Tag Archives: cities

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.

Vancouver's Open Data Portal: Use it, or Lose it.

As some of you saw yesterday via Twitter, Vancouver has launched a beta version of its open data portal. This is a major milestone for Vancouver on several levels. It is a testament to our politicians, who had the vision and foresight to embrace this idea. It is a tribute to the city’s staff who have worked unbelievably hard to make this project come alive so quickly. It is a triumph for those of us who advocate and have been working with the city to move us towards open government and government as platform. Finally, it represents an enormous opportunity for coders and citizens alike, and it is to this group that I’d like to address this blog post.

The Data Portal represents an opportunity for citizens, especially citizen coders, to help create a City that Thinks Like the Web: a city that enables citizens to create and access collective knowledge and information to create new services, suggest new ideas, and identify critical bugs in the infrastructure and services, among other a million other possibilities.

But the open data is only the part of the puzzle. Yes, our data is now beginning to be set free. But we have to use it.

If not, we’ll risk losing it.

I wish I could say that the city will share data no matter what and that political support will continue forever. But the fact is, municipal resources are limited. While the potential of open data is enormous, we need more than potential; we need some wins. More importantly, we need an active and engaged community working to make Vancouver better, more efficient, and more interesting because of our open data. We need to show politicians and public servants in Vancouver, but also in Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Nanaimo, Moncton and other places across the country that citizens want access to data, and that if we get it, we will help their city (or province, or country) come alive in new and inventive ways.

Back in June, shortly after City Council passed Open3 (the nickname for the Open Motion), I gave this presentation to both City staff and at Open Web Vancouver. In it I described how “the bargain” Clay Shirky says exists on every successful web 2.0 site also exists in cities that want to think like the web.

In our case the bargain is simple: On one side, the city agrees to share as much data as it possibly can, in open formats, as quickly as it can. On the other side, the community – and in particular citizen coders – must make that data come alive in applications, websites and analysis. The city has taken the first step in fulfilling its side of the bargain. (And yes, we need to keep adding more data; there is work to be done.) Now it is time to activate the other half of the bargain. If we don’t, we put the deal at risk.

So what can you do?

First, you can code up an app, or find ways to help those who are. Indeed, there is going to be a Hackathon tomorrow evening at the Vancouver Archives to do just this. A number of projects are already underway that you can join – or start one yourself! I will be there myself, and I encourage you to swing by too.

Second, if you’d like to build an application, but the dataset you need is currently not available, then complete the city’s Open Data priority survey!

Third, come add ideas, resources and projects to the Vancouver Open Data Wiki.

I’m enormously excited to see what evolves next. As many of you know, I’ve been advising the Mayor’s Office on open data and open government for several months now – and through my work with them and with city staff, I’ve been deeply impressed by the energy and commitment that I’ve seen. As far as I know, only three major cities have created data portals such as this, and to do this in three months is incredible. Over the next few days I’m going to share some more thoughts on what the Open Data portal means for Vancouver. If you get a chance I hope you’ll send me your thoughts as well, or post some to your own blog if you have one.

How to Engage Citizens on a Municipal Website…

Sometimes, it’s nice to be small, the City of Nanaimo has been pushing the envelop on open data and open government for a number of years now.

Recently, I was directed to their new Council Agendas and Minutes webpage. I recommend you check it out.

Here’s why.

At first blush the site seems normal. There is the standard video of the council meeting (queue cheesy local cable access public service announcement), but them meeting minutes underneath are actually broken down by the second and by clicking on them you can jump straight to that moment in the meeting.

As anyone who’s ever attended a City Council meeting (or the legislature, or parliament) knows, the 80/20 rule is basically always in effect. About 80% of the time the proceedings are either dead boring and about 20% (often much less) of the time the proceedings are exciting, or more importantly, pertinent to you. One challenge with getting citizens engaged on the local level is that they often encounter a noise to signal problem. The ratio of “noise” (issues a given citizen doesn’t care about) drowns out the “signal” (the relatively fewer issues they do care about).

The City of Nanaimo’s website helps address this problem. It enables citizens to find what matters to them without having to watch or scroll through a long and dry council meeting. Better still, they are given a number of options by which to share that relevant moment with friends, neighbours, allies or colleagues via twitter, facebook, delicious or any other number of social media tools.

One might be wondering: can my city afford such a wizbang setup?

Excellent question.

Given Nanaimo’s modest size (it has 78,692 citizens) suggests they have a modest IT budget. So I asked Chris McLuckie, a City of Nanaimo public servant who worked on the project. He informed me that the system was built in-house by him and another city staff member, it uses off-the-shelf hardware and software and so cost under $2000 and it took 2 week to code up.

