Open Cities: Popularity lessons for municipal politicians

Last Thursday I posted the Vancouver City motion that is being introduced today.

Prior to the posting the motion several of my friends wondered if the subject of open data, open cities and open source were niche issues, ones that wouldn’t attract the attention or care of the media, not to mention citizens. I’m not sure that this is, as of yet, a mainstream issue, but there is clear, vocal, engaged and growing constituency – that is surprisingly broad – supporting it.

For politicians (who are often looking for media attention), open-advocates (who are looking for ways to get politicians attention) and others (who usually care about and want access to, some of the data the city collects) there are real wins to be had by putting forward a motion such as this.

To begin with, let’s look at the media and broader attention this motion has garnered to date:

First, a search of twitter for the terms Vancouver and Open shows hundreds upon hundreds of tweet from around the world celebrating the proposal. Over the weekends, I tried to track down the various tweets relating to the motion and they number at least 500, and possibly even exceed 1000. What is most interesting is that some tweets included people saying – “that they wished they lived in Vancouver.”

As an aside, have no doubt, City Hall sees this initiative in part as an effort to attract and retain talent. Paul Graham, who created a multimillion dollar software company and is now a venture capitalist summed it up best “Great [programmers] also generally insist on using open source software. Not just because it’s better, but because it gives them more control… This is part of what makes them good: when something’s broken, they need to fix it. You want them to feel this way about the software they’re writing for you.” Vancouver is not broken – but it could always be improved, and  twitter confirms a suspicion I have: that programmers and creative workers in all industries are attracted to places that are open because it allows them to participate in improving where they live. Having a city that is attractive to great software programmers is a strategic imperative for Vancouver. Where there are great software programmers there will be big software companies and start ups.

Blogs, of course, have also started to get active. As sampling includes locals in the tech sector, such as David Asher of Mozilla, Duane Nickull of Adobe, as well as others interested in geographic data. Academics/public thinkers also took note on their blogs.

Then, the online tech magazines began to write about it too. ReadWriteWeb wrote this piece, ZDnet had this piece and my original blog post went to orange on Slashdot (a popular tech news aggregator).

Of course, traditional media was in the mix too. The Straight’s tech blog was onto the story very early with this piece, a national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, had this piece by Frances Bula (which has an unfortunate sensationalist title which has nothing to do with the content) and finally, today, the Vancouver Sun published this piece.

Still more interesting will be to see the number of supportive letters/emails and the diversity of their sources. I’ve already heard supportive letters coming from local technology companies, large international tech companies, local gardening groups and a real estate consulting firm. Each of these diverse actors sees ways to use city data to help lower the costs of their business, conduct better analysis or facilitate their charitable work.

In short, issues surrounding the open city – open data, open source software and open standards – are less and less restricted to the domain of a few technology enthusiasts. There is a growing and increasingly vocal constituency in support.

Update May 20th, 2009 more media links:

The Libertarian Western Standard wrote this positive piece (apparently this is the Vancouver City only good initiative).

I did a CBC radio interview on the afternoon of May 19th during the show On the Coast with Stephen Quinn. The CBC also published this piece on its news site.

4 thoughts on “Open Cities: Popularity lessons for municipal politicians

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  2. Frank Hecker

    “… twitter confirms a suspicion I have: that programmers and creative workers in all industries are attracted to places that are open because it allows them to participate in improving where they live.”This ties in a classic Richard Florida argument (which I'm sure you're familiar with): The “creative class” is attracted to places that are tolerant, “liberal” (in the classic sense), open, etc., and that then drives economic growth and integration. See for example Florida's recent Atlantic blog posts on the correlation between economic growth and innovation and the percentage of the population working in the creative class (or for that matter Stephen Walt's recent Foreign Policy blog post on the “realist” case for toleration and open societies).

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