Dasher & Data & Prancer & Vixen: ‘Tis the Season for Open Data

It’s the season of giving, and the Atlantic Cities has given us a recap of the ten best new urban data sets of 2011. The list illustrates the trend of city governments making public data sets actually available to the public.

The list is quite eclectic, including:

Code violations in SeattleThis comprehensive database, up-to-date through last week, tracks citations for everything from illegal housing units to “observed outdoor junk storage” to gasp “vegetation over the sidewalk.” Each violation also links to a separate page where you can track the progress on a complaint (if, say, you’re the one who filed it and you want to watch the city follow through).

City payments to vendors in Washington, D.C.In a city with a venerable tradition of government contracts given to political pals, this data set makes transparent exactly which vendors are getting how much money for what, on a quarterly basis, which helps track government compliance with District procurement and local business development laws.

Electricity consumption by zip code in New York City – This data, from consumption in 2010, also breaks down by building type and utility provider. The number is a good stand-in for examining energy efficiency, or checking out the likely utility costs in your next apartment.

The evidence that cities are making such diverse and niche data sets freely available online reflects a serious commitment to the democratization of data. No longer do citizens and researchers have to rely on personal connections or the slow (and potentially unreliable) process of filing Freedom of Information Act requests in order to get a view into their municipal government.

Of course, certain cities are pursuing this goal more aggressively than others. Detroit is certainly behind the curve in data publication, but this means that our local government has plenty of room for improvement to become more transparent, improving accountability and letting local community groups better see activity in their areas. In particular, publishing municipal data gives independent researchers the opportunity to perform analysis that city governments, increasingly constrained by limited resources, might not be able to afford to do themselves.

Have a happy holiday season; see you next year back at the D3 blog!