Open Data Brings Power to the People

As the ways in which cities across the U.S. are utilizing the web continues to increase, open data is changing the way citizens interact with their government. Philadelphia is one city using information to level the power playing field.
August 24, 2012, 7am PDT | Andrew Gorden
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In cities like San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Seattle, governments are increasingly releasing swaths of data online. The Next American City's Mark Alan Hughes looks at Philadelphia's progress in opening up city hall to the world wide web. "Under the leadership of Commissioner Carlton Williams, the Department of Licenses and Inspections has launched a new public tool that provides meaningful access to data, allowing people to search and map information from a huge list of topics: Vacancy and code violations, building permits, zoning appeals, food licenses, sign permits and so on."

"The layering and accessibility of these data sets have the potential to change the practice of both policymakers and private citizens, as well as how these two relate to each other," says Hughes.

Ultimately, new technology tools may be better able to "transform closed and corrupt transactions into fairer, more open and ultimately more competitive markets," says the author.

"These tools represent a game-changing opportunity to take what has been wrongfully treated as proprietary knowledge among developers and their lawyers (who owns what, with what tax bill and with which permits to develop) and transform it into public knowledge, so that anyone with an interest or an idea can participate. This is what government does to improve markets: It does not pick winners, but makes it possible for everyone to compete to win. When government share knowledge widely, everyone has a chance to compete and markets work best."

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Published on Tuesday, August 21, 2012 in Next American City
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