In an effort to provide a singular location to access the open data sets in the city government, Charlotte, North Carolina, has launched its first open data portal.
“When we looked around the country we saw the notion of open data growing in first-tier cities like Boston or New York,” Twyla McDermott, the city’s corporate technology program manager, told StateScoop. “The time was right for the city [of Charlotte].”
The portal, which officially launched Monday, gives users the ability to search and explore approximately 40 data sets capturing public information on local housing, transportation, city government, demographics and community safety. The data sets range from city employee salaries to road detours in the city from a particular year.
Although the data portal is free and open to the public, McDermott said the developer community will likely be one of the primary users of the portal due to the application programming interfaces included within the geographic information system, which is provided through GIS software company Esri.
Alongside the launch of the portal, the city also debuted Citygram — a digital tool developed by Charlotte’s Code for America fellows. Designed to “make open data meaningful,” the tool allows a user to pick a specific geographic area of interest and then subscribe to automatic text message or email alerts about non-emergency events within the designated space.
“[Citygram] consumes open data,” McDermott said. “The Citygram gets at answering questions that are meaningful to people by location, and just the types of events that they’re interested in.”
The open source Citygram tool pulls from the open data portal, although some of the data featured on the tool is not yet visible on the data portal. According to McDermott, technology hurdles have halted the data posting.
“We didn’t want to delay the launch of the portal when the year was getting ready to end. We were ready to launch,” McDermott said. “We have the philosophy that we’ll be adding data over time.”
According to a release from the city government, Citygram is a way that the city can “demonstrate the possibilities of the open data portal.”
The Charlotte Code for America fellows were based in the city for 11 months, according to McDermott, and worked on application and technology initiative development for the city. In addition to the development of Citygram, the team also worked to create a “Welcome to Charlotte” package that has not yet launched and introduced the city government technology team to how they can use agile development to accomplish tasks.
“Designing an interface that is empowering and engaging for the humans, not compelling or engaging for the software developer, that was another good ‘aha’ moment that we had,” McDermott said.
The Code for America fellows ended their stay with the city government shortly before Thanksgiving. A group known as Code for Charlotte Brigade, led by Charlotte technology company owner Jim Van Fleet, will take over the maintenance and hosting of the Citygram application due to their experience with open source software.
“The city is not an open source IT shop; we buy and configure, we don’t build applications,” McDermott said. “The solution that surfaced was that the Code for Charlotte Brigade would be the delivery agent for Citygram.”