Vancouver enters the age of the open city

A few hours ago, Vancouver’s city government posted the agenda to a council meeting next week in which this motion will be read:


Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source
MOVER: Councillor Andrea Reimer
SECONDER: Councillor

WHEREAS the City of Vancouver is committed to bringing the community into City Hall by engaging citizens, and soliciting their ideas, input and creative energy;

WHEREAS municipalities across Canada have an opportunity to dramatically lower their costs by collectively sharing and supporting software they use and create;

WHEREAS the total value of public data is maximized when provided for free or where necessary only a minimal cost of distribution;

WHEREAS when data is shared freely, citizens are enabled to use and re-purpose it to help create a more economically vibrant and environmentally sustainable city;

WHEREAS Vancouver needs to look for opportunities for creating economic activity and partnership with the creative tech sector;

WHEREAS the adoption of open standards improves transparency, access to city information by citizens and businesses and improved coordination and efficiencies across municipal boundaries and with federal and provincial partners;

WHEREAS the Integrated Cadastral Information Society (ICIS) is a not-for-profit society created as a partnership between local government, provincial government and major utility companies in British Columbia to share and integrate spatial data to which 94% of BC local governments are members but Vancouver is not;

WHEREAS digital innovation can enhance citizen communications, support the brand of the city as creative and innovative, improve service delivery, support citizens to self-organize and solve their own problems, and create a stronger sense of civic engagement, community, and pride;

WHEREAS the City of Vancouver has incredible resources of data and information, and has recently been awarded the Best City Archive of the World.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of Vancouver endorses the principles of:

  • Open and Accessible Data – the City of Vancouver will freely share with citizens, businesses and other jurisdictions the greatest amount of data possible while respecting privacy and security concerns;
  • Open Standards – the City of Vancouver will move as quickly as possible to adopt prevailing open standards for data, documents, maps, and other formats of media;
  • Open Source Software – the City of Vancouver, when replacing existing software or considering new applications, will place open source software on an equal footing with commercial systems during procurement cycles; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT in pursuit of open data the City of Vancouver will:

  • Identify immediate opportunities to distribute more of its data;
  • Index, publish and syndicate its data to the internet using prevailing open standards, interfaces and formats;
  • Develop appropriate agreements to share its data with the Integrated Cadastral Information Society (ICIS) and encourage the ICIS to in turn share its data with the public at large
  • Develop a plan to digitize and freely distribute suitable archival data to the public;
  • Ensure that data supplied to the City by third parties (developers, contractors, consultants) are unlicensed, in a prevailing open standard format, and not copyrighted except if otherwise prevented by legal considerations;
  • License any software applications developed by the City of Vancouver such that they may be used by other municipalities, businesses, and the public without restriction.

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED THAT the City Manager be tasked with developing an action plan for implementation of the above.

A number of us having been working hard getting this motion into place. While several cities, like Portland, Washington DC, and Toronto, have pursued some of the ideas outlined in this motion, none have codified or been as comprehensive and explicit in their intention.

I certainly see this motion as the cornerstone to transforming Vancouver into a open city, or as my friend Surman puts it, a city that thinks like the web.

At a high level, the goal behind this motion is to enable citizens to create, grow and control the virtual manifestation of their city so that they can in turn better influence the real physical city.

In practice, I believe this motion will foster several outcomes, including:

1. New services and applications: That as data is opened up, shared and has  APIs published for it, our citizen coders will create web based applications that will make their lives – and the lives of other citizens – easier, more efficient, and more pleasant.

2. Tapping into the long tail of public policy analysis: As more and more Vancouverites look over the city’s data, maps and other pieces of information citizens will notice inefficiencies, problems and other issues that could save money, improve services and generally make for a stronger better city.

3. Create new businesses and attract talent: As the city shares more data and uses more open source software new businesses that create services out of this data and that support this software will spring up. More generally, I think this motion, over time could attract talent to Vancouver. Paul Graham once said that great programmers want great tools and interesting challenges. We are giving them both. The challenge of improving the community in which they live and the tools and data to help make it better.

For those interested in appearing before City Council to support this motion, details can be found here. The council meeting is this Tuesday, May 19th at 2pm, PST. You can also watch the proceedings live.

For those interested in writing a letter in support of the motion, send your letter here.

73 thoughts on “Vancouver enters the age of the open city

  1. Pingback: The Third Bit » Blog Archive » It’s Vancouver’s Turn

  2. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » Vancouver enters the age of the open city

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  4. Todd Sieling

    This is fantastic news, David. With Translink also opening up a little bit at a time, we're seeing some really great possibilities emerge here. Thanks for your work on the initiative and for breaking the news here.

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  6. david_a_eaves

    Todd – agreed. There is also some promising movement at the provincial level with the work David Hume is doing in opening up their data. Our goal – how do we become the most open mega-region (as Richard Florida would call it) in the world. Translink (the organization that runs transit services in the Greater Vancouver Area) is an obvious piece of the puzzle and I think they are starting to get it – they've come a long way, very promising.

  7. kferaday

    It sounds great. I hate to be a skeptic but has the problem of data integration/data quality etc. been addressed? This could be a very expensive undertaking. The same as you move from legacy to open source — there's a data migration issue here. Given how cash poor most municipalities it will be interesting to see how quickly this moves forward from paper to reality.

