Listen To This Pratt Professor Explain How NYC’s Open Data Could Change The World

January 16, 2015 | Prachi Gupta

Pratt Institute visiting assistant professor Ben Wellington, who runs the influential quantitative analysis blog I Quant NY, has published a TEDxNewYork talk in which he talks about the untapped wonders of New York City’s open data. With the fervor of a preacher, Wellington calls upon New Yorkers to rise up and demand legislation that will put New York’s data at their fingertips.

He shares several examples of how he and others have used the city’s data to spot trends that can inform legislation. In one instance, he noticed that a parking spot in the LES was getting heavily ticketed because it put cars too close to a fire hydrant. To Wellington’s surprise, the DOT responded to his findings — based entirely on NYC’s open data — by saying, “we will review the roadway markings and make any appropriate alterations.” Just a few weeks later, the city remarked the zone and removed the parking spot.

Although New York has a great Open Data Portal, New Yorkers still have to jump through hurdles to access crime and the city budget data, for example, both of which require a dedicated denizens to laboriously scrape data from an Adobe PDF. “Our legislators cannot analyze the budget that they are voting for, and I think that as a city we can do a little bit better than that,” says Wellington in the talk. There are also data sets that can only be procured by FOIL request.

Wellington calls for removing the necessity of a FOIL request, release all underlying data with PDFs, and to adopt open data standards across agencies. “New York is a leader in open data,” he says. If New York City makes these changes, “Others will follow, the state will follow, and maybe the federal government…other countries may follow,” he says.