Data on Edmonton’s new 12-ward system

Last night City Council voted in favor of changing from the current 6-ward system to the more common 12-ward system used throughout North America. The change will take effect for next year’s municipal election. For more background, check out Dave’s post. You can also check out the City of Edmonton’s page for more information.

As an advocate of open data, I thought I’d share with you some data related to the new wards below. All of the data is available on the City website somewhere, but not in an easily consumable form. I’ve done the legwork to make it accessible.

Amendments made to the motion last night affected the wards a little:

  • Grovenor and McQueen neighbourhoods moved from Ward 1 to Ward 6.
  • CPR West moved to Ward 8 from Ward 10.
  • Calgary Trail North and Calgary Trail South moved from Ward 11 to Ward 10.
  • Some ravine boundaries were changed from “in-the-middle” to “top-of-bank”.

Here are the stats on the new wards:

In a table (download CSV file here):

Ward Population Electors
1 62,625 51,061
2 67,306 54,704
3 63,819 49,465
4 67,811 52,666
5 62,424 49,615
6 70,840 62,152
7 63,549 51,865
8 66,196 57,189
9 68,214 53,889
10 61,276 49,935
11 64,770 51,329
12 63,609 48,529

The average population of each ward is 65,203 and the average number of electors for each ward is 52,700. This data comes from the 2009 Municipal Census.

Here are the number of neighbourhoods in each ward:

I’ve also compiled a list of neighbourhoods in each ward which you can download in CSV here. Or if you’d rather just look, you can download the list in PDF here.

I’m trying to track down or create a good quality map of the 12 wards, but this’ll have to do for now. What I’d really love is lat/long coordinates for each ward. If you have something better than that graphic, let me know!

Go do something useful or interesting with this data, and then tell me about it. I’m looking to collect local examples to strengthen the case for open data at the City of Edmonton!

UPDATE: Here’s a better map in PDF format.

UPDATE2: Here’s an even better color map showing the wards and neighbourhoods in PDF format.

Calgary takes first steps toward becoming an Open City

A motion will go before Calgary’s City Council next week that outlines the first steps in the process of making Calgary an Open City. Calgary follows in the footsteps of Vancouver, which passed a similar motion back in May. DJ has all the details on the Calgary motion here. I think it’s pretty cool that the news is first announced on a blog!

Calgary’s motion will result in a report from City Administration to be presented to Council no later than December 2009, outlining the overall strategy for making Calgary an open city. In particular, the report will identify “opportunities to make more of The City’s data open and accessible while respecting privacy and security concerns , and ensuring that data is available through use of open standards, interfaces and formats.” Other aspects of the strategy will include increasing online citizen participation, procuring and supporting open source technologies, and increasing the number of City services available online.

This is exciting news for developers and other creative professionals in Calgary and elsewhere. I’ve been pushing for open data in Edmonton recently, and I really hope we’re not too far behind our southern neighbours on this issue. There are a number of advantages to making data available in open standards and formats:

  • Citizens can subscribe to data that is of interest to them
  • Data can be mashed together in new ways, revealing new information
  • Visualization of data can help citizens make better decisions
  • Citizens can work together to organize data
  • Government can learn more about its data from citizen contributions

Additionally, using well-understood, open formats such as XML or CSV helps to “future-proof” the data. You don’t need proprietary technology to read a CSV file – any programming language or software platform will work.

One issue that isn’t mentioned in Calgary’s motion but which is very important, is licensing. It’s important that when Calgary does make data available, that it does so in the least restrictive way possible. Either public domain, or creative commons, or something similar. It would be a shame if they made a ton of data available and then had ridiculous terms of use around it.

Open data is about empowering citizens to work with their governments. I’m encouraged by the recent interest among municipalities in Canada, and I hope the trend continues.

Edmonton Police Service (EPS) Crime Mapping tool now online

Back in June we learned that the Edmonton Police Service was planning to launch a new website that would enable citizens to find crime statistics for their neighbourhoods. This afternoon, the EPS Crime Mapping tool went online, and it does just that. You can search for stats on eight types of crimes in any neighbourhood across any time period since 2007. From the press release:

The new crime mapping tool will provide members and citizens with a better understanding of what is going on the neighbourhoods they work and live in.

I’ve been playing with the site today, and I like it. There are pros and cons, however.

