Los Angeles Best Practices

Best practices for data science and analysis projects at the City of Los Angeles

Data Analysis: Intro

Python tutorials for the basics of data cleaning and wrangling abound. Chris Albon’s guide is particularly helpful. Rather than reinventing the wheel, this tutorial instead highlights specific methods and operations that might make your life easier as a data analyst.

Getting Started

import numpy as np
import pandas as pd
import geopandas as gpd

Import and Export Data in Python

Local files

We import a tabular dataframe my_csv.csv and an Excel spreadsheet my_excel.xlsx.

df = pd.read_csv('../folder/my_csv.csv')

df = pd.read_excel('../folder/my_excel.xlsx', sheet_name = 'Sheet1')


Data can also be stored in an Amazon S3 as object storage. To access data in S3, you’ll have to have AWS access credentials stored at ~/.aws/credentials per the documentation.

# Read from S3
df = pd.read_csv('s3://bucket-name/my_csv.csv')

# Write to S3

Refer to the Data Management best practices and Basics of Working with Geospatial Data to get started importing various file types.

Merge Tabular and Geospatial Data

Merging data from multiple sources creates one large dataframe (df) to perform data analysis. Let’s say there are 3 sources of data that need to be merged:

Dataframe #1: council_population (tabular)

CD Council_Member Population
1 Leslie Knope 1,500
2 Jeremy Jamm 2,000
3 Douglass Howser 2,250

Dataframe #2: paunch_locations (geospatial)

Store City Sales_millions CD Geometry
1 Pawnee $5 1 (x1,y1)
2 Pawnee $2.5 2 (x2, y2)
3 Pawnee $2.5 3 (x3, y3)
4 Eagleton $2   (x4, y4)
5 Pawnee $4 1 (x5, y5)
6 Pawnee $6 2 (x6, y6)
7 Indianapolis $7   (x7, y7)

If paunch_locations did not come with the council district information, use a spatial join to attach the council district within which the store falls. More on spatial joins here.

Dataframe #3: council_boundaries (geospatial)

District Geometry
1 polygon
2 polygon
3 polygon

First, merge paunch_locations with council_population using the CD column they have in common.

merge1 = pd.merge(paunch_locations, council_population, on = 'CD', 
    how = 'inner', validate = 'm:1')

# m:1 many-to-1 merge means that CD appears multiple times in 
# paunch_locations, but only once in council_population.

Next, merge merge1 and council_boundaries. Use CD and District as the column to match on.

merge2 = pd.merge(merge1, council_boundaries, left_on = 'CD', 
    right_on = 'District', how = 'left', validate = 'm:1')

Here are some things to know about merge2:

merge2 looks like this:

Store City Sales_millions CD Geometry_x Council_Member Population Geometry_y
1 Pawnee $5 1 (x1,y1) Leslie Knope 1,500 polygon
2 Pawnee $2.5 2 (x2, y2) Jeremy Jamm 2,000 polygon
3 Pawnee $2.5 3 (x3, y3) Douglass Howser 2,250 polygon
5 Pawnee $4 1 (x5, y5) Leslie Knope 1,500 polygon
6 Pawnee $6 2 (x6, y6) Jeremy Jamm 2,000 polygon


A function is a set of instructions to do something. It can be as simple as changing values in a column or as complicated as a series of steps to clean, group, aggregate, and plot the data.

Lambda Functions

Lambda functions are quick and dirty. You don’t even have to name the function! These are used for one-off functions that you don’t need to save for repeated use within the script or notebook. You can use it for any simple function (e.g., if-else statements, etc) you want to apply to all rows of the df.

df: Andy Dwyer’s band names and number of songs played under that name

Band Songs
Mouse Rat 30
Scarecrow Boat 15
Jet Black Pope 4
Nothing Rhymes with Orange 6

If-Else Statements

# Create column called duration. If Songs > 10, duration is 'long'. 
# Otherwise, duration is 'short'.
df['duration'] = df.apply(lambda row: 'long' if row.Songs > 10 
                else 'short', axis = 1)

# Create column called famous. If Band is 'Mouse Rat', famous is 1, 
# otherwise 0.
df['famous'] = df.apply(lambda row: 1 if row.Band == 'Mouse Rat' 
                else 0, axis = 1)

# An equivalent full function would be:
def tag_famous(row):
    if row.Band == 'Mouse Rat':
        return 1
        return 0

df['famous'] = df.apply(tag_famous, axis = 1)

Band Songs duration famous
Mouse Rat 30 long 1
Scarecrow Boat 15 long 0
Jet Black Pope 4 short 0
Nothing Rhymes with Orange 6 short 0

Other Lambda Functions

# Split the band name at the spaces
# [1] means we want to extract the second word
# [0:2] means we want to start at the first character 
# and stop at (but not include) the 3rd character 
df['word2_start'] = df.apply(lambda x: 
                    x.Band.split(" ")[1][0:2], axis = 1)
Band Songs word2_start
Mouse Rat 30 Ra
Scarecrow Boat 15 Bo
Jet Black Pope 4 Po
Nothing Rhymes with Orange 6 Or

