bridge (Flickr)

For a long time, cars reigned supreme in the American city-planning landscape. Suburbs thrived, and people needed a way to get back and forth between their houses in the suburbs and their work in the city’s center. City designers, planners, and developers built projects around car traffic and how easy it would be for people to get in and out of a specific place via car.

Now, we’re witnessing an influx of residents streaming back into a city’s core, increasing pedestrian activity, and emphasizing alternative transportation options. What once worked for the commuter traveling from the suburbs most likely won’t work for the pedestrian walking to work from her apartment. Cities must adapt to providing viable transportation options for both. Recognizing these trends, and also that vital urban cores can be huge economic drivers, large American cities are shifting away from a cars-first transportation approach to one that accounts for multiple modes of travel.

It won’t surprise you to learn that a shift that big can often move at a glacial pace. Though city planners and urban designers might think that a change is right, regulatory environments can be slow catching up to modern trends.

Take the saga of San Francisco’s bus rapid transportation (BRT) line down Van Ness Avenue. The BRT line would establish a dedicated express bus lane in the middle of a large thoroughfare in downtown San Francisco, adding a vital node to the city’s transportation options. Voters approved the project in 2003, and the city raised money for it with a half-cent sales tax increase. The project was set to open in 2009. But, construction hasn’t even started on it more than a decade after it was approved.

Here’s why: before the construction could start, the project had to be quick-tested for whether it would negatively affect a set of environmental factors outlined in the California Environmental Quality Act. It was found that the new project would negatively affect “traffic,” one of the 18 factors laid out in the CEQA. This triggered a larger environmental report, which cost $7 million and took more than a decade to finish.  So, how did a project that promises to improve urban mobility get a negative rating for traffic? Eric Jaffe reports:

Here’s the sad thing about the Van Ness BRT report: The only area where it had an unavoidable negative impact that couldn’t be offset under CEQA was traffic. “So this whole document was prepared because of the traffic impact,” says Schwartz, nodding at the enormous report. And here’s the really sad thing about CEQA traffic impacts: They’re determined using a car-friendly metric known as “level of service” that bases a project’s transportation performance on driver delay. In other words, Van Ness BRT required all the trouble of preparing this massive report because, in the twisted eyes of California law, public transit is considered a greater enemy to the environment than car travel.

The “level of service” (LOS) metric meant that cars took pride of place in development projects over other, equally viable or even better transportation option. This means that though cities now know that cars shouldn’t necessarily be the primary mode of transportation anymore, the laws regulating how cities are built in California still think so:

In California, LOS has an especially high-profile. As the primary arbiter of traffic impacts under CEQA—adopted in 1970 by Governor Ronald Reagan—the metric not only determines the fate of many transportation and development projects, but has the awkward role of promoting car use within a law designed to protect the environment. “We have one section of CEQA saying we’ve got to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” says transportation consultant Jeffrey Tumlin of Nelson\Nygaard, “and another section of CEQA saying we need to accommodate unlimited driving.”

Jaffe reports how thankfully this imbalance is about to change. Regulations are finally catching up to the reality that urban mobility need not solely rely on car travel. New metrics will replace LOS and take into account the variety of options that cities are now promoting for their citizens to get from point A to point B and all places in between.

Metrics are important. But, what San Francisco’s experience teaches us is that what type of metrics you’re collecting is just as important. In the case of the BRT, the wrong type of metric caused what many consider an unnecessary delay in construction. With a more comprehensive set of data tools in the city’s hands, citizens might’ve been riding the BRT down Van Ness today.

It is this exact sort of holistic approach that Placemeter’s data bolsters. Rather than just guessing at how many pedestrians are walking on a sidewalk or how many cars are zooming down your street, our tech will let cities know how many. That’s why we’re working with customers like the Mayors Office of Data Analytics in New York City to help them better understand the city.

We hope that our technology will cut down on the time and resources needed to make traffic reports and environmental studies like the one that plagued San Francisco’s BRT. At the end of the day, the laws and the regulations and the data tools like Placemeter’s should all be geared towards letting city builders get to the important stuff: making better, more livable places for people to thrive in.

Sound exciting? Join Placemeter today. You can make up to $50/month helping us crowdsource our network of sensors. Learn more here.

Using computer vision to fix Beijing’s “pollution crisis”

Beijing has a pollution problem that the Chinese government addresses in part by imposing steep dynamic tolls within the city. One problem, though, is that the government acts on inaccurate data to impose the tolls, creating hassle for citizens while not necessarily fixing the underlying pollution problem. IBM is looking to solve this problem using computer vision sensors and satellite imagery to more accurately identify pollution problem spots during the day, via Quartz:

IBM plans to improve the quality of data by installing its latest generation of optical sensors, incorporating meteorological satellite data and running that through its artificial-intelligence computing system (a.k.a. Watson, that computer that trounced humans on Jeopardy). The visual maps it generates will identify the source and dispersal pattern of pollutants across Beijing with a street-level degree of detail 72 hours in advance.

This is a great example of how a distributed network of optical sensors using computer vision can make life in large—and growing—cities more livable.

For others, check out Placemeter’s website and sign up to become a Meter!