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Becoming the latest municipality to fling open stores of data, New York City yesterday released 194 datasets–on everything from restaurant inspections and property sales to traffic data and the locations of laundry facilities. The city also launched a $20,000 competition to develop software applications using this data.

While this may well be the largest release of public data to date by a U.S. city, it still represents a limited opening of the tap–one that doesn’t illuminate governmental budget processes or many negative aspects of city life, such as crime or inferior city services.

A search of the new data site, which went live yesterday afternoon, found no datasets associated with the keywords “crime,” “potholes,” “homeless,” or “campaign contributions.” In the geographical datasets (which represent 93 of the total), the word “fire” produces data showing the location of police and fire stations, but no information about actual fires in the city. Even the word “budget” produced only one hit–a dataset on the city’s adopted budgets. In contrast, Washington, DC, has released performance-tracking and accountability metrics for how capital projects and other programs are faring. The data does, however, include health-department inspection reports of restaurants.

But if you want to know anything about New York City “parks,” you’ll hit the jackpot: 25 separate directories on things like barbecuing sites, handball courts, dog runs, and sidewalk cafes.

“Hopefully what they’ve done is a first step toward the city making all government data, except that which poses a security or privacy concern, available,” says Andrew Rasiej, founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, which tracks the intersection of technology, government, and politics. (Rasiej was also a 2005 candidate for New York City Public Advocate.) “Washington, DC, is way ahead of New York, but the reality is that it’s significant that New York City has finally come to the party and recognized that open data is the future of civic engagement.”

However, he added: “The three most important things people want to know–how to be safe, where my money is being spent, and how the children of our city are doing–are not there. Ten years from now, every city will be doing this by rote. What are we waiting for in New York?”

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Credit: New York City

Tagged: Communications, Web, iPhone, data mining, database systems, government IT

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