2 weeks?

No million dollar contract? No 8 month timeline? No expensive new software?

No. Instead, if you’re smart, you might find a couple of local creative citizen-hackers to put something together in no time at all.

You know what’s more, because Chris and the City of Nanaimo want to help more cities learn how to think like the web, I bet if the IT director from any city (or legislative body) asked nicely, they would just give them the code.

So how Open is your city? And if not, do they have $2000 lying around to change that?

Opendata & Opencities: Proposed panel for SXSWi

panel pickerOver the past year I’ve been inspired by the fact that an increasing number of cities are thinking about how to more effectively share the data they generate with their citizens.

As most readers of this blog are probably aware, I’ve been engrossed advising the Mayor’s Office here in Vancouver on the subject and am excited about the progress being made on the City’s open data project.

Since there is so much energy around this topic across North America I thought there might be interest among SXSWers on the opportunities, challenges and benefits surrounding open data.

Here’s my proposed panel, and if you think it is a good idea I’d be elated if you took the time to head over to the panel picker website and voted for it!

Title:

OpenData: Creating Cities That Think Like the Web

Level:

Beginner

Category:

Community / Online Community, Government and Technology, Social Issues, User Generated Content, Web Apps / Widgets

Questions:

  1. What is open data?
  2. How can I effectively mobilize people to get my local government to share data?
  3. How can open data be shared most effectively?
  4. What are the benefits of open data?
  5. What business models are emerging around municipal open data?
  6. How can citizens/citizen coders help government bureaucracies share open data?
  7. How do government bureaucracies centered on secrecy and security shift to being interested in open?
  8. How is open data changing the role of government?
  9. How is open data changing the relationship between citizens and government?

Description:

Across North America municipal governments are opening up their data and encouraging citizens to create online applications, mash-ups and tools to improve city services and foster engagement. Panelists from cities leading this open movement will discuss the challenges, lessons, benefits and opportunities of open data and open government.

Some of the people I’d love to have as panelists include:

Kelly Pretzer (@kellypretzer) Is a City of SF employee who has been working with a team on an open data initiative with the city of SF. You can track their work here.

Peter Corbett (@corbett3000) is CEO of iStrategyLabs. iStrategy Labs is the organization that ran the Apps for Democracy competition in Washington DC. If Peter can’t make it, we’d hope iStrategy could send a representative.

Ryan Merkley (@ryanmerkley) Political advisor to the Mayor of Toronto and helping oversee the open Toronto Initiative.

Myself! (@david_a_eaves) I’ve been advising the Mayor of Vancouver on open government and open data and co-drafted the Open Motion, passed by the City of Vancouver on May 21st.

It would, of course, be nice to have Vivek Kundra, but I’ll confess, I’m not sure I have that kind of pull…

Open Cities – the Counter Reaction

The Washington Monthly has an interesting piece about how some bureaucracies are having a reactionary (but albeit unsurprising) reaction to open data initiatives. The article focuses on how the data used by one application, Stumble Safely “helps you find the best bars and a safe path to stumble home on” by mashing together DC Crime Data, DC Road Polygons, DC Liquor Licenses, DC Water, DC Parks, and DC Metro Stations.

However, arming citizens with precise knowledge doesn’t appear to make one group of people happy: The Washington, D.C. police department. As the article notes:

But a funny thing has happened since Eric Gundersen launched his application: Stumble Safely has become less useful, rather than more so. When you click on the gray and red crime-indicating dots that have appeared on the map in the past few months, you don’t get much information about what exactly happened—all you get is a terse, one-word description of the category of the incident (”assault,” or “theft”) and a time, with no details of whether it was a shootout or just a couple of kids punching each other in an alley.

This isn’t Gundersen’s fault—it’s the cops’. Because while Kundra and the open-data community were fans of opening up the city’s books, it turned out that the Metropolitan Police Department was not. Earlier this year, as apps like Stumble Safely grew in number and quality, the police stopped releasing the detailed incident reports—investigating officers’ write-ups of what happened—into the city’s data feed. The official reason for the change is concern over victims’ and suspects’ privacy. But considering that before the clampdown the reports were already being released with names and addresses redacted, it’s hard to believe that’s the real one. More likely, the idea of information traveling more or less unedited from cops’ keyboards to citizens’ computer screens made the brass skittish, and the department reacted the way bureaucracies usually do: it made public information harder to get. The imperatives of Government 2.0 were thwarted by the instincts of Government 1.0.

