New York City ‘Open Data’ Paves Way for Innovative Technology

Open Data for All New Yorkers” proclaimed New York City’s administration upon unveiling their new NYC Open Data tool. By providing public access to the wealth of public data generated by various New York City agencies and organization, the initiative aims to “empower more New Yorkers to understand how their city works through the information it produces.” From the NYC Open Data mailing list to the new homepage for the NYC Open Data web portal launched by the de Blasio administration, NYC is clearly a trailblazer among global cities in terms of data transparency.

The deeply held value of government transparency traces back more than a century in New York City when reformers fought to install accountability measures on public officials to curtail corruption. Over the years, these policies were codified into public records legislation, which guaranteed the public the right to know what the government was doing on their behalf. With the advent of the Internet, New York City again led the charge on government transparency by publishing the first-ever Public Data Directory in 1993. As technology advanced, so did NYC’s data legislation. Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed the “Open Data Law” in 2012. Unlike New York State’s “Freedom of Information Law,” which only requires disclosure of public information in response to specific requests, New York City’s “Open Data Law” compels the City to preemptively publish all public data. Mayor Bill de Blasio expanded this even further in 2015 with his “Open Data for All” plan, which removed yet more obstacles (including financial) involved in public access to public data.

The philosophy behind “Open Data for All” turns on the idea that easy access to government data offers everyday New Yorkers the chance to grow and innovate: “Data is more than just numbers – it’s information that can create new opportunities and level the playing field for New Yorkers. It’s the illumination that changes frameworks, the insight that turns impenetrable issues into solvable problems.” Fundamentally, the newfound accessibility of City data is revolutionizing NYC business. According to Albert Webber, Program Manager for Open Data, City of New York, a key part of his job is “to engage the civic technology community that we have, which is very strong, very powerful in New York City.”

Fundamentally, Open Data is a game-changer for hundreds of New York companies, from startups to corporate giants, all of whom rely on data for their operations. The effect is set to be particularly profound in New York City’s most important economic sector: real estate. Seeking to transform the real estate and construction market in the City, valued at a record-setting $1 trillion in 2016, companies have been racing to develop tools that will harness the power of Open Data to streamline bureaucracy and management processes.

One such technology is the Citiscape app. Developed by a passionate team of real estate experts with more than 15 years of experience in the field, the app assembles data from the Department of Building and the Environmental Control Board into one easy-to-navigate interface. According to Citiscape Chief Operational Officer Olga Khaykina, the secret is in the app’s simplicity, which puts every aspect of project management at the user’s fingertips. “We made DOB and ECB just one tap away,” said Khaykina. “You’re one tap away from instant and accurate updates and alerts from the DOB that will keep you informed about any changes to ongoing project. One tap away from organized and cloud-saved projects, including accessible and coordinated interaction with all team members through our in-app messenger. And one tap away from uncovering technical information about any building in NYC, just by entering its address.” Gone are the days of continuously refreshing the DOB website in hopes of an update on a minor complaint or a status change regarding your project; Citiscape does the busywork so you can focus on your project.

The Citiscape team emphasized that, without access to Open Data, this project would have been impossible. “The NYC Open Data tool allowed us to gather all the data into a single efficient application, so our users can stay one step ahead, no matter how experienced in construction they are,” Khaykina explained. “It’s magic to an architect, developer, or real estate agent to be able to keep all related project material in their device.”

This is just one reason why open data is so vital for modern smart cities. “The NYC Open Data portal has been developed as part of an initiative to improve the accessibility and transparency of City government. There are currently over 90 cities that have joined the program. From Las Vegas to Ashville, cities are releasing their data to the public,” said Khaykina. As the U.S. Government Data website says, “Open government data powers software applications that help consumers make informed decisions.”