Depending on one's digital prowess and hunger for data, Palo Alto's newest transparency initiative is either a head-scratcher or a reason to rejoice. The city last week unveiled its latest "open data" initiative -- Open GIS.
The project includes dumping dozens (ultimately hundreds) of datasets online and displaying them through maps using Google Fusion Tables, a data-visualization application that allows users to display, organize and share large data tables.
The utility of these datasets varies. Tree lovers would likely appreciate a map of every tree in the city, with information about each tree's species and condition available with one click. Similarly, land-use watchdogs and developers might find that the land-use table is far more convenient to click around on than flipping through bulky zoning maps.And the new map of manhole covers might be a boon to local bank robbers or ninja turtles.
Open GIS is the latest step in Palo Alto's movement toward becoming what Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental calls a "digital city."
"We're stepping up to our responsibility as the heart of Silicon Valley by not just being a model for open government, but for doing it in the most innovative way," Reichental said in an announcement.
"Experimenting with the power of Google Fusion Tables provides us with a free platform to try new ways to extend the data back to those it belongs: our community." City officials to add more data in the weeks ahead. The information will be available at data.cityofpaloalto.org.