Open Data Is Like a Digital Vitamin for Smarter Cities
- By Lachlan Colquhoun
- October 10, 2023
The city of Syracuse in the U.S. has ambitions to be one of the smartest cities in the nation, and a vital enabler of that will be a commitment to open data.
In October 2023, the city of around 150,000 people in New York State announced an open data challenge to help it deliver on its “Vision Zero” aspirations to improve traffic safety.
The challenge is a month-long open data competition encouraging entrants to use data from the city's Office of Analytics, Performance and Innovation's Open Data Portal.
The ultimate goal is for projects to heighten traffic safety and move the dial towards "Vision Zero", an aspiration for no road deaths or accidents.
All of this will culminate in the first-ever Open Data Day for the city in November 2023.
“Whether talking about bikes, public transit, or motor vehicles, it is our hope that this civic-minded challenge will bring local data-oriented minds together to provide analysis, visualizations and web projects tied to understanding citizens’ experience with our transportation system,” said Syracuse mayor Ben Walsh.
Eligible projects must use at least one dataset from Open Data Syracuse. Still, contestants can use additional data sources and find or create their own as part of the challenge.
Europe, the leader
Syracuse is not the only city that sees Open Data as an enabler to become smarter.
In Europe, arguably the regional leader in smart city development, there is a European Data Portal comprising over 1.5 million datasets from 36 countries.
Central to the portal idea is that Open Data has a clear role in urban transformation and can be used to build better products such as real-time transport products and healthcare initiatives.
“By combining AI, cloud technologies and open data, SPOTTED paves the way for smarter, more environmentally conscious cities worldwide.”
In Berlin, for example, the FixMyBerlin app helps facilitate the transition to a bicycle-friendly city by aggregating data to create an effective map. The app’s Happy Bike Index shows areas where cycling is safe and those that might pose dangers.
In Amsterdam, apps developed from Open Data help drivers find parking spaces and cyclists find bike shops.
The city is also home to a European initiative called Code4Europe, which aims to solve local civic challenges by enabling agile temporary teams of developers to create solutions easily reusable in other European cities utilizing available open city data.
Another example is the U.S. app Trulia, which collects neighborhood data such as photos, drone footage, resident reviews and local insights and presents it to people interested in moving to a location or visiting.
The idea is to go beyond the typical listings by sourcing insights from locals; users can get a deeper understanding of living in a home and neighborhood. Trulia uses filters to make suggestions to users.
Open data from satellites is increasingly being leveraged in the smart city cause. Europe has an initiative called the SPOTTED project, or the Satellite Open Data for Smart City Services Development, which has three pilot projects in Milan, Helsinki and Naples.
“By combining AI, cloud technologies and open data, SPOTTED paves the way for smarter, more environmentally conscious cities worldwide,” the project coordinators said.
In Milan, the Data-Driven Green and Just Transition project uses a data platform to analyze and predict the city's impacts of green transformation initiatives.
Machine learning tools assist in assessing and planning the programs and supporting actions such as urban forest projects and regeneration plans.
In Helsinki, the project focuses on identifying green areas using satellite imagery to create data products to monitor nature tourism sustainability and support urban planning.
The third project in Naples is a pilot to use satellite images to create thematic maps for analyzing urban regeneration strategies.
Another European Open Data project is ODALA, which means “Collaborative, Secure and Replicable Open Source Data Lakes for Smart Cities”.
ODALA brings European cities from four countries into a cluster with private enterprises and research institutions to leverage open source technologies and digital transformation.
The idea is that Big Data has a significant role to play in faster and better decision-making in public administration and that to make this happen requires a data lake that helps cities connect diverse data sources.
According to Jonas Dageforde, the chief digital officer for the German city of Kiel, “a virtual place to bring data together in a secure and trusted way and to make it usable for the city but also for third parties is essential.”
So, the future of Smart Cities is increasingly open, both from the point of view of Open Data and Open Source.
And when technology is open, cities become increasingly smarter and more open for residents and visitors to enjoy.
Lachlan Colquhoun is the Australia and New Zealand correspondent for CDOTrends and the NextGenConnectivity editor. He remains fascinated with how businesses reinvent themselves through digital technology to solve existing issues and change their business models. You can reach him at [email protected].
Image credit: iStockphoto/haryigit