More ways to make open data sexy: 5 Municipal Apps I'd love to see (what are yours?)

One of the big goals of the open data project is to get many citizens interested in different ways the data can be used. Many citizens lack the skills to code up an application and creating a website is intimidating, but they may have ideas that could improve the city or be useful to many citizens.

In the hopes of spurring more interest in the open data and getting those not tradition involved, well… involved, I’ve created an “Ideas for the Taking” page on the Vancouver Open Data wiki. I’ve seeded the page with some of the ideas I promised I would share at the Open Data Hackathon last week . Some use open data, others don’t. Mostly however, I hop they spurn others to think of what is possible and what interests them. (PS. If you are a reader and the wiki is too confusing, just email me your idea and I’ll add it to the wiki with (or without, if you prefer) you’re name attached.

So here are some ideas I’ve brainstormed:

1. Stolen Bike Tracker

Vancouver’s cycling community is huge, sadly however, the city is plagued by a serious problem: stolen bicycles. There is no solution to this problem but I think a well crafted app could help minimize the nuisance. I can imagine an app or website in which you take a photo of your bike and upload it along with some identifying information(like the serial number) to a website. The picture stays hidden, however, if your bike gets tragically stolen you load up the apps and press the “my bike was stolen button.” This marks the physical place where your bike was stolen and activates your bike photo and marks it as stolen. Now cyclists, bike shop owners and the police can check bikes to see if they are stolen before buying them (or return them to their owner if they are recovered). In addition, a street map of bike theft would also be created. This could be particularly relevant since I suspect a great deal of bike theft is not reported. Finally, for those worried about privacy, I could imagine the app using a Craigslist style contact system that would preserve the anonymity of the original owner.

2. A Downtown East Side Landlord wiki

There are a few data sets that might allow for someone to create a geo-wiki of the DTES. I think it would be interesting to have a wiki that – on a building by building level – outlined who owned which residential buildings, what they charged in rent, a list of the room amenities and comments about the property’s management. It might also be interesting to enable photos to be posted so people can show the living conditions. Such a wiki might give the public (and prospective renters) a window into the deplorable conditions and poor practices of the worst offenders. It might also help City Staff deploy resources for investigating code violations and other questionable practices.

3. Everyblock+

Obviously, I think an Everyblock app for Vancouver would be great. The one new layer I’d love to see added to it is a charity button. With this button you would see what charities are operating on the block/area you are standing on. This is harder to imagine realizing, but cooler still would be a button that would allow you to then donate to that charity.

4. Burrard Bridge Trial Website

While not located on the Open Data Portal, the city has been releasing weekly data sets on vehicle, pedestrian and cycle trip across the Burrard Bridge Trial on the Burrard Trial blog. The data is not particularly well organized (you’d have to scrape it and its only granular to the 24hr time block – so no hour by hour data sets) but it is a start. I’d be fascinating to have a site that does a deeper analysis of the data and maybe shows it in a more interesting format. Maybe a discussion on carbon emissions reduced… still more interesting would be an analysis of bicycle accidents at present versus before the trial (data that is, sadly, not obviously available).

5. City Services vs. Land Value Mashup

It would be interesting to see what impact city services have on land values. I’m not sure if land value data is available (anyone know?) but mashing it up against the location of parks, community centres, schools, firehalls, and other city amenities would be interesting. While potentially interesting to prospective home owners (maybe a real estate agency should develop – or pay to develop – this app) I think it might also be of interest to the electorate and politicians.

One last one: A Library-Amazon Greasemonkey script

A Library-Amazon Greasemonkey search script allows a user to see if a book being displayed on an website is available in the Vancouver Public Library. This has two benefits. First, it is WAY easier to find books on the Amazon site then the library site, so you can leverage Amazon’s search engine to find books (or book recommendations) at the VPL. Second, it’s a great way to keep the book budget in check!

