How Open Data Is Transforming City Life

Joel Gurin, The GovLab, at Techonomy: “Start a business. Manage your power use. Find cheap rents, or avoid crime-ridden neighborhoods. Cities and their citizens worldwide are discovering the power of “open data”—public data and information available from government and other sources that can help solve civic problems and create new business opportunities. By opening up data about transportation, education, health care, and more, municipal governments are helping app developers, civil society organizations, and others to find innovative ways to tackle urban problems. For any city that wants to promote entrepreneurship and economic development, open data can be a valuable new resource.
The urban open data movement has been growing for several years, with American cities including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington in the forefront. Now an increasing number of government officials, entrepreneurs, and civic hackers are recognizing the potential of open data. The results have included applications that can be used across many cities as well as those tailored to an individual city’s needs.
At first, the open data movement was driven by a commitment to transparency and accountability. City, state, and local governments have all released data about their finances and operations in the interest of good government and citizen participation. Now some tech companies are providing platforms to make this kind of city data more accessible, useful, and comparable. Companies like OpenGov and Govini make it possible for city managers and residents to examine finances, assess police department overtime, and monitor other factors that let them compare their city’s performance to neighboring municipalities.
Other new businesses are tapping city data to provide residents with useful, practical information. One of the best examples is NextBus, which uses metropolitan transportation data to tell commuters when to expect a bus along their route. Commuter apps like this have become common in cities in the U.S. and around the world. Another website, SpotCrime, collects, analyzes, and maps crime statistics to tell city dwellers which areas are safest or most dangerous and to offer crime alerts. And the Chicago-based Purple Binder helps people in need find city healthcare services. Many companies in the Open Data 500, the study of open data companies that I direct at the GovLab at NYU, use data from cities as well as other sources….
Some of the most ambitious uses of city data—with some of the greatest potential—focus on improving education. In Washington, the nonprofit Learn DC has made data about public schools available through a portal that state agencies, community organizations, and civic hackers can all use. They’re using it for collaborative research and action that, they say, has “empowered every DC parent to participate in shaping the future of the public education system.”…”