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.
He was also quick to point out that getting access to the data is just the beginning. Citizens have to use it, or risk losing it. The next day he launched VanTrash, an application to make garbage collection sexier. Use it or lose it indeed!
I think it’s interesting that he started with garbage collection, because I too identified that as an area that could use some innovation. A couple months ago, I spent about an hour on the phone with a manger in the Waste Management department at the City of Edmonton, trying to get access to the data behind the garbage collection schedules. Currently you can enter your address here to download your collection schedule in PDF. But if you want to find the schedule for a different part of the city, you’re out of luck. And even if you manually tried enough addresses to find all the zones and collection schedules, they’d be in PDF, which means you can’t easily add them to a calendar.
By the end of the call, I think he finally understood what I was after, and he said he’d have to get back to me. He never did, unfortunately. I can only hope that my request had an impact and that it will eventually help to open the data floodgates in Edmonton.
Open Data doesn’t have to be difficult!
Take a look at the data available at Vancouver’s data portal. Most of the data there is simple and exists elsewhere, in a less “creative friendly” format. A good example is the list of libraries. You can download the data in CSV, XLS, or KML formats, but it really just comes from the Vancouver Public Library website. The CSV contains the library name, it’s latitude, longitude, and address. Simple stuff, but potentially really useful if combined with other data sets.
Here’s an example in Edmonton. Let’s say I want to know how the crime rate of neighbourhoods with libraries compares to those without. What data would I need for that?
- A list of libraries, with their locations (see below)
- A list of neighbourhoods, with their boundaries
- Crime statistics by neighbourhood
- Census data for neighbourhoods to find comparable ones without libraries
Could you find this today? Yes, but it’s definitely not easy! The EPL website lists the libraries with addresses, so you’d need to figure out the lat/long on your own. The City of Edmonton website lists the neighbourhoods, but you’d need to figure out the boundaries on your own. The EPS website provides reported crimes by neighbourhood. And finally, the City of Edmonton provides census data for neighbourhoods in PDF.
If I could get all the above data in CSV format, it would have taken a matter of minutes to find the answer (I should point out that not all of that data exists at Vancouver’s portal either). Instead, I had to do a lot more work. The very rough result (because I compared with a random sample of similarly populated neighbourhoods) is that neighbourhoods with libraries were 1.5 times more likely to have crime than neighbourhoods without libraries in 2008. Though if you don’t count Downtown, then the crime rate is about the same for neighbourhoods with libraries and those without.
Maybe you’re thinking “what a useless example” and that’s fine – it is one of just hundreds or thousands of possible uses for that data! Just imagine what would be created if software developers and other creatives in Edmonton had access to the data.
All this talk of open data, why not give you some? I’ve created a CSV of the Edmonton Public Library locations in the exact same format as the Vancouver Public Library data (minus eplGO in the Cameron Library). Enjoy!
Onward in Edmonton
I’ve heard rumblings that the City of Edmonton will be doing some stuff in the open data space in the next couple of months, but I’m not holding my breath. There haven’t been enough conversations taking place. I’m hopeful that the right people are envious of the progress that has been made in Vancouver, however. I sure am!