New York City Takes Giant Step to Unlock Its Published Data

Cristina Muraca/Shutterstock.com

New York City has published its City Record every day except for legal holidays since 1873. It’s a central repository for municipal information, from announcements regarding public hearings and meetings to procurement information to the proposed and adopted rules coming from city agencies.

While parts of the City Record are already digitally published, officials in the nation’s largest city have now taken a giant step to ensure all of it is in a more accessible and searchable digital format and in the process have unlocked a trove of archived content that currently exists in unsearchable PDF files.

Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio OK’d legislation that mandates that the Department of Citywide Administrative Services post the City Record online within 24 hours of publishing the printed version in a searchable and downloadable format and required published data be included in the city’s Open Data portal.

In separate legislation, the city’s Law Department would have to publish the City Charter, administrative code and city rules online plus update compiled laws within 30 days of any changes.

“Whether publishing more content on the Internet or making data more accessible and user-friendly, today we’re advancing our administration’s goal of becoming the most technology-friendly and innovation-driven city in the world—as well as harnessing the power of data collection and analysis to address challenges and improve this city,” de Blasio said in a statement.

The mayor also announced a public-private partnership with six organizations -- BetaNYC, Citizens Union, Dev Bootcamp, Ontodia, Socrata and the Sunlight Foundation -- to help sort through the treasure trove of data and create new applications to make it easier for ordinary citizens, journalists, civic activists and other interested parties to better access and digitally develop the available information.

“This project will reap huge rewards for the entire city, and will serve as a model for improving access to municipal records worldwide,” Chris Whong, data solutions architect at Socrata, said in the city’s announcement.

“We commend New York City’s continued efforts to get the City Record online and to take this next step to structure additional information in the City Record in machine-readable open formats,” Rebecca Williams, a policy analyst for the Sunlight Foundation, said in the city’s announcement.

The legislation was co-sponsored by New York City Council members Brad Lander, who chairs the Rules, Privileges and Elections Committee, and Ben Kallos, who chairs the Governmental Affairs Committee.

Kallos, is also a member of the Free Law Founders, a coalition of local government officials and open-government advocates around the country who have recently joined forces to push for open-data reform on the city and state level and are working on common data standards and open-source tools for local governments.

“The agility of code is pushing government to be more responsive,” Kallos told GovExec State & Local earlier this summer.

In addition to assisting New York City on its new public-private open-data partnership, the Sunlight Foundation formally joined the Free Law Founders coalition last week as well.

“More than just broad policy, this is about accessibility and empowering those pioneering civic hackers on the ground,” Sean Vitka, federal policy manager at the Sunlight Foundation, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with coalition members to make sure our neighbors know what their governments are doing, know what their laws are, and are able to put that information to use.”

WATCH: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at a bill signing ceremony last week

(Image via CristinaMuraca/Shutterstock.com)

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