(Screenshot via stories.opengov.com)
This week, the City of Wilmington launched a new online tool, OpenGov, intended to ensure transparency when it comes to finances, projects and departments.
To access the open data portal, go to WilmingtonDE.gov and click on OPENGOV (the purple box to the right). That takes you directly to the portal, where you can choose from three areas: financial reports, departmental stories and capital project stories.
We gave it a spin to see how user-friendly and informational it is (and to see if we’d find any interesting data). Here’s what we found:
1. It’s simple to navigate and visually easy to read.
Data like department budgets, project votes and city department expenditures was already out there. But the thing about data is that while it can be readily available (such as via the state’s open data portal), without visualization, it can be tough — or at least time-consuming — for the non-data scientist to interpret.
As a tool, it’s very visible and accessible. Choose an area, click through to a graph, click on an area of the graph for more details. Easy.
2. You’ll occasionally hit a wall.
The Capital Projects area details city projects like park renovations, transportation initiatives and reconstruction, with photos of before and during the project (as well as artist renderings of the finished project), plans if applicable, and a project funding area that shows where the money came from, how much has been spent so far and how much is remaining.
Each spending segment is clickable, but, at least for now, instead of taking you to a report, it takes you to page that requires an OpenGov password (like the Project Funding section here).
3. It puts things into perspective.
We’ve seen a good amount of new development and renovations in Wilmington in the past few years — the 76ers Field House, for example, was announced in late 2017, had its ceremonial groundbreaking in August of 2018 (with the building already under construction), and it opened in January of this year. That project, though it did receive $4 million in state and city funding (out of a total of $26 million), was a project driven by Wilmington-based Buccini/Pollin Group (BPG) and BPGS Construction, with 76ers partnership.
By contrast, a lot of city projects are more long-term. Some projects take years, such as the Strategic Development Fund, which was approved for infrastructure improvements at North Union Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (a mixed-use project that is currently under construction) in 2008.
4. Who’s getting the contracts?
One area that seems to be missing from OpenGov is contract agreements, and who gets them. We know, for example, that BPG receives a number of city contracts, but how does BPG compare to McConnell-Johnson, Delle Donne and Capano? Who is getting smaller contracts with the city, like catering? Are contracts awarded in an equitable way?
Much of this info is out there, but at this point it’s not available on OpenGov.
5. Public service grants from the Real Estate and Housing Department have spiked.
Over the last decade, yearly public service grants from the department have hovered around $1 million ($2 million in 2011), per a graph on the site. In 2019, it’s tripled from the previous year, with around $3 million in grants.
If you’re looking for basics, like how much the city spent on road improvements, it’s a handy tool. If you’re looking for more details, it will only take you so far. And for looking up current projects, seeing how they’re progressing complete with photos, it’s pretty great.
We’ll leave you with a screenshot of the progress on the Urban Artist’s Exchange, a project on the East Side that is converting old Wilmington Police Department horse stables into art and teaching studios:
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