A Brief History of NYC’s Open Data Law

September 9, 2018 - All

As the United States collectively wades through a very unstable political era, access to data that helps inform constituents and increase civic engagement in communities is more important than ever. Using an open source JS Timeline from Knight Lab at Northwestern University, I’ve provided a brief history of NYC’s Open Data Law and the city’s very large, comprehensive, and growing public dataset. 

Before coming to Pratt, I worked at an Austin-based public policy nonprofit that uses data to help advocate for policies that help enable low- and middle-income Texans to live to their fullest potentials. Free and public access to data is central to helping people find out how they can help themselves and others in their communities, and advocate for better leadership from their governments. While I’d heard of open data and explored both state and city open data projects in Texas, I wanted to become familiar with New York City’s own portal to inform my research for the future and look at the data in my own backyard rather than focus on the history of open data as a whole (although I touch on that, too). I’d also been inspired by this post from Ben Willington, who discovered through NYC Open Data that the New York Police Department had been wrongfully ticketing cars in the city “for millions of dollars a year.”

Credit: IQuantNY, Ben Willington

Aside from the NYC Open Data portal itself, my research started with this post from Data-Smart City Solutions from the Ash Center at Harvard Kennedy School, which gives a detailed overview of NYC’s Open Data Law. From there, I was able to find digital copies of both the 1993 Public Data Directory as well as the 2001 Data Systems Inventory on DataNYC (now BetaNYC). In researching the Sebastopol, California meeting that started the Open Data movement, I found that OpenDataSoft and the Paris Innovation Review provided great background for this particular event.

Credit: City of New York

I had not realized until finishing this project that NYC Open Data still has until the end of this year to finish adding data across city agencies to the web portal. I feel very lucky to be studying in a city that gives this much access to public data, and I look forward to using it more in my work.

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