In a TED talk featured at TEDxNewYork on November 2014, Ben Wellington gave an interesting presentation on how their team found the worst place to park in New York City using big data. Ben Wellington runs the “I Quant NY” blog, in which he crunches New York city-released data and brings out interesting insights on various socio-economic problems. In his talk, Ben highlights the importance of why data related to various aspects of urban life, acquired by many NY city agencies needs to be accessible to the general public.
He further stressed on the need for this freely available data to be in easy to handle file formats such as csv, excel, and not in formats like pdf, docx which would require extensive data cleaning before any meaningful analysis can be performed on them. He concludes by emphasizing the need to answer various unexpected questions related to urban life, which city agencies generally won’t consider addressing in their periodical reports, questions like when is the rush hour traffic highest in NY City, which intersections are the most dangerous for cyclists or where the dirtiest waterways in the city are.
Questions like that are aplenty in any city, and as Wellington says, an open data movement which makes city-related data publicly available and accessible to the general public could help provide the answers. A more elaborate objective of an open data movement is to transition from an emphasis on transparency, to measuring the social and economic impact of open data programs. As part of this transition, governments are realizing the importance of creating a formal policy to define strategic goals, describe the desired benefits, and provide the scope for data publishing efforts over time. Many urban centres like New York City, Chicago, Montgomery County, New York State, and Halifax have all adopted official open data policies to increase transparency, further agency goals, and create economic opportunities for citizens.
The benefits of such open data policies at government level are tremendous. According to an Economist report, just in Europe alone the information held by governments could be used to generate an estimated €140 billion ($180 billion) a year. And another McKinsey study claimed the total economic value of open data around the world to be at a whopping $3 trillion annually. There are lot of success stories across the world where these open data policies have already created a huge economic impact in the private business sector.
These examples only touch upon the surface of the benefits of open data initiatives. In reality, there is a huge economic potential involved in a thorough implementation of open data policies across all the cities in the world. Let us hope that in the near future many more cities make available various kinds of government data, so that they can be accessed by anyone to positively impact various economic and social aspects of urban life.
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