Tag Archives: cities

An Open Data Inspired Holiday Gift to Montrealers

It turns out that Santa, with the help of some terribly two clever elves over at Montreal Ouvert has created an Open Data inspired present for Montrealers.

What, you must ask could it be?

It’s PatinerMontreal.ca

It’s a genius little website created by two Montreal developers – James McKinney and Dan Mireault – that scrapes the City of Montreal’s data on ice rink status to display the location and condition of all the outdoor ice rinks in the city.

What more could a winter bound montrealer ask for? Well… actually… how about being able to download it as an Android app to use on your smart phone. Yes, you can do that too thanks to another Montreal software developer: Mudar Noufal.

Here’s a screen shot of the slick web version (more on the project below the fold)

Creating this unbelievably useful application was no small feat. It turns out that the City of Montreal publishes the state of the outdoor hockey rinks every day in PDF format. While it is nice that the city puts this information up on the web, sharing it via PDF is probably the most inaccessible way of meeting this goal. To create this site the developers have to “scrape” the data out of these PDF files every day. Creating the software to do this is not only tedious, it can also be frustrating and laborious. In reality, this data was created with tax dollars and is encouraging the use of city assets. Making it difficult to access is unnecessary and counterproductive.

This is because if you can get the data, the things you can create (like PatinerMontreal.ca) can be gorgeous and far superior to anything the city offers. The City’s PDFs conveys a lot of information in a difficult to decipher format – text. Visualizing this information and making it searchable allows the user to quickly see where rinks or located in the city, what types of rinks (skating versus hockey) are located where, and the status of said rinks (newly iced or not).

My hope – and the hope of Montreal Ouvert – is that projects like this show the City of Montreal (and other cities across Canada) the power of getting data out of PDFs and shared in a machine readable format on an open data portal. If Montreal had an Open Data portal (like Vancouver, Nanaimo, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, and others) this application would have been much easier to create and Montrealers would enjoy the benefit of being able to better use the services their tax dollars works so hard to create.

Congratulations to James, Dan and Mudar on such a fantastic project.

Happy Holidays to Montreal Ouvert.

Happy Holidays Montreal. Hope you enjoy (and use) this gift.

Congratulations to Naheed & other fabulous people

(On a separate note, I’m giving a talk tomorrow at 3pm at UBC.)

For those who weren’t paying attention to the Calgary municipal election last night, Naheed Nenshi came out of third place and won the mayoral race. Of course, the articles are already focusing on the wrong things: he’s Muslim, his a minority, etc…

What really matters about Naheed is that he smart, he is about ideas and he’s progressive. That he’s managed to capture the imagination of a place like Calgary speaks volumes both about how hard he campaigned and how cosmopolitan Canada’s urban centres are becoming.

But back to ideas. I first met Naheed way back when he served as lead author of Building Up: Making Canada’s Cities Magnets for Talent and Engines of Development for Canada25. Essentially for as long as I’ve known him he’s cared about cities (and his passion predates my meeting him). There isn’t much more you could want from someone who is about to become your mayor. For me personally, his work became the template for me later when I worked as lead author first on Canada25’s report written at the request of the Privy Council Office and then, of course, on From Middle to Model Power.

It also speaks volumes about the types of people I had the pleasure to meet through Canada25 and watch grow over the years. Indeed, yesterday I ended up having lunch with Chris Kennedy – another Canada25 alum – who as Superintendent of Schools with the West Vancouver School District is also driven by a sense of public service and policy. Alison Loat, Executive Director of Samara, is another passionate believer in public service and public policy. I’m not sure whether to be more impressed by her own work or simply grateful for her unfailing belief and support of me and my work. And Andrew Medd, who gave me what may have become the best advice about blogging when I first started eaves.ca years ago: “Write for yourself, as though no one will read it.” (advice that actually was fact for the first while – you should only blog if you’re prepared to be alone with your thoughts). Of course there are so many I’m not mentioning like Ross Wallace, Debbie Chachra, Mike Morgan…

Watching the celebrations taking place in Calgary, all I can think of is how lucky I was to get to meet some of these people early on and how much I can’t wait to watch them going forward.

