Saturday, May 30, 2015

Civic Hacking In The News: May 30, 2015

This May 30, 2015, post is a few items from recent news about civic hacking. No commentary on today’s articles, just short excerpts (will update post in next couple days if I get extra energy). If they sound like something you want to know more about, click the headline links and read them in their entirety.

Miami’s Tech Leaders Ask Mayor Gimenez for a Stronger Open Data Policy
"This week, 59 members of Miami’s tech community signed a letter calling on Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez to introduce a robust open data policy for the county. The letter was sent on behalf of the signers by Code for Miami, a brigade of volunteers dedicated to improving civic technology throughout Miami­-Dade County...This move would help Miami-Dade focus more time and attention on its civic hackers, the developers, analysts, and business people who can use the public data to create solutions to ongoing problems in the city."
City of Edmonton opens door on open data from residents
"After cyclist Tim Bulger started counting how many bikes parked at a bike rack using a smartphone app — which Metro reported on earlier this month — something changed. Not only is Bulger finding a way to make an argument for more bike racks, he’s shifting how the city sees data gathered by its own residents. In short, they’re thinking about accepting it and using it. “It’s definitely something we’re interested in and want to be a part of,” said Jackie Ortiz, spokesperson for the city’s open data sector, of crowdsourced data...Now, city officials are working with him and potentially others to collect information. It’s part of their Open City initiative. Within the next two weeks, administration will decide how the city will accept or incentivize crowd-sourced data...But Zvyagintseva said there’s a green light from the city to accept user-generated data is a huge incentive for new data to be collected – without the city needing to be behind it."
This summer, you can pay for parking with this app
"The Philadelphia Parking Authority announced today that by the end of the summer, Philadelphians will be able to pay for parking with their smartphones, using Pango Parking’s mobile app...For the initial six-month trial, the app will only work for on-street parking in Center City, the Torresdale Rail Station lot and a lot at 8th and Chestnut Streets. The PPA won’t pay anything to Pango for the contract, said spokesman Martin O’Rourke, but Pango will take 1 cent per transaction that goes through the app...The company will also pay for credit card processing fees, the wireless data plan for the PPA’s mobile enforcement devices and marketing materials...With Pango, you’ll be able to add time to your meter remotely, though the PPA has proposed raising parking rates each time a driver re-ups, in order to “encourage parking turnover.” The idea of remotely adding to your meter (and thus, not getting a ticket) concerned the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, which said that the city should realize this would mean less money for the School District." 
Bus pass: Civic hackers open transit data MTA said would cost too much to share
"Despite promises of transparency and efforts to create "open data" in the hopes of latching onto the "app economy"—words frequently used in government agency press releases—much of the data that would be of the greatest value to citizens often ends up out of reach. For example, if you want to plan a trip on public transportation in many cities (or even just find out when your bus will show up), you often have to turn to Google Maps or another transit-tracking application on your mobile device. In Baltimore, however, that data has been locked behind the firewalls of the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA). But now a civic hacker has made that data available to app developers by doing what the MTA claimed would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete—simply tapping into websites that the agency has already built. And the hacker did it without spending a dime of taxpayer money...While the MTA released an early version of its own bus tracking application this month, it's a Web application and lacks tools like geolocation. It has the sort of byzantine interface that most people have come to expect from government websites, it makes accessing the data difficult, and the MTA isn't making the data available to Google or others to make finding the best route any easier...The reason the MTA gave for not doing a mobile app—or opening the data to third parties—was cost...We know in many cases, the information needed to create an application is made public so private firms can attempt to develop an application at their own expense. However, it would cost approximately $600,000 more to be able to format the data from our 25-yr-old CAD/AVL system into GTFS for use by outside developers," the MTA said...within days of the MTA's Web app going live, geo-data developer and open government data advocate Chris Whong had already done what the MTA refused to do...Whong wrote in a blog post that it took a few hours of trial and error to confirm the data feed format, but in the end he and a small team of "civic hackers" were able to construct a framework that would allow applications to pull, for free, the very data the MTA said would cost $600,000 to publish. The team also produced a live tracking site on the Heroku application hosting platform to demonstrate the framework and then posted the whole thing on Github to allow others to use it."
How open data can improve agriculture
"Global food demand will “nearly double” by 2050. GODAN’s report argues that this problem can be solved through open data leading to more efficient decision making, fostering innovation, and increasing transparency...Opening research data leads to “ongoing, collaborative research, while eliminating unnecessary and costly duplication of efforts”, thereby pushing innovation, according to the study. AgTrials compiled and opened data concerning cultivar research for crop varieties, resulting in region-specific crop models to define breeding programs. (A cultivar plant is one that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding.) This is the kind of practice that encourages collaboration between “governments, businesses, NGOs, and individuals” and consequently improves agricultural practices...Transparency is becoming more prevalent, as evidenced by the fact that “major funding bodies of agri-food and nutrition research are making open access mandatory, requiring research outcomes and research data produced through their funding to be made publicly available,” the study said."


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