“WAYS & MEANS: Disrupting City Hall to Open Government
MARK ALAN HUGHES | NEXT AMERICAN CITY
August 21, 2012
You probably know more about the locale for tomorrow night’s House Hunters International, or the flavors on next week’s Cupcake Wars, than you do about construction planned for across your street or building code violations on your block.
Ever since Walter Annenberg invented TV Guide (in Philadelphia, by the way), the accessibility of programming data has been continuously improved. And since one thing leads to the next, these days you can access that TV schedule from a device in your pocket and then program your DVR to record shows, post the fact that you’ve scheduled a recording on social media, etc., etc. and, let me just say, etc.
The technology that enables this very contemporary reality TV-topia isn’t restricted to one’s viewing habits. Innovations in digital media and wireless technology have literally remade how we consume information, putting formerly ubiquitous technologies such as the traditional boob tube on the fast train to obsolescence, “disrupting” the existing market and, in turn, the way we perform basic activities.
In Philadelphia, there has been lots of talk — and progress — about disrupting the way we as citizens interact with our government. In particular, there has been quite a bit of interest in open data — or the release of data by governments, transit agencies and others to empower citizens and engage entrepreneurs.
It turns out that someone in City Hall was listening to all the clamor. 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.
On its face, this is pretty simple stuff: Taking information that has been around for decades, even centuries, and simply putting it into a map on a web-accessible screen. There are similar moves happening in local government, such as the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority’s Philly LandWorks simple tool for finding and buying property, and the Office of Property Assessment’s Property Search simple tool for determining the assessed value and taxes due on property.
But this simplicity is deceiving. These tools could be the “disruptive technology” we’ve been waiting for, and could very well rock the status quo by the very virtue of their slightly retrograde simplicity. (The key citation here is Clayton Christensen’s 1997 book, The Innovators Dilemma.)
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.”
Via: Next American City
Image: An interactive map gives data about the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections, such as the L&I violations shown in this screen grab. Credit: City of Philadelphia