Analysing New York - insights from the NYC Open Data initiative


  • Author: Carlos Alberto Gómez Grajales
  • Date: 12 November 2015
  • Copyright: Image appears courtesy of Getty Images

In New York City, at around 8:30 in the morning, the average taxi speed-meter records about 11 and a half miles per hour [1]. The average speed does not change much until late in the evening, which somehow means that the traffic in the city is quite constant for the entire day. How do we know that? The New York government has set up one of the most extensive open data initiatives available in local government worldwide, one that has allowed researchers everywhere to better understand the complex dynamics of the city.

thumbnail image: Analysing New York - insights from the NYC Open Data initiative

A few years back, New York City officials created a comprehensive citywide policy for storing and sharing government data: The NYC Open Data legislation [2]. It not only provides guidelines to ensure the accessibility of the published data but it also ensures that New York City will continue to publish public data for many years ahead, even to the level of providing a detailed schedule of the data sets that the many different City agencies will release, which complies with the law. This law applies to every major dependency in the government and it has the citywide plan of finally unlocking all public data available by the year 2018.

The NYC Open Data initiative has already gathered over 1,300 datasets in its website, covering topics that go from localization of parks, public offices and dependencies to some very interesting data on services and citizen behaviour. For instance, you can easily access the website to analyse over 77 million yellow taxi trips taken in the city in the current year – you can look at the average distance travelled, mean travel time or the median amount paid, even including tips if you wish [3]. It is also easy to check the information of more than 11 million parking violations issued in 2015, to identify the sections of the city where most are reported [4].

Even though I'm not a New Yorker and you probably aren't one too, there are many insights we can gather from the NYC Open Data initiative. Analysing New York data can generate insights about the problems that megacities face every day. And even though the system is far from perfect (many data sets, even from the same dependencies, are still not fully standardised) the initiative is a welcome change that should be used as model for other cities around the globe who wish to promote a more effective and transparent government.

In Latin America, there are some promising efforts to follow the New York City initiative. For example, Mexico City has its very own website of public data, “Datos abiertos” [5]. The city of Buenos Aires has also developed a similar system [6]. Sadly, the local legislation there does not enforce publication for every major dependency, nor a publishing schedule. As a result, most of the published data sets refer only to maps and localization of public buildings, whilst lacking key indicators from many dependencies, or providing only outdated numbers from others.

It is encouraging to find governments looking for ways to open their information for the citizens. Besides, the benefit is mutual: sharing information promotes debate, analysis and suggestions to improve the complicated life of major cities. In the current golden era of analytics, governments worldwide need to realise that openness will only improve the lives of its citizens. Millions of analysts worldwide are eager to help them create better cities.

[1] Wellington, Ben. How we found to worst place to park in New York City. TED Talks

[2] Reams of city data available for first time through new user-friendly website. - NYC Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications.

[3] 2015 Yellow Taxi Trip Data – NYC Open Data.

[4] Parking violations issued. Fiscal year 2015. – NYC Open Data.

[5] Datos Abiertos Ciudad de México.

[6] Buenos Aires Data. Iniciativa de datos públicos y transparencia de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires.

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