The Vancouver Public Library has said that it will share access to its database that would allow such an app to work. I believe I have the email address for the relevant person somewhere on my computer who can make this happen. (I can get the contact info for the right person if someone nudges me.) Better still the necessary Greasemonkey script is already available (scripts exist for Palo  Alto, Seattle and Ottawa), it would be great if someone tweaked the script so it worked with the VPL.

Of course, I’m hoping that others are already hatching plans about how they’d like to use the city’s data to create something they feel passionate about. And remember, if there is an app you’d like to create but the data set isn’t available – take the Open Data survey to let your voice be heard! If any of these ideas interest you, go for it. If I can help in any way, let me know, I’m keen to contribute.

13 thoughts on “More ways to make open data sexy: 5 Municipal Apps I'd love to see (what are yours?)

  1. ndrwclrk

    A slight twist I've always thought about as an alternative to panhandling. I'd like to see charities that help the homeless post a sign on a city block with a number to send a text message to. Something like “want to help the homeless on this block? Text 12345”. That lets me help the homeless I see by supporting an agency that helps them find housing, rather than supporting and reinforcing panhandling as an activity. Also, if the block was eventually free of panhandlers, it would provide a reminder for me to continue to support the charity that helped it get that way. Not necessarily an open data thing in and of itself, but was sort of twigged by your idea.

  2. Pingback: Greasemonkey VPL Catalogue Listings Script for Amazon |

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  5. Daniel

    I'm not sure how happy the landlords would be about this, but I've always thought it would be cool to crowdsource rental prices, amenities, etc. for a given community. I just moved back down to school where Craiglist (i.e. the antithesis of structured data) is the default method for finding housing. It would be really sweet to have an application where renters could self-report the prices they paid during the school year (as well as report number of rooms, when they had ant infestations, etc.) such that I as a renter had a database of structured information from which to make a decision. Using heatmaps would be a good way to visualize the price of housing in relationship to geography.

