Last November my friend Mark Surman – Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation – gave this wonderful speech entitled “A City that Thinks Like the Web” as a lunchtime keynote for 300 councillors, tech staff and agency heads at the City of Toronto’s internal Web 2.0 Summit.
During the talk the Mayor of Toronto took notes and blackberried his staff to find out what had been done and what was still possible and committed the City of Toronto to follow Mark’s call to:
- Open our data. transit. library catalogs. community centre schedules. maps. 311. expose it all so the people of Toronto can use it to make a better city. do it now.
- Crowdsource info gathering that helps the city. somebody would have FixMyStreet.to up and running in a week if the Mayor promised to listen. encourage it.
- Ask for help creating a city that thinks like the web. copy Washington, DC’s contest strategy. launch it at BarCamp.
The fact is every major city can and should think like the web. The first step is to get local governments to share (our) data. We, collectively as a community, own this data and could do amazing things with it, if we were allowed. Think of how Google Maps is now able to use Translink data to show us where bus stops are, what buses stop there and when the next two are coming!
Imagine if anyone could create such a map, mashing up a myriad of data from local governments, provincial ministries, StatsCan? Imagine the services that could be created, the efficiencies gained, the research that would be possible. The long tail of public policy analysis could flourish with citizen coders, bloggers, non-profits and companies creating ideas, services, and solutions the government has neither the means nor the time to address.
If the data is the basic food source of such an online ecosystem then having it categorized, structured and known is essential. The second step is making it available as APIs. Interestingly the City of Vancouver appears to have taken that first step. VanMaps is a fascinating project undertaken by the City of Vancouver and I encourage people to check it out. It is VERY exciting that the city has done this work and more importantly, made it visible to the public. This is forward thinking stuff. The upside is that, in order to create VanMaps all the data has been organized. The downside is that – as far as I can tell – the public is restricted to looking at, but not accessing, the data. That means integrating these data sets with Google maps, or mashing it up with other data sets is not possible (please correct me if I’ve got it wrong).
Item 4 is worth noting. VanMap may only be used for internal business or personal purposes. My interpretation of this is that any Mashups using VanMap data is verboten.
But let’s not focus on that for the moment. The key point is that creating a Vancouver that thinks like the web is possible. Above all, it increasingly looks like the IT infrastructure to make it happen may already be in place.