Monthly Archives: October 2012
Better cities can be created by giving citizens creative access to information. A new project is being launched in Europe to create Smart City applications and transfer them from city to city. The project will be using an open source service developer toolkit to help make it easier for developers to create new and innovative applications that work across the continent. The project is called CitySDK, City System Development Kit. The €6.84 million project is funded in part by a grant from the European Commission.
The basic idea is to open city data resources to developers allowing them to create useful applications, much like Washington DC did when it conducted its Apps for Democracy competition. Unlike Washington DC, CitySDK wants the same app to run in many cities across Europe. Pilot projects will be launched in three cities starting in early 2013: Amsterdam, Helsinki, and Lisbon. Five other cities are also participating: Barcelona, Istanbul, Lamia (Greece), Manchester, and Rome. This effort will require cities releasing their data in standard formats.
Europeans see this approach benefitting citizens who use the applications, cities who get apps written for them, and developers who benefit from expanded markets. The expectation is that the more nimble smaller firms will take advantage of this opportunity, what Europeans call SMEs – small and medium enterprises. In their documentation, they say CitySDK will provide developers with a “European advantage against the US and Asian competitors.”
Note: CitySDK was identified in a special report on Technology and Geography in the October 27 issue of The Economist. The over-riding theme of the report is that geography is enhanced by smart phones and connectivity, not diminished. Smart cities take advantage of technology by helping people navigate, find interesting places, and even report problems that can be fixed quickly.
-updated 10/25/12 2:17pm-
Whether it be emergency medical response, the delivery of goods and services, tourists trying to find a hotel or restaurant, preparations for the census, or local crime analysis, the ability to find addresses is critical to public safety, economic efficiency, and government operations. The need to locate addresses accurately is growing at all levels, including of course, at the global level from within Google, Bing, Apple, Mapquest, and other mapping engines.
The process of assigning new, or modifying existing addresses is owned and managed by local government Address Authorities. This should not change as trusted local expertise is closest, the most connected, and likely the most vested to getting the information correct. And, many redundant and sometimes competing efforts are made to compile an inventory of official and unofficial physical addresses. The public and private sectors would both benefit greatly if local Address Authorities would extend their current responsibilities to provide a publicly-available inventory of physical addresses and their locations in geographic coordinates.
What follows is a suggestion for best practices that would make the most of local addressing knowledge, for the benefit of local communities, state, federal government, and private sector enterprise.
This is just a strawman and suggestions for any improvements to this proposal — in the form of additions, modifications, or simplifying/enhancing the concepts and related messaging — are encouraged.
BSA — Basic Street Address. Consists of a house number, fully qualified street name including prefix and suffix directionals, street type, and the address reference system (a name associated with the addressing area, not a zipcode) that the address is found within. Building names on campus-like facilities should be incorporated into the BSA inventory.
BSA + Geo — The Basic Street Address plus geographic location coordinates, expressed in latitude, longitude or as an x,y coordinate pair in a recognized coordinate system. BSA+Geo can include several separate address point records for the same address, where appropriate, to represent access points, entrance points, and multiple structures.
Proposed Best Practices
- The local government Address Authority is responsible for maintaining an inventory of official and unofficial BSA information.
- The BSA information is kept together with a coordinate pair reflecting, at minimum, a 2D position of the address in geographic space. (Unit numbers, aka sub addresses, are also worth inventorying, but introduce sufficient complexity that they are not covered in this proposal).
- The geographic location(s) for each BSA should be accurate enough to guide emergency responders to the desired location without ambiguity with respect to ‘which structure’ and ‘from which road’.
- The inventory of BSA+Geo is maintained through a separate business process and does not include any resident names or other personal information.
- For new addresses, the BSA+Geo, should be updated as soon as a building permits are issued for new construction to accommodate for deliveries, inspections, accidents, etc.
- The BSA+Geo inventory is maintained locally by a stewarding agency that is clearly identified and one that coordinates well with public safety operations.
- The BSA+Geo inventory is collected and maintained with minimal redundant resources.
- The BSA+Geo inventory should consist of all physical addresses but could be linked to corresponding mailable addresses where this is desired.
- The inventory of BSA+Geo is public information*, and is actively shared via web endpoints (data file and service URLs).
- Incentivizing states, where they are willing, to be aggregators of address data, from the local address authorities into regional, statewide, and/or nationwide data resources, is a logical approach that seems promising.
