Open Data in Edmonton? Follow Vancouver’s lead

Last week Vancouver launched an open data portal, providing one-stop-shopping for open data provided by the city. David Eaves called the launch “a major milestone for Vancouver” and explained:

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.

Libraries 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!

Download the Edmonton Public Library location data in CSV

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!

4 thoughts on “Open Data in Edmonton? Follow Vancouver’s lead

  1. As you know this is something I’ve been wanting for a long time and the main reason you and I ever spoke, or I started reading your blog or twitter or anything… I think great strides were made when you successfully petitioned ETS for their transit data, though as we’ve discussed I think the limited and flawed data they send to Google is still insufficient compared with the abundance of proper transit data ETS itself has. ENTS has a relationship with the City of Edmonton, and it does sound like people like Chris Moore are intrigued by the possibilities of data openness, but it’s a concept that has yet to even be heard by a lot of the people “in charge” of a lot of the data. I mean hell, the City of Edmonton Maps page to which you link is pretty hard to consume, since it requires full SVG which sadly no browser fully supports… and there’s no easy way to get the data out of it anyway. I would be happy if all the data in that Maps page was freely available in reusable formats. Which would just make sense since they’re making it available anyway, and they’re obviously doing some sort of conversion from their data source because they’re not storing it natively as SVG…

  2. Yep, that’s sort of what I was getting at in this post – most of the data is already being made available in some form or another, so it’s not like we’re asking for the impossible. We just need an overall strategy in place to ensure that when data is made available, it is made available in an open, accessible way (and to take all of the existing data and make it available in appropriate, open formats).

  3. Meanwhile it’s 3 years later and nothing has changed. Still stuck with the useless SVG……… This city was never mac friendly and still isn’t. The difference now is Apple has taken the world by storm and our city fathers are still asleep. There seems to be no way to view the Edmonton maps on a mac without jumping thru many hoops and into the windows world.

    This is just one example of incompetence in this city. Will there ever be a purge? Sure would be nice.

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