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BetaNYC Use Case

From: Steven Adler <adler1@us.ibm.com>
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2014 13:26:46 -0500
To: "Public DWBP WG" <public-dwbp-wg@w3.org>
Message-ID: <OF5C956297.715C2987-ON85257C8C.0065114C-85257C8C.00655390@us.ibm.com>
Dear DWBP Members,

Last night, I participted in a BetaNYC meetup group meeting in Brooklyn, 
NY, and I'd like to share my experience as a use case.

We were about 12 developers there to hear mini-presentation on current 
projects.  Chris Wong, the BetaNYC organizer, demonstrated a real estate 
property tax mapping application he built in Ruby on Rails.  His app 
scrapes data from thousands of PDF's the city publishes on the individual 
property tax assessments, exemptions, and abatements, transforms them into 
a CSV file which gets imported into excel, checked for quality, and 
exported into MongoDB. 

On the above map, the red areas are tax exempt - Museaums, Hospitals, and 
Religious institutions.  Just by looking at the map, for instance, we 
learned that many hospitals and religious institutions also own apartment 
buildings that have zero tax bills.  We all wondered how many in the city 
were aware of this...

Chris is a recent graduate of NYU School of Urban Planning and taught 
himself to code in 18 months.  He said the code libraries available for 
Ruby let him build his app in less than 2 months.  His map only covers the 
upper west side of Manhattan, but it was already fascinating to compare 
property tax values in those neighborhoods.  We in IBM often think that 
Cities have to curate their data before publishing, but what Chris 
demonstrated is that small teams of developers can work with what the City 
publishes (PDFs, incomplete data sets, errors, etc) and clean it up as 
part of their app development.  They aren't using big application 
development environments and data cleansing tools.

I asked Chris why he built this application and who he thought would use 
it.  He said he did it to educate himself on Ruby and to discover who was 
and was not paying property taxes in his neighborhood.  He hopes that 
residents of New York will use the app to discover property tax variations 
and press for more equitable and consistent assessments.

After Chris, I gave a short presentation on the W3C Data on the Web Best 
Practices WG I am co-chairing.  Most in the room had heard of W3C, but a 
few hadn't.  None had considered the role of open standards in Open Data 
so we had a conversation about best practices in data citations, data 
quality, and comparability.  One participant told me that the NYPD, NYFD, 
and EMS all had their own database of street names and often sent their 
crews to the wrong addresses because in New York, there can be up to four 
names for the same street and each database has a different name, ie:

Sixth Avenue is also:
Avenue of the Americas
Lenox Avenue (North of 106th)
Malcom X Bldv (new name of Lenox)

Very few politicians are even aware that NYPD, NYFD, and EMS have their 
own databases, much less that their street names differ.  No cities are 
yet publishing their data with metadata that allows data to be compared 
within a city and across cities.  Most cities don't even know what data 
they really have, where it is, or how old it is.  And few have any 
meaningful or standardized processes for determining how it should be 
published.  Its whatever seems to work at the time that gets it out there.

BetaNYC is focusing their efforts to develop applications that support the 
City Council because politicians need more awareness of Open Data and 
BetaNYC wants to demonstrate the value by providing them with apps that 
make their jobs easier.

The last speaker was a graduate student at Columbia who is working on an 
Open Data project in Cambodia - mostly around AID Data.  Many NGO's 
operating in Cambodia don't have electronic records of aid projects and 
the student was there to ask for advice on how to get this data.  I was 
surprised that anyone was even thinking about Open Data in Cambodia.

This meetup was a great experience and I encourage everyone to join an 
Open Data meetup groups in your local city.  These are engaged and 
passionate citizens working together and sharing skills and knowledge to 
build creative applications that solve urban problems.  We can only gain 
by participating and contributing, and then sharing our experiences 
together to improve our standards work.

Best Regards,


Motto: "Do First, Think, Do it Again"

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Received on Thursday, 27 February 2014 18:27:26 UTC

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