New York City has made its public data available for public use to help support an innovative ecosystem and demonstrate greater responsibility towards its citizens.

Open Data setting a standard for large US cities

Since the launch of the New York City Open Data project in 2011, the city has made available more than 1,100 datasets from close to 60 New York City agencies – including education, transport, buildings, land-use, etc. These datasets total more than 600 million rows and have received more than 2.8 million views. Local Law 11 of 2012, signed by NYC Mayor Bloomberg in March 2012, requires City agencies and departments to systematically categorize and make accessible in open formats their public data sets at no charge. In addition the project provides an easy-to-use platform for developers, together with a range of initiatives designed to encourage innovative startup companies to flourish.

A platform to promote collaboration

New York City Council is following up on its 201 2Law on Publishing Open Data,and several weeks ago launched an online portal which makes available data from the City’s various agencies going back over 40 years. The portal is only a first step. NYC has already made many datasets available in a variety of machine-readable formats and City Hall has made it clear that it will make available by 2018 all the public data it keeps.  The portal currently offers access to over 1,100 datasets categorized by subject – education, environment, health, and so on – which are open to everyone to use. NYC Open Platform Officer Mike Flowers pointed out that the main aim of the initiative is to foster greater collaboration between the City and its people in order to optimize City management, explaining that the data represents “the infrastructure that we invite City residents, researchers, non-profits, and companies to use to help us strengthen and make even greater the country’s greatest city.” APIs, code samples and other collaborative tools are also available on the platform, allowing real-time integration of agency-sourced data. An example of the kind of tool that such municipal data can help to underpin is Google Crisis Maps, which has already exploited the potential of the available data,enabling researchers to see in real time the progress of natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.

Data management encouraging innovative startups

The Open Data project has been implemented in collaboration with several incubators and university research centers, which means that a number of startup companies and entrepreneurs trying to push beyond mere m-administration services are already making good use of the data. The NYC BigApps Grand Prize, awarded every year to a mobile app deemed to be making the best use of publicly available data, this year went to HealthyOut,an app that enables people to find restaurants in the neighbourhood offering healthy food. The data underpinning the app comes from the results of inspections carried out by the Department of Public Health, and helps users to find restaurants which both comply with current legislation and serve healthy dishes. The 2012 winner,Ontodia, developed NYCFacets, a smart Open Data exchange which works as a city encyclopaedia, compiling useful information – on education, security, housing, and so on – for each district. The startup’s founder, Joel Navidad, acknowledges that the cost of developing the application would have been just too high without prior aggregation and availability of the data. “The availablility of these datasets allowed us to develop a working application much faster,” he emphasized.



By Thomas Meyer
Journalist, Business Analyst