Sunday, November 8, 2009

Crucial Elements Missing in Toronto's Open Data Initiative - Part II

I have received a number of emails in response to my previous post concerning Toronto's Open Data initiative. A few have told me they agreed with my comments about the lack of interest by academics and GIS professionals to participate in the event and in the dialogue with the city.  However, a few have pointed out that I sounded disappointed at the data the City of Toronto has made available for free, and that I also sounded condescending towards developers and hackers.

Firstly, let me state that I was not criticizing the City of Toronto with my comments. I think it's a wonderful thing that they are making data available for free and I know it was a not an easy task to accomplish following the CUPE strike this past summer.  Secondly, I think it is crucial that developers and hackers have data to build tools, games, applications etc. These data are necessary to allow the creative juices to flow in the programming community.   With their creativity and ingenuity, their access to these data can only make Toronto a better place.  And since they are the ones who have asked for data, they should have access to what they want and need.

But, being from the academic sector, I could not help but feel disappointed in being one of the few asking for data necessary to do my work in serving the GIS and Data communities. Having worked with City of Toronto data for over ten years now, I know of a number of datasets that exist that are crucial to the academic work at the University of Toronto and elsewhere that are not in the current offering. I realize more datasets are forthcoming, but this is where my fear and pleas are based. I do not want to be the only one asking for the datasets I think are important to liberate because why would the City of Toronto take my word for it that the data are necessary? I want the communities I work with (ie. academics and GIS professionals) to help me by making their demands known.

A second fear that I have is that the freeing up of data will take on a rather washed delivery structure and format if we do not ask for the data in the formats we know they exist in. That is, that datasets will be distributed only in part or in formats unusable for most GIS work.  See another post on this subject here.  Not a day goes by that I do not get asked about land use data for Toronto.  Data, by the way, that I receive four times per year from the City of Mississauga and in GIS format!  When these for Toronto are released in the future, I have been told twice now by city officials, they will continue to be disseminated via the Official Plan in PDF format. As for zoning, they will only be disseminated through the web application  PDF and web maps are two methods of delivery that simply are unusable for analysis purposes.

And so again, I ask academics, GIS professionals, and librarians to please make your data needs known by the City of Toronto. Visit and list or vote for the data you want to work with.

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