Monthly Archives: August 2008

PRESS: Lost in the PDFs: Getting City Data in the Gotham Gazette

This month my work was featured in an article about civic data in the Gotham Gazette:

EveryBlock.com, which compiles information from agencies of several cities and presents it in a friendly format, has been trying to provide New York City residents with detailed information about crime. To get the statistics for New York, EveryBlock’s “people person,” Daniel O’Neil, has had to make phone calls and develop relationships.In Chicago, where EveryBlock got its start, residents wanting to know what crimes have occurred in their area simply type in their address or neighborhood and receive a list of reported offenses. Clicking on the crime brings more information, including a locator map. This comes directly from the police department’s records. By contrast, all the New York Every Block site offers is a weekly compendium of crimes by precinct, with no details on the reports and no indication of where in the precinct the alleged offense occurred.While EveryBlock has not been able to persuade New York City’s police department to make that information accessible, EveryBlock does provide access to New York restaurant inspections and building violations. The information is much more accessible on EveryBlock where anyone can search for violations in a particular ZIP code or by the name of a facility.O’Neil says it is absurd that city agencies leave it to third party projects like his to provide information access. “It’s unethical for cities to say that some external service is going to be essential to displaying city service requests,” he said.Making records accessible is not just a matter of honest government, O’Neil said; it’s a matter of being cost effective. “The city spends an enormous amount of time and energy and human resources and technical resources to create reports that are practically worthless,” he explained.

Independent Government Observers Task Force

I helped organize and participated in the Independent Government Observers Task Force

Municipal Governments (Working Group Chair: Daniel X. O’Neil). This group will focus on issues involved in citizens attempting to build interfaces around municipal government data. Technical issues such as harvesting techniques and presentation techniques will be covered, as will social issues such as negotiating for the release of public data.

Seal of the Great Seal of Approval

The conference was sponsored in part by public.resource.org.