Announcing the Official Launch of Secret City!

Ever relax near the lake with a “grownup soda” at MacArthur Park and wonder, “Wow. Where did all these buildings and this neighborhood come from? Was this place always like this?” Or ever find a cool little spot in the neighborhood that sells pastries and want to let people know about it? Wonder and wait no more; Fort Awesome, Inc is proud to announce that the launch of the Secret City website is here!

Every neighborhood has its own story of how it developed over time and came to be where it stands today. Furthermore, this is a story that continues to be written. We invite everyone to participate in the telling of that story by sharing their “discoveries” with a community of planners, local historians, residents, or anyone with an interest in the neighborhood. Our website provides a place to do so, using historical photos and data to document the old alongside some of today’s most popular social media.

The Secret City website was built using GoogleMaps v3 API. Some of its features:
-Search function for ZIP codes and/or full addresses
-Functionality with Yelp, Twitter, Flickr, Foursquare
-Historical data (population, race, income, etc.)
-LA Metro routes around MacArthur Park
-A “Secret City” game (It’s a secret)
-Draggable, clickable elements for most map functions
-All functions and toggling layers docked on easy-to-use, accordion-style sidebar
-Suggestions/feedback form for users (GoogleDoc)
-FAQ/Help page to guide users through the site

Most mapped items can be clicked for a closer look.

A clue from "Secret City: The Game"

The site provides current and historical data (e.g. population, income, race) at the Census Tract level.

Currently, social media such as Twitter and Flickr are central pieces of the site’s functionality, even for the historical element (old photos are uploaded to Flickr and tagged in a unique way). User-generated photographs play a particularly important part. As such, we would have liked to include Instagram as an additional API if we had more time to do so. However, we ran into many difficulties with their API.

Foursquare functionality also was difficult to implement. Because the newest version is still not completely stable, our calls to this API did not always return the results we wanted. We specifically wanted to utilize Foursquare’s “trending” function but found it difficult to produce map markers for the data we were requesting. (We were successful in retrieving the data, but not mapping the results.) For now, the Secret City site uses a widget in the sidebar to provide static information about local establishments, which is already covered by our use of Yelp. Improvements on Foursquare’s API are pending.

One issue with the site that gave us some trouble was integrating an accordion-style menu within another one on the sidebar. We thought doing so would give our demographic data legend a cleaner look, but we struggled with the coding necessary to integrate it seamlessly and eventually scrapped the idea. This could be something to look at for improvements in the future.

We are considering further developing “Secret City: The Game” with more puzzle pieces and a better experience with mobile devices.

Who we are


Roy Samaan, Master of Ceremonies at Fort Awesome, was responsible for integrating the Yelp and Twitter functionality into the site. He is also the mastermind behind “Secret City: The Game.”

Alex Pudlin, Junior Custodian, handled the data layers and also created the skeleton/general layout for the entire site.

Daniel Paredes the Messenger coded data layers and also integrated the Flickr API into the site.

Justin Oh, Executive Vice-President of Security, gathered historical photos from around the neighborhood and Los Angeles to put on the site.

Technical Requirements fulfilled:

Interaction requirement:

  • Users can enter ZIP code and/or address to orient map
  • Using our Flickr instructions, users can add historic photos to the site

Custom functions:

  • The site makes calls to Flickr’s API by using tags that Fort Awesome created specifically for the site. We also implemented a feature that displays and toggles based on decade tag combinations.

Layer requirements:

  • We authored nine custom layers: eight demographic layers and a rail line layer. The demographic data (by Census Tract) is accompanied by a legend under each decade in the sidebar.
  • Racial data (by Census Tract) appears in a draggable pie chart whenever the user drags the Secret City logo to a Census Tract.

Help requirement:

  • The FAQ/Help section is under the “About” and “Data” tabs at the top of the main page.