This is just one in a long list of ways that old-style government (1.0) is reacting against technology. The end result sadly however is that the action taken by the police doesn’t reduce crime, it just reduces the public’s confidence in the police force. This is just a small example of the next big debate that will take place at all levels of government: Will your government try to control information and services or will it develop trust by being both accountable and open to others building on its work? You can’t have it both ways and I suspect citizens – particularly creatives – are going to strongly prefer the latter.

This is a crosspost from my Open Cities Blog at CreativeClass.com

The Rise of the Open City: the current state of affairs

I’ve been following with great interest the number of cities partaking in open data initiatives. With the online announcement yesterday of a motion going before Calgary’s City Council, things are again on the move. So what is the count at now? This little table tries to capture who’s done what so far. If I’m missing something please do let me know – I will try to update this from time to time.

City

Date of initial activity

Action

Note

Website

Washington, DC October 12th, 2008 Created a data portal on city website and launched apps for democracy Action was taken by the CIO, no city motion passed. Currently launching a second apps for democracy contest. http://data.octo.dc.gov/
Vancouver, BC May 21st, 2009 Vancouver City Council Passes the Open Motion Open Data website is in the works, release date unknown. N/A
San Francisco, CA June 16th, 2009 City of SF posts a craigslist request looking for developers to help create a data.gov like site for the city No motion passed, there is an OpenSF blog where current activities and ideas are shared. N/A
Nanaimo, BC June 22nd, 2009 City launches an open data website No motion passed http://www.nanaimo.ca/datafeeds/
New York City, NY June 25th, 2009 A bill is being circulated by Council Member Gale Brewer Has announced a “Big Apps” competition for apps that use 80 soon to be released city data sets. N/A
Calgary, AB July 27th, 2009 City of Calgary tables an Open Motion to be debated N/A N/A
Toronto, ON 2010 Announces (April 7th, 2009) intention of creating open data website Mayor David Miller announces Toronto will create an open data website by fall of 2009 at Mesh 09 conference N/A
Ottawa, ON I’ve heard there is movement in Ottawa, have not found any information

North America and the Auto Sector: The Upside of Down

Anyone else notice how circumscribed the debate over the auto sector has been? Some news outlets have occasionally asked “is the bail out fair?” but the discussion has remained fairly limited. Specifically, pieces on the auto-sector bailouts tends to be restricted to the negative consequences in relation to the costs in jobs: the moral hazard the bailout creates, the (unfair) treatment the bailout affords autoworkers, the concerns over the enormous burden the bailouts imposes on taxpayers, the impact on affected communities. Even within this narrow discourse,few commentators have even been outspoken. Maclean’s has probably been the most interesting. It bluntly outlined the gong show the industry has become  with this set of amazing statistics and its columnist Andrew Coyne published has posted piece after piece where he rightly points out the opportunity cost of bailing out the auto industry.

However, none of the commentary on the North American auto-sector’s dramatic decline has touched on how this change will impact the continent’s political and policy landscape. It interesting because, while it isn’t polite to talk about it, the fact is, there are upsides to the decline of the North American auto sector.

Start wit the fact that we will now only have one or two (smaller) American auto companies and their relative importance to the US economy will be dramatically diminished. It is hard to imagine that the political muscle of this sector will not equally diminish. This is no small matter. Huge swaths of American (and thus, in part, Canadian) public policy is explicitly and/or implicitly focused on ensuring that people either need cars, or that cars are never a burden. (Remember, these are companies that, with political and government acquiescence, bought up public transport companies across the US just so they could tear up the tracks their trams ran on to push people into cars or, if they had to, the buses the car companies built.)

So everything from highways, to urban planning, to emission controls, to business hours… almost everything in our society, is shaped by the fact that cars and the auto-sector were a large and integral part of the North American economy and its social fabric.

And so all these decision, all these debates about how North Americans should structure their society, they are all going to open up again as American auto companies cease to exist or decline in importance. The US congress is much more likely to impose tougher emission restrictions if those restrictions most likely impact foreign companies. If more roads don’t create more American jobs and profits then public transport – not the auto-sector – becomes slightly more appealing to subside.

It is true that Americans (and Canadians) love their cars. But this love didn’t come out of nowhere, it was nursed by decades of social policy and economic planning. Now the incentives that created and sustained that process are potentially irrevocably weakened. The consequences are terrible for those who work in the sector, but they may end up being liberating and renewing for society at large. For cities, citizens and communities the implicit legal, political and policy barriers that have prevented alternatives are already beginning to decay.

At that’s a big upside.