On a separate note, it is very much worth looking at MasterMaq’s election website powered by open election data from the city of Edmonton. From Naheed’s election (in which social media paid a powerful role), to the coverage through Twitter (that’s how I followed the events), social media continues to evolve and have an impact, especially at the local level.

Saving Cities Millions: Introducing CivicCommons.com

Last year, after speaking at the MISA West conference I blogged about an idea I’d called Muniforge (It was also published in the Municipal Information Systems Association’s journal Municipal Interface but behind a paywall). The idea was to create a repository like SourceForge that could host open source software code developed by and/or for cities to share with one another. A few months later I followed it up with another post Saving Millions: Why Cities should Fork the Kuali Foundation which chronicled how a coalition of universities have been doing something similar (they call it community source) and have been saving themselves millions of dollars.

Last week at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, DC my friends over at OpenPlans, with who I’ve exchanged many thoughts about this idea, along with the City of Washington DC brought this idea to life with the launch of Civic Commons. It’s an exciting project that has involved the work of a lot of people: Phillip Ashlock at OpenPlans who isn’t in the video below deserves a great deal of congratulations, as does the team over at Code for America who were also not on the stage.

At the moment Civic Commons is a sort of whitepages for open sourced civic government applications and policies. It doesn’t actually host the software it just points you to where the licenses and code reside (say, for example, at GitHub). There are lots of great tools out there for collaborating on software that don’t need replicating, instead Civic Commons is trying to foster community, a place where cities can find projects they’d like to leverage or contribute to.

The video below outlines it all in more detail. If you find it interesting (or want to skip it and get to that action right away) take a look at the Civic Commons.com website, there are already a number of applications being shared and worked on. I’m also thrilled to share that I’ve been asked to be an adviser to Civic Commons, so more on that and what it means for non-American cities, after the video.

One thing that comes through when looking at this video is the sense this is a distinctly American project. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, during a planning meeting on Thursday I mentioned that a few Canadian cities have contacted me about software applications they would like to make open source to share with other municipalities, everyone and especially Bryan Sivak (CIO for Washington, DC) was keen that other countries join and partake in Civic Commons.

It may end up that municipalities in other countries wish to create their own independent project. That is fine (I’m in favour of diverse approaches), but in the interim I’m keen to have some international participation early on so that processes and issues it raises will be addressed and baked into the project early on. If you work at a city and are thinking that you’d like to add a project feel free to contact me, but also don’t be afraid to just go straight to the site and add it directly!

Anyway, just to sum up, I’m over the moon excited about this project and hope it will turn out. I’ve been hoping something like this would be launched since writing about Muniforge and am excited to both see it happening and be involved.

Links from Gov2.0 Summit talk and bonus material

My 5 minute lightening fast jam packed talk (do I do other formats? answer… yes) from yesterday’s Gov2.0 summit hasn’t yet been has just been posted to youtube. I love that this year the videos have the slides integrated into it.

For those who were, and were not, there yesterday, I wanted to share links to all the great sites and organizations I cited during my talk, I also wanted to share one or two quick stories I didn’t have time to dive into:

VanTrash and 311:

Screen-shot-2010-09-09-at-3.07.32-AM-1024x640As one of the more mature apps in Vancouver using open data Vantrash keeps being showing us how these types of innovations just keep giving back in new and interesting ways.

In addition to being used by over 3000 households (despite never being advertised – this is all word of mouth) it turns out that the city staff are also finding a use for vantrash.

I was recently told that 311 call staff use Vantrash to help trouble shoot incoming calls from residents who are having problems with garbage collection. The first thing one needs to do in such a situation is identify which collection zone the caller lives in – turns out VanTrash is the fastest and more effective way to accomplish this. Simply input the caller’s address into the top right hand field and presto – you know their zone and schedule. Much better than trying to find their address on a physical map that you may or may not have near your station.

