Wall Street Journal: App Makers Prod City for More Data
By Joseph de Avila
April 29, 2010
Dozens of city agencies are not making data—from car crashes to crime statistics—publicly available for Web developers.
New York's biggest government-transparency initiatives include the city-run Data Mine, an online portal, and the so-called BigApps contest, where developers create iPhone and Web applications using city data.
Out of 41 agencies that report to the mayor and about a dozen that don't, 28 have contributed to Data Mine. And agencies were not required to participate in the BigApps contest. That excluded campaign-finance data, crime statistics maintained by police and information from the Department of Environmental Protection on hazardous materials.
Besides the city initiatives, such data are often used to power Web sites and applications for mobile phones. One such application allows users to look up restaurant-inspection records, while another lets parents compare test scores among public schools.
Lou Klepner, co-founder of Open NY Forum, a group pushing for more government transparency, lauded some of the efforts but said the city's overall hesitation is causing it to lag behind cities such as San Francisco and Boston.
A spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg cited the growth of 311, where the public can get information and lodge complaints against city services, as an example of the mayor's commitment to transparency. "We've made more data available than any other city," said Andrew Brent.
On Wednesday, City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, who represents Manhattan, and Councilman James Vacca, who represents the Bronx, pushed for legislation that would require the NYPD to regularly put car-crash data on the Web.
"We just want them to disclose to the community the information they already have," she said.
But the agencies themselves say making data public available is not as easy as simply uploading it onto a Web site.
"It would result in the misguided use of scarce police resources at a time when the department is already addressing the issue," said Paul Browne, NYPD spokesman.
DEP spokesman Farrell Sklerov said the agency didn't participate in BigApps last year because it couldn't identify data that was both useful and didn't contain sensitive security information. Mr. Sklerov said DEP is considering it for this year.
The Campaign Finance Board, which does not report to the mayor, was not asked to participate in last year's BigApps competition, said spokesman Eric Friedman. The Campaign Finance Board could not yet comment on whether it would participate in this year's BigApps competition, he said.