New York City

De Blasio signs bills to make NYC information open, searchable online

August 8, 2014 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mayor de Blasio with Councilman Lander at data transparency event. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Mayor

Keeping tabs on the city to get easier

Want to know who is getting a city contract to reconstruct the pavement around Brooklyn Borough Hall, what new rules the Taxi and Limousine Commission is considering or what Request for Proposals the city has issued in Brooklyn?

The City Record has published that sort of information — procurement, public hearings, disposition of public property and hiring — every day in print since 1873 and online for the last couple of years. But the data is in a format that can’t be easily searched or analyzed, stumping those who need historical information or a big-picture understanding of the city’s operations. 

On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill that will bring the city’s municipal data archives into the 21st century.

Introductory 363-A requires the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to post the City Record online within 24 hours of publishing it in print and to include the data in the Open Data portal. This will put the information into a searchable format and allow it to be brought into other applications.

De Blasio signed a second, related bill on Thursday which will make it easier for people to find information about city laws online.

Introductory 149-A requires the Law Department to publish the City Charter, the Administrative Code and the Rules of the City of New York online, and update the compilation of laws within 30 days of any change.

De Blasio said the bills dovetailed with his push to make city records more transparent.

“Whether publishing more content on the Internet or making data more accessible and user-friendly, today we’re advancing our administration’s goal of becoming the most technology-friendly and innovation-driven city in the world—as well as  harnessing the power of data collection and analysis to address challenges and improve this city,” he said in a statement.

Councilmembers Brad Lander (Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Kensington) and Ben Kallos (Upper East Side) sponsored the bills.

“Now, public information printed daily in the City Record, such as meetings, contracts, and city planning, will be online, complete and up to date, so residents can make informed choices and data analysts can help us achieve a smarter city,” Kallos said in a statement.

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse. But how can New Yorkers know the laws, if they can’t find them online?” Lander said. “Intro 149 will make sure that all New York City laws are easily accessible and searchable online.”

Open-data projects like this make it easier for researchers, business analysts and community members to find information they need, or repurpose it to yield unexpected benefits, such as maps showing school performance, early health trends or the best places to catch a cab.

Stacey Cumberbatch, commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, said in a statement that while some portions of the City Record are already online, “We look forward to unveiling more archival content, and making all of the paper’s content available online and fully searchable.”

Six civic and technology partners are working with the city on the project: BetaNYC, Citizens Union, Dev Bootcamp, Ontodia, Socrata and Sunlight Foundation.

“It will allow citizens, policy-makers, researchers, journalists, activists, academics and businesses to keep the pulse of the city administration,” said Sami Baig, president and co-founder of Ontodia, an open-data firm.

Lander and Kallos have also worked together on other bills that would make the city’s data more open and sharable, such as opening up the data sets behind government maps like those at NYCityMap.