TaxiCity, Open Data and Game Development

Another interesting spin off of open data. The TaxiCity development team, which recreated downtown Vancouver in 2-D using data from the open data catalog, noted that creating virtual cities in games could be a lot easier with open data. You could simply randomize the height of buildings and presto an instant virtual city would be ready. While the buildings would still need to be skinned one could recreate cities people know quickly or create fake cities that felt realistic as they’d be based on real plans. More importantly, this process could help reduce the time and resources needed to create virtual cities in games – an innovation that may be of interest to those in the video game industry. Of course, given that Vancouver is a hub for video game development, it is exactly these types of innovations the city wishes to foster and will help sustain Vancouver’s competitive advantage.

Links (in order of appearance in my talk)

Code For America shirt design can be seen in all their glory here and can be ordered here. As a fun aside, I literally took that shirt of Tim O’Reilly’s back! I saw it the day before and said, I’d wear that on stage. Tim overheard me and said he’d give me his if I was serious…

Vancouver’s Open Motion (or Open3, as it is internally referred to by staff) can be read in the city’s PDF version or an HTML version from my blog.

Vancouver’s Open Data Portal is here. keep an eye on this page as new data sets and features are added. You can get RSS feed or email updates on the page, as well as see its update history.

Vantrash the garbage reminder service’s website is here. There’s a distinct mobile interface if you are using your phone to browse.

ParkingMobility, an app that crowdsources the location of disabled parking spaces and enables users to take pictures of cars illegally parked in disabled spots to assist in enforcement.

TaxiCity, the Centre for Digital Media Project sponsored by Bing and Microsoft has its project page here. Links to the sourcecode, documentation, and a ton of other content is also available. Really proud of these guys.

Microsoft’s Internal Vancouver Open Data Challenge fostered a number of apps. Most have been opensourced and so you can get access to the code as well. The apps include:

The Graffiti Analysis written by University of British Columbia undergraduate students can be downloaded from this blog post I posted about their project.

BTA Works – the research arm of Bing Thom Architects has a great website here. You can’t download their report about the future of Vancouver yet (it is still being peer-reviewed) but you can read about it in this local newspaper article.

Long Tail of Public Policy – I talk about this idea in some detail in my chapter on O’Reilly Media’s Open Government. There is also a brief blog post and slide from my blog here.

Vancouver’s Open Data License – is here. Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto use essentially the exact same thing. Lots that could be done on this front still mind you… Indeed, getting all these cities on a single standard license should be a priority.

Vancouver Data Discussion Group is here. You need to sign in to join but it is open to anyone.

Okay, hope those are interesting and helpful.

Urban Aboriginal Interview and survey

For those who haven’t caught it, there is a great piece/interview by Jeffrey Simpson of Mark Podlasly in the Globe and Mail about urban aboriginals, identity politics and economic opportunity. I encourage you to take a look – it’s a quick read.

If, however, you find all of this deeply interesting… I strongly encourage you to swing over to the Urban Aboriginal People’s Survey website and, to even download the report. The report summarizes the findings of the first survey of Urban Aboriginal People in Canada – looking at their identity, aspirations and situation. The questions were designed, and the conclusions shaped by, an Aboriginal advisory circle so that the substantive of the report has been driven by first nations people. Mark – happily – was a part of this circle.

As Canadians this is deeply interesting and important stuff. An increasing number of aboriginal people live in cities and they are forming a growing part of the work force. It’s an issue that is likely to impact many communities – especially those in the west. Hope you find it interesting!

Canadian Open Cities Update

For those who have not been following the news there have been a couple of exciting developments on the open data front at the municipal level in Canada.

First off, the City of Edmonton has launched its Apps competition, details can be found at the Apps4Edmonton website.

