Bringing City Data Out From Behind the Curtain
Smart city solutions can only happen in an ecosystem built upon open data.
More than a century ago, L. Frank Baum’s Emerald City in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” emerged as an early concept of a smart city. In Oz’s capital, a central authority oversaw all elements of the city through a single interface, ensuring that infrastructure and operations worked smoothly.
Today, that concept has been flipped on its giant, floating head. The modern smart city ideal features a decentralized operation that relies on an ecosystem of best-of-breed apps, and that ecosystem can only be built upon open data. City governments are recognizing this and implementing open data policies to encourage stakeholders to build the solutions that will help cities respond to changing demands.
In fact, cities around the world are recognizing the importance of open data and creating public portals. These include New York, Los Angeles, London, Helsinki and others. In the United States, even the federal government has recognized the value of publicly available data, co-sponsoring the National Day of Civic Hacking where citizens come together and use it to design solutions.
But why wait for a designated day? Forward-looking cities make it easy to get started. Houston’s data portal contains more than 160 different data sets, giving developers a phenomenal variety of information to draw upon. Take the locations of every electric vehicle charging station and bike rental location and build an app for environmentally conscious visitors. Or pinpoint all the after-school programs for parents.
New York City’s data portal gives access to more than 1,500 data sets covering public safety, housing, business, transportation, environment and more. Developers of a dining app could reference restaurant inspection scores, while a house-hunting app could layer school districts over neighborhoods and incorporate performance metric like test scores and graduation rates.
The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority in Boston also instituted an open data program, which resulted in a diverse and open marketplace of free and paid apps that tell riders exactly when their bus will arrive. The MBTA’s open data program won statewide Innovation of the Year honors, and we’re very happy to have brought its co-founder, Chris Dempsey, into Masabi as our vice president for North America.
The smart city doesn’t need a great and powerful wizard running the show. Even if that were possible, monolithic solutions aren’t agile and won’t be able to respond to cities’ changing needs in the way a diverse ecosystem of problem-solvers can. It’s past time to pull the curtain back from city data and allow public and private stakeholders to create an urban experience that puts users – citizens, businesses and visitors – at the forefront, by leveraging open data.