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Barcamp News Innovation / Data / Ethics / Municipal government / OpenAccessPhilly city data catalog to launch April 25 during Philly Tech Week

The open source project was built by Azavea with the support of a coalition of stakeholders including this news site.

Full Disclosure: Technically Philly organizes Philly Tech Week and was involved in developing the project.

The City of Philadelphia already publicly shares a considerable amount of data and information, but there has never been a reliable place to find what’s available, request more and learn what’s coming, says Robert Cheetham. That’s about to change. Unveiling Details:
When: Monday., April 25, 12-1 p.m., Philly Tech Week
Where: WHYY, 150 North 6th Street (6th and Race), Old City
Price: FREE, with reservation as space is limited
Reserve your FREE spot at the unveiling

As part of Philly Tech Week on April 25, Azavea, the GIS application development company Cheetham founded, will unveil The searchable site will aim to be the resource for all relevant, civic-orientated tools, applications, data and information in the region from both governmental and non-government groups. Technically Philly and WHYY are also partnering on the project, which has the support of the City of Philadelphia’s Division of Technology.
“Philadelphia has had many public data sources for more than 10 years, but there hasn’t been a place to bring it all together,” Cheetham says. “This is intended to do that, thereby making it easier for developers and other people to use that data in useful and inspiring ways.”

Dozens of initial data sets, APIs and data centric mobile and web-based applications will be initially included, with more to be added, Cheetham says.
One such example is GIS shape files of city property parcels that are generated and maintained when homes, buildings and land is sold, Cheetham says. These and other shape files have long been made available, through initiatives like the Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access clearinghouse, but never in one place. With property parcel shape files, developers could create tools that work with information from the city Board of Revision of Taxes and online zoning maps from the Planning Commission to track development opportunities, Cheetham says.

We are sharing data and information that can help us to visualize phenomenon in our society and build tools to improve our lives. -Robert Cheetham, Azavea

“This is a huge opportunity to show how many people are involved in making Philadelphia better with technology,” City of Philadelphia Division of Technology Chief of Staff Jeff Friedman recently told Technically Philly. In outlining his priorities, Friedman’s boss, City CTO Tommy Jones, has expressed concern that limited staff capacity would continue to slow data release projects.
“We are eager to work with others to get things done,” Friedman has said.
Azavea is leading the actual construction of the portal and its design pro bono, though the current OpenDataPhilly branding came from Indy Hall regular Johnny Bilotta and an existing @OpenDataPhilly Twitter account has been maintained by TEDx organizer Roz Duffy.
Technically Philly will help grow use of the data catalog, from hosting events (like this one), covering data usage and lobbying for new data. In addition to being the official headquarters for Philly Tech Week and hosting this unveiling, WHYY will partner in supporting and growing the catalog and its utility. Additionally, last summer, WHYY funded an Azavea survey of existing data in the region, a project aiding the OpenDataPhilly catalog launch.
On Saturday April 30 of Philly Tech Week, BarCamp NewsInnovation at Temple University will feature an Open Gov Hackathon presented by Tropo, relying prominently on the new data catalog. Register here for that FREE event.
Azavea is building the data catalog as a pro bono project, with the blessing — but no funding — from the City of Philadelphia and its Division of Technology. No previously unavailable city data will be included to start, though that may quickly change, Friedman has said. Future ownership and control of the data portal is still uncertain.
Despite heavy outside involvement, the OpenDataPhilly catalog may prove a major initiative of Open Access Philly, one of the three major components of the city’s Digital Philadelphia vision.
Cheetham says, OpenDataPhilly’s goals are to:

  • Improve access to data about Philadelphia
  • Increase government transparency and accountability
  • Drive and encourage innovative uses of the data
  • Inform citizens about our region’s trends

OpenDataPhilly is committed to seeing other public sector organizations release their data too, Cheetham says, but releasing data is only half the battle.
“Raw data often doesn’t tell anything until it has been presented in a meaningful way. We want to encourage citizens to transform rows of text, numbers and shapes into apps and visualizations that people find useful and meaningful,” Azavea said in a release.
The catalog will not be limited to city and other government data, but rather a clearinghouse for meaningful, relevant, actionable data and information. Cheetham says the following data categories will available to start:

  • Arts and Culture
  • Economy
  • Education
  • Elections and Politics
  • Environment
  • Food
  • Human Services
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Public Safety
  • Real Estate and Land Records
  • Religion
  • Transportation

“Over the last five years, there has been increasing attention to the availability of open and freely-accessible data sets about our communities,” Cheetham says. “Government is one of the most important sources, but nonprofits, universities and other organizations are increasingly also offering information that can help us to visualize phenomenon in our society and build tools to improve our lives.”

Companies: Digital Philadelphia / Azavea / Division of Technology /
Series: Transparencity

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