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  9. Jim Pick

    This is awesome!I've been trying to build up some mashup / semantic web connective tissue over at – there are quite a few city data sources I'd like to see opened up.I may even attend the council meeting in person to see what the reception is like…

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  11. david_a_eaves

    Jim – this is exactly the type of work that we want to come out of this initiative. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Please keep me posted on your progress and how I can help.Please do come to council and even consider writing a letter and/or speaking in favour of the motion.

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  17. Mike T

    So like VanMap ( but better and more useful?! VanMap is only useful in isolation and in an IE browser. This kind of initiative would hopefully allow WFS/WMS services to obtain similar data for CAD/GIS folk that work in Vancouver.

  18. Todd Sieling

    Data migration from legacy presents issues as a natural part of IT evolution, whether moving to more open formats or not, but the point is well taken. One thing that municipalities can look towards in thinking about this is the cost savings associated with going open. A few ways costs are reduced:* licensing costs are typically much lower* open data allows others to build the applications that municipalities can't take on, which in turn leads to more uses and users of that data. When there's proof of a decent portion of citizens taking advantage of open data, it's easier to get resources for doing more. It just takes the vision to make those first steps.It *could* be an expensive undertaking, and it *could* not be. Translink opened up (some?) of its data and Google consumes it to provide transit info through its maps application. The costs to Translink were likely more to do with their own internal processes and *cough* red tape, and not in making the data usable.

  19. kferaday

    Todd,Sure costs can be lower once you go through the process of analyzing data, standardizing and consolidating it. I'm with you there. And depending on the types of data your talking about you have to worry about privacy and security issues. But once you get it there I completely agree that it's the way to go. I just wouldn't want anyone to understate the potential complexities involved in making the transition. For example, I took a quick look at Freebase (Jim Pick mentions it below). If you're loading more than 1000 records into Freebase there's a data analysis/mapping… that has to go on with their team to get it into Freebase which makes sense. The point I was trying to make is that it's going to be a lot more complex than a simple declaration. There has to be real $$$ behind the initiative. Given how cash poor most municipalities are I wonder how quickly this will be able to be undertaken.

  20. Joe Germuska

    This is really great. I'm envious. I live in a city (Chicago) where I'm not so certain that we'll get this kind of adoption any time soon, but we've started a meetup in hopes of getting our city to think like the web as well.At this time, there are three cities (NYC, Chicago, and Melbourne) which have groups like this through I'm definitely looking for forums/mailing lists/discussion groups where we can share ideas with people working on these kinds of projects in other cities — I hope to see more posts at too!Congratulations!

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  22. Torsten

    This is awesome news! :)Just one small hint about this paragraph:”Open Source Software – the City of Vancouver, when replacing existing software or considering new applications, will place open source software on an equal footing with commercial systems during procurement cycles;”The opposite of Free (Open Source) Software is not commercial software. Free software can be and often is commercial. Maybe better use a sentence like “on an equal footing with proprietary systems” or “on an equal footing with non-free systems”.Thanks for the great work!

  23. R Knight

    I think this is a great and a long overdue resolution/initiative but …It is unfortunate Integrated Cadastral Information Society (ICIS) is specifically named in this resolution. If I were a councilor in Vancouver I would not support this resolution until it is amended to remove specific mention of ICIS. ICIS is a lopsided partnership and there is good reason to carefully examine the fine print before signing their “data sharing” agreement.R Knight

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  25. Audrey

    2 corrections they made in council today* which 88% of BC local governments are members but Vancouver is not;* WHEREAS the City of Vancouver has incredible resources of data and information, and has recently been recognized as one of the Best City Archives in the World by a noted scholar in an important journal.

  26. david_a_eaves

    R Knight – thank you for the comment. I'd love to hear more about your concerns. Please do email me or post here in the comment section. What specifically is it about the ICIS terms that concern you?

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  31. david_a_eaves

    Torsten – Thank you for this suggestion. I'm creating an open source, non-Vancouver specific version of the motion so this is helpful.

  32. Robert

    What happened with this motion. I tried to go through the City Clerk's minutes, but I can't tell if they passed this or not?

  33. ars

    I have to agree with Mr. Knight on some of his points. ICIS is the 800 Pound Gorilla in the room and the fine print in their agreement can be very binding. In my opinion, the expect a lot and offer little in the way of data sharing. I believe they cater to certain consumers of data and aren't too friendly to producers.I think I can read between the lines with the statement: “Develop appropriate agreements to share its data with the Integrated Cadastral Information Society (ICIS) and encourage the ICIS to in turn share its data with the public at large “, and I think they have to cover the bases in mentioning ICIS (see 800 pound gorilla). In discussions with some CoV staff, they don't see much benefit in signing “the agreement” with ICIS, but I believe are more than willing to share what they have on their own terms. I can't say I can argue with that.

  34. Robert

    Thank-you! BTW: I'm with the City of Ottawa and we're currently reviewing our Data Dissemination policy based on a motion from council several months ago. Toronto is also working on their website, so it seems that a trend has started. We'll see who's first up and running.Also check out's data catalog and DC's catalog

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