On the Hunt for Open Data

Braving temperatures in the mid-20s °F, a bundled group of data enthusiasts gathered in Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn last week to compete for the charity of their choice. Participants solved clues using DATA2GOHEALTH.NYC, a mobile interactive data tool, tweeting images of truck traffic, Citibike stations, and stray broccoli along with tid-bits of data about the neighborhood. It was an all-around good time capped by happy hour drinks.

This was our first data-driven, social media-aided scavenger hunt — really, our first scavenger hunt, period — and it was a success. Measure of America is hoping to make this an annual event, we only wish Open Data Week were held in slightly warmer months. If you’re in the downtown Brooklyn area and want to explore the data and do the scavenger hunt on your own time, here are the clues we provided. Or dig into the data in your own neighborhood and come up with your own clues.

The #DATAscavhunt channeled the competitive New York spirit to raise money for a charity and brought people together around a very important cause: open data. So what is open data? And why do we dedicate a week to it?

The idea behind open data is that civil society should have access to the data collected and used by city agencies to ensure transparency and spark innovation. New York City became the first city to pass an open data law when then-Mayor Bloomberg signed Local Law 11 — better known as the Open Data Law. Every year in March, New York data aficionados mark the occasion with a variety of panels, workshops, tours and hackathons.

Hundreds of city datasets are published on the NYC Open Data portal.

Today, you can go to the city’s Open Data portal and see what your neighbors are complaining to 311 about, view a map of all of the city’s trees, hydrants, or water fountains, and find out the names of all the dogs living in your neighborhood. Unsurprising in a city that is seemingly constantly under construction, the most popular dataset is the job applications to the Department of Buildings and their status, viewed 2.2 million times and downloaded more than 21,000 times. Aside from the obvious curiosity value of having all of these official datasets about the best city in the world (according to 110 percent of New Yorkers) at your fingertips, access to city data has proven to be a huge resource for civil society organizations. The Vera Institute for Justice created JailVizNYC, an interactive dashboard to explore the trends of who is jailed and why. CARTO used taxi data to assess the impact of the Gay Pride Parade on local businesses and transit. Our own team features city data in DATA2GOHEALTH.NYC, our interactive tool created for community organizations, local government, philanthropies, and neighbors working to improve the health of New Yorkers.

In the age of information, conversations around data transparency, privacy, and access have entered the public discourse, and there is surely a long way to go to set new norms and practices. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to celebrate our city’s accomplishments in bringing data to all New Yorkers.