Municipal Data Evolves to Next Generation in Asheville

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The City of Asheville collects and houses a lot of data, everything from property records to zoning permits and beyond.

Putting that data to use for the public good has been a driving force behind City initiatives such as the SimpliCity search engine, which won a national award, and avlbudget.org, a partnership with Code for Asheville that provides a visual tour of the City’s budget.

Now the City of Asheville is working to make data available to anyone who wants it in easy-to-find and downloadable formats.

City Council led the way by adopting an Open Data Policy in October, Resolution No. 15-189, which says the City of Asheville website “will serve as an open data catalog of the data available from the City.” It further allows for free re-use and this is where we are seeing an intersection of public data with private innovation.

Consider the City’s Find Parking native site launched in November to help people find parking spaces available in downtown parking garages. It’s also available as a Wheres-Parking site on your mobile phone. Much of that data has now been incorporated into another website, AVLpark, which not only tells you where parking spaces are available but also offers parking data analysis, what days of the week are most busy and where there is the most parking demand when there are events downtown.

City Business and Public Technology Manager Scott Barnwell is about to geek out overAVLpark. He thinks it’s so cool. “We’re feeding civic innovation,” Barnwell said.

“I talked to the guys who built that, Patrick Conant and Jesse Michel from PRC Applications,” Barnwell said. “I thought that was so awesome that someone was building it on their own time for the public good. They are local software developers who had a great idea and all we had to do was make the data available.”

The open data model offers a new level of transparency with citizens as well as serving up information that can be used any number of ways.

The City’s Chief Information Officer Jonathan Feldman helped build the case for open data by promoting its practical value in terms of freeing up staff time alone. “Open data provides a self-serve model for citizens, businesses and journalists,” he said.

And it’s the new model going forward for the City of Asheville.

What’s available?

Visit the City of Asheville Open Data Portal. We are adding data to it all the time. Click on “parks,” for example and you will find databases on Asheville trees, greenways, City of Asheville building footprints and more. Click on “transportation” and find City of Asheville bicycle routes, bus stops and a database of City-maintained streets. It’s SimpliCity on steroids.

“This is a way to amplify City data and create deeper engagement between citizens and their government,” said Barnwell. “There are also business opportunities; there are businesses in this town that are based on open data.”

Insurance companies, for example, can access the City building permit database to assess risk in insuring a home.

And we’re not done yet.

The City is working to expand the existing Open Data Catalog with additional datasets and tools with the goal of having it fully functional later this year.