  6. facebook-607616432

    2. A Downtown East Side Landlord wikiAs a long-time resident of a community adjacent to the DTES, one considered part of it by certain city departments at certain times and for certain purposes, I’d love to see the area’s housing data made more public, although likely for reasons differing from the those of a majority of this site’s users. The city is in the process of installing close to 1000 individuals along 3 blocks on Princess Street, between Powell and East Hastings. All suffer from the varying outcomes of poverty, racism and abuse; homelessness, addiction, prostitution, mental illness, etc. Nearly 400 such individuals will reside within a block of one of the area’s two public, elementary schools. For every child attending that school, there’s 1 to 1.5 persons in those shelters a block away. An additional 500 people, mostly men, will congregate there twice a day for meals. One of the 3 sites has been deemed '‘low barrier’' housing, a designation I understood to mean people could keep shopping carts, personal possessions, etc., with them. Here’s the city’s definition:…(Low Barrier Housing: Housing where a minimum number of expectations are placed on people who wish to live there. The aim is to have as few barriers as possible to allow more people access to services. In housing this often means that tenants are not expected to abstain from using alcohol or other drugs, or from carrying on with street activities while living on-site, so long as they do not engage in these activities in common areas of the house and are respectful of other tenants and staff. Please note there is no requirement to be ‘'respectful’' of neighbours, neighbourhood, community, etc.)In a recent conversation with one of the low barrier facility’s support workers, I learned it’s become a more or less a state-sanctioned crackhouse, and that worker had been fired for bringing this to the attention of the managing agency. Apparently when hired, he had been told, '‘short of murder, we don’t want to know about it…’' (He’s since been reinstated, but of course, conditions haven’t changed.)This particular facility is one of the places people were sent when the 36-bed shelter in False Creek North was closed after '‘fierce community opposition.’' The evictees were youth from that area, and stated they did not want to be moved to DTES, were frightened of its far more violent environment.…While no on can fault either the city and province’s very belated efforts to address the needs our damaged fellow citizens, aka clean up the streets before the Olympics, the results only continue a failed policy in Ghetto-building 101. I live with the effects of this short-sighted experiment, which include:- unsafe environment for our children; why do they not merit the same safety standards as children of West side neighbourhoods? – the creation of a mono-culture of poverty. Placing all of Vancouver’s desperate within a few square blocks, in hope that this engineered ‘community,’ and its millions in social services will somehow magically transform its residents, be different from near-identical past endeavours, is a flawed understanding of the dynamics which produce such damage. To use a simplistic analogy, it’s about as effective as placing someone who’s trying to quit smoking in a room full of heavy smokers.- the disappearance of small businesses and light industry from the area has a direct effect on the environment. Until the early 90’s, it was possible to do all one’s shopping either via a quick bus ride or on foot. Cobblers, grocers, butchers, shops for art supplies, clothing, auto shops etc., lined East Hastings Street. Now we drive to the West side for most of this. – NIMBY and cui bono, the latter being Latin for ‘for whose benefit.’ It strikes me that the rest of our so-called ‘world-class city’ would benefit from and by sharing some of their calm and stable community ambience with our more indigent residents. I’m pretty certain my kids will never consider heroin as they’ve grown up surrounded by the dark outcome of that addiction. Trust me, it’s a lot more effective than a one-time school visit from a former junkie. Shouldn’t every community should have its own walking PSA? At best, such dispersal might help more Vancouverites understand some of the less visible consequences of their decisions. At worst the DTES wouldn’t be the sole repository for the negative outcome of same. People in our communities could finally get affordable home/business insurance. And maybe, East Hastings Street could support local businesses rather than the current mash-up of abandoned buildings and poverty agencies.- One of the so-called benefits of such densification is thought to be the more effective delivery of services, a position put forth by both the agencies which depend on poverty for their livelihood, and by our less than progressive civic and provincial governments. The police supported this policy of containment until recently, but have since come to understand this densification only adds an unnecessary degree of volatility to the human environment, and is destructive of communities, environment and property.- In one of his numerous and essentially sympathetic books on the Peoples’ Republic of China, American author William Hinton concludes that any Right policy, when allowed to run unchecked, becomes identical to that of the Left, and vice versa; but more importantly, that we should all be very scared when Right and Left concur. The current state of the DTES is a testament to the veracity of his view. file://localhost/* http/

  7. Pingback: Amazon Vancouver Public Library Linky for Greasemonkey

  8. Rob Cottingham

    Stv. rocks!Dethe Elza and DrWeb left comments on my blog post about your blog post (are we meta enough yet?) pointing me to two other solutions for looking up library books via Amazon:<ul><li>LibraryLookup, which lets you create a bookmarklet for libraries using one of several backends (<a href=”javascript:setTimeout('x99.focus()',300);var%20re=/([/-]|is[bs]n=)(d{7,9}[dX])/i;if(re.test(location.href)==true){var%20isbn=RegExp.$2;var%20×''+'/ipac20/ipac.jsp?index=ISBNEX&term='+isbn,'LibraryLookup&#039;,'scrollbars=1,resizable=1,top=0,left=0,location=1,width=800,height=600');x99.focus();}”>here's a bookmarklet Dethe created for the VPL), and</li><li>BookBurro, a FF extension that lets you look up books on a whole lot of libraries, online bookstores and other services.</li></ul>

  9. Rob Cottingham

    Stv. rocks!Meanwhile, Dethe Elza and DrWeb left comments on my blog post about your blog post (are we meta enough yet?) pointing me to two other solutions for looking up library books via Amazon: – LibraryLookup, which lets you create a bookmarklet for libraries using one of several backends, and – BookBurro, a FF extension that lets you look up books on a whole lot of libraries, online bookstores and other services.You can grab the bookmarklet Dethe created in his comment on my post:

  10. Pingback: Searching The Vancouver Public Library Catalog using Amazon |

  11. Pingback: sillygwailo sent a spelling edit. | gooseGrade

  12. Pingback: sillygwailo sent a spelling edit. | gooseGrade

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