Apply over Dataframe

Functions that are too complicated for a lambda function would use a full function. These functions are defined by a name and are called upon to operate on the rows of a dataframe. You can also write more complex functions that bundle together all the steps (including nesting more functions) you want to execute over the dataframe.

df.apply is one common usage of a function.

def years_active(row):
    if row.Band == 'Mouse Rat':
        return '2009-2014'
    elif row.Band == 'Scarecrow Boat':
        return '2009'
    elif (row.Band == 'Jet Black Pope') or (row.Band ==
    'Nothing Rhymes with Orange'):
        return '2008'

df['Active'] = df.apply(years_active, axis = 1)
Band Songs Active
Mouse Rat 30 2009-2014
Scarecrow Boat 15 2009
Jet Black Pope 4 2008
Nothing Rhymes with Orange 6 2008


Sometimes it’s necessary to create a new column to group together certain values of a column. Here are two ways to accomplish this:

Method #1: Write a function using if-else statement and apply it using a lambda function.

# The function is called elected_year, and it operates on every row.
def elected_year(row):
    # For each row, if Council_Member says 'Leslie Knope', then return 2012 
    # as the value.
    if row.Council_Member == 'Leslie Knope':
        return 2012
    elif row.Council_Member == 'Jeremy Jamm':
        return 2008
    elif row.Council_Member == 'Douglass Howser':
        return 2006

# Use a lambda function to apply the elected_year function to all rows in the df. 
# Don't forget axis = 1 (apply function to all rows)!
council_population['Elected'] = council_population.apply(lambda row: 
    elected_year(row), axis = 1)

CD Council_Member Population Elected
1 Leslie Knope 1,500 2012
2 Jeremy Jamm 2,000 2008
3 Douglass Howser 2,250 2006

Method #2: Loop over every value, fill in the new column value, then attach that new column.

# Create a list to store the new column
sales_group = []

for row in paunch_locations['Sales_millions']:
    # If sales are more than $3M, but less than $5M, tag as moderate.
    if (row >= 3) & (row <= 5) :
    # If sales are more than $5M, tag as high.
    elif row >=5:
    # Anything else, aka, if sales are less than $3M, tag as low. 

paunch_locations['sales_group'] = sales_group

Store City Sales_millions CD Geometry sales_group
1 Pawnee $5 1 (x1,y1) moderate
2 Pawnee $2.5 2 (x2, y2) low
3 Pawnee $2.5 3 (x3, y3) low
4 Eagleton $2   (x4, y4) low
5 Pawnee $4 1 (x5, y5) moderate
6 Pawnee $6 2 (x6, y6) high
7 Indianapolis $7   (x7, y7) high


One of the most common form of summary statistics is aggregating by groups. In Excel, it’s called a pivot table. In ArcGIS, it’s doing a dissolve and calculating summary statistics. There are two ways to do it in Python: groupby and agg or pivot_table.

To answer the question of how many Paunch Burger locations there are per Council District and the sales generated per resident,

# Method #1: groupby and agg
pivot = merge2.groupby(['CD', 'Geometry_y']).agg({'Sales_millions': 'sum',
     'Store': 'count', 'Population': 'mean'}).reset_index()

# Method #2: pivot table
pivot = merge2.pivot_table(index= ['CD', 'Geometry_y'], 
    values = ['Sales_millions', 'Store', 'Population'], 
    aggfunc= {'Sales_millions': 'sum', 'Store': 'count', 
        'Population': 'mean'}).reset_index()

    # to only find one type of summary statistic, use aggfunc = 'sum'

# reset_index() will compress the headers of the table, forcing them to appear 
# in 1 row rather than 2 separate rows 

pivot looks like this:

CD Geometry_y Sales_millions Store Council_Member Population
1 polygon $9 2 Leslie Knope 1,500
2 polygon $8.5 2 Jeremy Jamm 2,000
3 polygon $2.5 1 Douglass Howser 2,250

Export Aggregated Output

Python can do most of the heavy lifting for data cleaning, transformations, and general wrangling. But, for charts or tables, it might be preferable to finish in Excel or ArcGIS/QGIS so that visualizations conform to the corporate style guide.

Dataframes can be exported into Excel and written into multiple sheets.

import xlsxwriter

# initiate a writer 
writer = pd.ExcelWriter('../outputs/filename.xlsx', engine='xlsxwriter')

council_population.to_excel(writer, sheet_name = 'council_pop')
paunch_locations.to_excel(writer, sheet_name = 'paunch_locations')
merge2.to_excel(writer, sheet_name = 'merged_data')
pivot.to_excel(writer, sheet_name = 'pivot')

# Close the Pandas Excel writer and output the Excel file.

Geodataframes can be exported as a shapefile or GeoJSON to visualize in ArcGIS/QGIS.

gdf.to_file(driver = 'ESRI Shapefile', filename = '../folder/my_shapefile.shp' )

gdf.to_file(driver = 'GeoJSON', filename = '../folder/my_geojson.geojson')

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