Second, it looks like the City of London, Ontario is may do a pilot of open data – thanks to the vocal activism of local developers and community organizers the Mayor of London expressed interesting in doing a pilot at the London Changecamp. As mentioned, there is a vibrant and active community in London, Ontario so I hope this effort takes flight.

Third, and much older, is that Ottawa approved doing open data, so keep an eye on this website as things begin to take shape

The final municipal update is the outlier… Turns out that although Calgary passed a motion to do open data a few months ago the roll out keeps getting delayed by a small group of city councillors. Reasons are murky especially since I’m told by local activists that the funds have already been allocated and that everything is set to go. Will be watching this unfold with interest.

Finally, unrelated to municipal data, but still important (!), Apps4Climate Action has extended the contest deadline due to continued interest in the contest. The new submission deadline is August 8th.

Hope everyone has a great weekend. Oh, and if you haven’t already, please join the facebook group “let’s get 100,000 Canadian to op out of yellow pages delivery.” Already, in less than a week, over 800 Canadians have successfully opted of receiving the yellow pages. Hope you’ll join too.

Vancouver Open Data Version 2: New Apps to create

Wow, wow, wow.

The City of Vancouver has just launched version 2 of its open data portal. A number of new data sets have been added to the site which is very exciting. Better still previously released data sets have been released in new formats.

Given that at 5pm tomorrow (Tuesday. Jan 26th) there will be the third Open Data Hackathon at the city archives to which anyone is invited, I thought I’d share the 5 new open data apps I’d love to see:

1. Home Buyers App.

So at some point some smart real estate agent is going to figure out that there is a WEALTH of relevant information for home buyers in the open data catalogue. Perhaps someone might create this iPhone app and charge for it, perhaps a real estate group will pay for its creation (I know some coders who would be willing – drop me an email).

Imagine an iPhone app you use when shopping around for homes. Since the app knows where you are it can use open data to tell you: property assessment, the distance to the nearest park (and nearest park with off leash area), nearest school, school zone (elementary, plus secondary immersion and regular), distance to the local community centre, neighborhood name, nearest bus/subway stops and routes, closest libraries, nearest firehall among a host of other data. Having that type of information at your finger tips could be invaluable!

2. My Commute App:

One of the sexiest and most interesting data sets released in version 2 is a GeoRss feed of upcoming road closures (which you can also click and see as a map!). It would be great if a commuter could outline their normal drive or select their bus route and anytime the rss feed posts about roadwork that will occur on that route the user receives an email informing them of this fact. Allows you to plan an alternative route or know that you’re going to have to leave a little early.

3. Development Feedback App

There is always so much construction going on in Vancouver it is often hard to know what is going to happen next. The city, to its credit, requires developers to post a giant white board outlining the proposed development. Well now a data feed of planned developments is available on the data portal (it also can already be viewed in map form)! Imagine an iPhone app which shows you the nearest development applications (with details!) and heritage buildings so you can begin to understand how the neighbourhood is going to change. Then imagine a form you can fill in – right then(!) – that emails your concerns or support for that development to a councilor or relevant planning official…

For a city like Vancouver that obsesses about architecture and its neighborhoods, this feels like a winner.

4. MyPark App

We Vancouverites are an outdoorsey bunch. Why not an app that consolidates information about the cities parks into one place. You could have park locations, nearest park locator, nearest dog park locator, the Parks Boards most recent announcements and events RSS Feed. I’m hoping that in the near future Parks Board will release soccer/ultimate frisbee field conditions updates in a machine readable format.

5. VanTrash 2.0?

Interestingly Apartment recycling schedule zones was also released in the new version of the site. Might be interesting to see if we can incorporate it into the already successful Vantrash and so expand the user base.

I’m also thinking there could be some cool things one could do with Graffiti information (maybe around reporting? a 311 tie in?) and street lights (safest route home walking app?)

So there is a start. If you are interested in these – or have your own ideas for how the data could be used – let me know. Better yet, consider coming down to the City Archives tomorrow evening for the third open data hackathon. I’ll be there, it would be great to chat.