Pittsburgh Public Data Center Work Underway with Help from Foundation’s $1.8M

Officials hope the center will eventually include information and statistics from municipalities, nonprofits, civic organizations and universities from across the region.

by Bob Bauder, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review / December 18, 2014

(TNS) -- The Richard King Mellon Foundation will provide $1.8 million for an online database where residents can find government information such as Pittsburgh crime statistics and Allegheny County property records, officials announced Wednesday.

Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are working with the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University to build the regional data resource center that's expected to begin providing city information as early as January or February.

Officials hope the site will eventually include information and statistics from municipalities, nonprofits, civic organizations and universities from across the region.

“Our main goal is to supply the public with information,” said Laura Meixell, Pittsburgh's analytics and strategy manager, who has been working since early this year to make city information available online.

The website will be a central location where residents can find everything from county Health Department records and tax assessments to city property code violations and animal complaints. Pitt's Center for Social and Urban Research will maintain the data center.

Meixell said the information is stored in different locations on web servers maintained by the city and county.

The two governments will hire experts who will pull the data together and work with Pitt to build on it so residents can find details such as how many crimes happened on a street, or in a block, during certain periods.

Meixell said officials can use it to improve government. They can analyze snow plowing complaints, for example, to see if they spike in a specific neighborhood.

“That will give us information to be able to go out and see what's going on,” she said.

Meixell said the database will launch Pittsburgh's open data initiative, which City Council approved this year. It requires the city to make public information readily available.

The grant will help pay for technology experts from San Francisco-based Code for America who are visiting Pittsburgh next year to put city purchasing and police blotter reports online.

The nonprofit chose Pittsburgh and six other areas of the country to participate in the computer coding fellowship program. Pittsburgh will pay $100,000 and The Richard King Mellon foundation will contribute $330,000 to cover costs.

©2014 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

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