Why We Should All Praise City Council Member Ben Kallos

Ben Kallos, NYC Council Member, introduced a bill that would require city agencies to begin making their data available via user interface / API. This would be a major step towards increasing city efficiency, by enabling the private sector to build solutions that meet their own local needs.

How we currently interact with various government agencies — even for simple tasks like renewing a license, reporting a power outage, or casting a vote — is incomprehensibly cumbersome and time consuming. There’s little reason why these processes have not already been app-enabled and mostly automated, except that our city agencies are fractured and don’t have the bandwidth to pull themselves off legacy systems into the modern world.

A bill like this would be a much-needed shock to the city system. We’ve talked about the benefits of centralized, accessible data so much on this blog that it’s not worth re-hashing. But you should be aware when city representatives are actually crafting legislation to make it happen.

Kallos has been praised by the New York Times for his “fresh ideas” around rooting out patronage, de-privatizing government, eliminating billions in waste, expanding elections, and using technology to improve access to government. He’s a leading advocate for education, affordable housing, public health, sustainable development and transportation improvements and safety. (source: http://council.nyc.gov/district-5/)

All of us New Yorkers should say a big thank you.

This is just the first step

Unfortunately, the chances of this bill passing with the necessary 34 councilors and De Blasio’s Johnny Hancock are slim, if the community does not rally around these progressive initiatives. We should applaud representatives like Kallos out there fighting for all of us — who understand that urban citizens should have a symbiotic relationship with local government, and that technology plays a crucial role in facilitating that relationship.

We will continue to see movement in the smart city sector because it’s a welcome change that cuts through political party lines. Government is necessary for managing many of these tasks and services, but we also need to empower the private sector and allow them to innovate on top of the city. Getting your local government comfortable with sharing their data is the first step in this long, worthwhile journey.

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