How It Works

The first step is to agree to the disclaimer – more on that in a minute. Next, you pick the crimes you want statistics for. The eight types include assault, break and enter, homicide, robbery, sexual assaults, theft from vehicle, theft of vehicle, and theft over $5000. Third, you pick the neighbourhood – there are 357 listed in the system. Finally, you select the time period. There are some quick selections such as yesterday or the last 30 days, or you can enter any two dates. Click “Show Crimes” and your neighbourhood appears on the map, covered in colored dots to represent the reported crimes. Here’s what Oliver looks like for the last 30 days with all crime types selected:

There’s also a “View Statistics” tab above the map that will show you a table for the last three years broken down by month, with a graph below that.

The Good

There are some really good things about this site. First and foremost, the data is excellent. I’m glad that they included everything up-front, instead of doing a test release or something to start. Second, it’s built using Google Maps. This is a big win for EPS – it’s a stable technology that Google is continually making better, and I would guess that most Edmontonians are familiar with it. Third, it’s fast. Almost as soon as you click the button, your stats appear.

The Bad

There are two things about the site that I don’t like. First is the disclaimer – it’s too restrictive. These two points in particular are problematic:

While it is acceptable to pass the website link on to others in your community, you will not share the information found on the website with others other than with members of the Edmonton Police Service or other law enforcement agencies; and

You will only use this website and the information in it so you can inform yourself of, and participate in, this community policing initiative;

That effectively means you can’t do anything with the data. This is in direct contrast with what the press release would lead you to believe:

Providing our citizens with the real picture of neighbourhood crime is the first step in engaging them to do something about it. Members of the public will be better equipped with knowledge to work collaboratively with the EPS to reduce and prevent crime.

What’s the point of making the data available if you can’t do anything with it? Why can’t I blog about the crime stats in a particular neighbourhood? Or mash the crime stats up with some other data? I challenge the notion that simply being able to see the dots on a map equips me to do something about crime in my neighbourhood.

I’ve emailed the feedback address listed on the site asking about this, but I haven’t yet received a response.

The second bad thing about the site is that while it does make data available, it does so in an opaque and closed way. If Edmonton is going to become an open city (with respect to data), sites like the crime mapping tool need to provide information for multiple audiences. One is the average citizen who is happy to click around on the map. Another increasingly important audience is the creative professional who wants to do something with the data, and needs it in a machine-readable format such as a CSV or XML file.

The Undocumented API

The first thing I did after testing the site with my neighbourhood was poke around for clues about where the data comes from. It didn’t take long to realize that there’s a JSON web service behind the application. You can access it here. It’s probably not meant for public consumption, but it’s there and it works. I was able to throw some code together in about 30 minutes to get data out of the service. While it would still be good to have static data files available, the API largely negates the con I mentioned above. As it is unofficial however, who knows if it will remain active and working, so enjoy it while you can.

Final Thoughts

Overall I think the Crime Mapping tool is excellent. We need more applications and services like this, though with less restrictive terms/licensing and easier-to-access data. Kudos to EPS for building this, and let’s hope they improve it.

UPDATE: There are more details in this article. For instance, the tool apparently cost $20,000 to build, and is automatically updated each morning.

Foundations for an Open Edmonton

Today at BarCamp, I led a discussion around building an open Edmonton. Inspired by the great things happening in Vancouver, I wanted to stimulate the discussion here. I started with two fundamentals:

  1. The City of Edmonton must have the desire to be an open city.
  2. The primary audience is the Creative Class of Edmonton, the secondary audience is all citizens.

Next, I shared what I feel are the five basic foundations of an open city:

  1. Free – both financially and philosophically
  2. Permissive Licensing – things like Creative Commons, should be public domain
  3. Open Standards – formats that anyone can read and write
  4. Plentiful Data – make as much data available as possible
  5. Timely Access – eliminate delays and give everyone equal access

After my five slides (a photo for each of the above) we got into a great discussion about the idea. Here are some of the questions that came up:

  • Are citizens ready for so much data?
  • Why would City Council not want to be an open city?
  • What is the current state of progress on the idea in Edmonton?
  • How does privacy & security factor in?
  • What are some great examples of other cities doing this?

All things that we need to explore further. I’m not sure what the next step is, but eventually, I think it would be great to make a presentation on becoming an open city to Council.

In the meantime, Edmonton has already made some data available – a Google Transit data feed – and some other examples include London’s mySociety. Also, be sure to read Vancouver’s Open City Motion.