- Web-based feedback channels exist to get issues with the BSA+Geo content to the local data steward to be adjudicated and acted upon where appropriate.
- ‘Time to market’ for changes to BSA+Geo is measured in hours or days (ie an address inventory is a continual, not a periodic, activity).
- Standardized metrics are compiled and published openly that track the completeness, accuracy, and currency of the BSA+Geo data content.
The Census Bureau and US Postal Service both currently attempt to keep national address inventories. The Census Bureau does not focus on business addresses and its primary need is in preparing for the decennial census every 10 years. The USPS has an inventory of mail delivery points which includes only businesses and residences served by street delivery mail.
Unfortunately, neither agency shares their address inventories citing Federal laws that pertain to either a) information collected in conducting (not preparing for) the census survey (Title 13, Sections 9 & 214) or b) a prohibition of identifying addresses of a specific “postal patron” (Title 39, Section 412a). Take out any direct association of addresses with names of residents/patrons and the current interpretations of the laws by Census and USPS seems somewhat misguided.
With this in mind, perhaps an additional best practice would be the adoption a policy statement similar to the one shown below.
An address point record (APR) consists exclusively of the following digital information components:
- A descriptive street address, in a standardized format;
- addressing zone information (zipcode, city, and/or addressing authority) that denotes a specific area within which the address is located; and
- a numeric coordinate pair (latitude-longitude or equivalent) that represents the geographic location associated with the address.
An APR should be considered public information when:
- Local, tribal, regional, or state government has recognized the address through a formal process or for purposes of services delivery (utilities, emergency response, etc); and
- the APR is not provisioned with additional descriptive information formally classified as protected, private, or sensitive.
Screenshot of one of the National Broadband Maps
A panel discussion about the National Broadband Map was held at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. on October 15th, 2012 (Case Study report here). The discussion was also webcasted. Panel members included:
- Michael Byrne, GIO for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC);
- Zach Bastian, a recent JD graduate who wrote the Case Study report;
- Haley Van Dyck, lead of the Digital Government Strategy, and e-government policy analyst for the Office of Management and Budget;
- Greg Elin, Chief Data Officer at the FCC;
- Ben Balter, Presidential Innovation Fellow who recently wrote Towards a More Agile Government; and
- Dr. Sean Gorman, Chief Strategist for ESRI’s DC Development Center.
The gist of the presentation was to highlight how well the broadband initiative worked. It is, as Zach Bastian put it, “the poster child for government and IT collaboration.” He also highlighted four main wins that developed from this project.
- Incredible savings (specifics seen in the report).
- Agile development, which is an iterative process. Features were added as needed instead of the usual governmental “waterfall” methodology where all specs are listed in advance.
- Open data, participation (i.e. speed testing by citizens, using mobile applications provided by FCC), transparency, and collaboration by NTIA, states, and internet providers, as well as NSGIC. Open data provided an “Aha!” moment because even though the government had to give up a bit of control, it meant that their systems, points, and work spread much faster than they could have imagined.
- Tangible effect on policy. This was projected helped to address the digital divide.
After this introduction, the panel was asked a series of questions. The first question, “What can government do to help modernize?” lead to some great insights:
- *Build tools to accomplish culture change. You can’t just tell people about change, you need to provide the tools to do so.
- *Lead by example. Seeing others having impact, success leads to more people joining in.
- *Hire people with new mindsets.
- *Encourage risk to learn from failure, even in government.
- *Innovation change is hard and trying to think its easy makes it harder.
- *Find opportunities to move 1 or 2 people to do things differently. Even small numbers is good.
- *“Everyone has to learn to swim for themselves” –Greg Elin. Meaning that you may have to explain and help each person climb on board with these new ideas. Be patient! Along these lines, famous physicist Max Planck’s famous quote, “Truth never triumphs—its opponents just die out. Science advances one funeral at a time,” was recalled.
In addition to these points, the National Broadband Map serves as a great example of how data can come alive for people when attention is paid to design as well as factually correct information. With such a combination, the realization of peoples’ ideas can be very powerful.
Last May I wrote about the European March Toward Open Data. A Finnish study had found 15% better economic performance in countries with open data policies compared to those trying to recover their costs. Based on that finding, Finland had begun making their geodata available free of charge to all users.
I neglected an important issue. The growth came from small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Lower costs allow SMEs to develop new GI-based products and services. Large firms, able to pay full fees, didn’t do anything different when data became cheaper. See Does Marginal Cost Pricing of Public Sector Information Spur Firm Growth?