NYC Woos Data Newbies With New Open Data Portal Home Page

On the fifth anniversary of New York City's Open Data Law, officials launched a new, user-friendly homepage for the NYC Open Data Web portal.

by / March 7, 2017

Five years to the day after New York City’s Open Data Law was signed into law, the municipality marked the legislation’s anniversary on Tuesday, March 7, with something for newbies — the launch of a new, user-friendly home page for the NYC Open Data Web portal.

The home page, the city said via news release, is an easier entry point for “data novices” to get acquainted with city data and to empower New Yorkers “to understand how their city works through the information it produces.”

Now being tested in beta mode, the new website features how-to guides to getting started with city data sets and analysis tools; a public calendar of civic tech and data events; a new customer support app for asking questions, requesting new data and tracking the status of issues; and information on the city’s open data policy.

It was developed by the city’s Open Data team in partnership with the Department of Information Technology (DoIT) NYC Gov Lab & Studio UK Team.

In a statement, Mayor Bill de Blasio called open data “a window into what’s happening in every neighborhood in our city.”

“This is information that belongs to New Yorkers, and through the new home page, it’s easier than ever to find, understand, and use it. We’re proud to be doing our part putting this information up — now, we want even more New Yorkers to discover, benefit and build from it,” said de Blasio, a frequent critic of the Trump administration.

In fact, the news release highlighted the uncertainty of open data at the federal level — noting that  the Trump administration removed all data sets from the White House Open Data portal, and hasn’t precisely indicated its exact position on the issue.

By contrast, the city said in the release that “New York City Open Data is here to stay," and invited New Yorkers to take part in a week of celebrations commemorating the anniversary and presented in collaboration with the civic tech community.

Its “Open Data Week” will end with a pilot Open Data for All workshop, to teach data analysis skills using city data. (Find a list of the week's events at www.open-data.nyc.)

Anne Roest, commissioner of the department of IT and telecommuncations, said a culture of open data has blossomed and New Yorkers are the better for it.

“Our task now is to make sure everyone knows that ‘data’ isn’t just something for tech experts. Democracy thrives when data is accessible and available to all,” Roest said in a statement.

Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, the open government advocacy nonprofit, praised New York City for its work on open government.

“Over the last decade, New York City has shown that improving public access to public information using modern technologies is not a Republican or Democratic idea: it's an American one, based upon shared democratic principles,” Howard said.

Stephen Larrick, the foundation’s open data lead, said the new website shows New York has realized that simply making data available is not sufficient and continues to lead in civic tech.

“To meet resident needs and ensure impact on the ground, addressing the issue of ‘data poverty’ that the city has rightly prioritized, open data releases must connect to community dialog, civic engagement and user feedback,” Larrick said.

Miguel Gamiño, the city’s chief technology officer, echoed the mayor’s sentiments.

“It will now be easier than ever before for New Yorkers to engage with more than a thousand data sets to learn more about where they live, work and play,” Gamiño said.

The launch of the new home page comes five years after passage of Local Law 11, known as “the Open Data Law,” by the New York City Council.

It mandates all public city data be made available online by the end of 2018. Since its passage, the number of individual data records accessed through the city portal has risen from 3.2 billion in its first year to more than 258 billion during the last 12 months.

Over the duration of the legislation, 1.7 million data sets have been downloaded.

Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver pointed out that city computer resource centers are working with the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics and tech partner Carto to create user-generated maps and graphs using data from the TreesCount! 2015 street tree census.

He called open data “rocket fuel for volunteer engagement,” and said the partnership with Carto is “helping us grow a new generation of green New Yorkers.”

John Kaehny, co-chair of the NYC Transparency Working Group — and part of the stakeholder group that crafted the open data law — said the anniversary is a reminder that innovation, hard work and commitment can make any government more open, responsive and effective.

“Government is the public’s business," Kaehny said, "and we greatly appreciate Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to fund and empower his open data team to make the New York City Open Data initiative a powerful tool for good."

Editor's note: this story was updated at 10:10 a.m. on March 8, 2017, to accurately reflect details of the New York City Open Data Law, which was signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2012.