Open Data and Ottawa

So the City of Ottawa has agreed that they would release some of their data to the public, allowing the public to have a better idea of what is in their city and how it operates.

Right off the bat, as soon as it was agreed upon, the flip was switched at their site and people were able to get shape files from what looked like the parks and recreation division of the city. Hey, it’s a good start. It means that the nerds behind Open Data Ottawa can work together to create fun apps and websites to show Ottawa citizens where parks are, pools, etc. This is not a bad thing, by any means. It is simply a start and I am glad that it started with something.

Mind you, this comes from someone with a few years of geospatial background who is used to collecting data from different levels of government. It always makes me happy to see more cities in Canada releasing their data, shapefiles are perfect for me.

Of course, not for everyone.

There has been some complaints about not being able to use shapefiles for anything or that it is properitary, when ogr2ogr can use it quite nicely. This means that open source projects such as GRASS and QGIS are easily able to open a .shp file, nevertheless the web mapping community such as OpenLayers and MapServer.  Technically, it’s not open. It’s essentially the geospatial equivalent of pdf. It’s not open but it’s been around long enough that we all know how to work with it and we all do. Anything is better than e00 files. 😉

In short, what happened when the City of Ottawa decided to release data is that many people cheered and the techies winced when they got a look. If it wasn’t the format, it was the limited data or the license. I can’t disagree with any of these, to be honest, except for the shape files. If you are releasing geospatial data and you are only going to release one format to begin with, you should go with shape files as that is what geospatial people know. And in this city, there are more than enough geospatial geeks. Is the data sets limited? Of course, but they had just decided that they were going to release the data, so better a little than nothing. Is the license agreement a bit terrible and bizarre? Yes, however I doubt that the City of Ottawa has heard much about OpenStreetMap and cares that much about what license they use for their data.

One thing at a time, boys. Next stop, let’s get more data, more tools and a better license. They’ll all come with time, but this isn’t the time to give up on Open Data Ottawa. This is the time to run with it!

3 Replies to “Open Data and Ottawa

  1. Hear! Hear! I’m looking forward to the data releases and getting more citizens on board using the data. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your support for the Open Data Hackfest.

  2. Thanks for your post! I’d like to emphasize that this is a starting point for the initiative, and with council’s direction and support the City can now move forward to expand the number of different data formats available, and the collection of datasets available. Providing a limited number of datasets in SHP format enabled the City to have a visible presence online very quickly to start the ball rolling.

    An important part of moving forward is to continue the dialogue between the City, residents, businesses, entrepreneurs, academics, and others to best understand where the City should focus it’s efforts to share data in formats that programmers want to use; and data that will be used to develop applications which enhance the quality of life in our City.

    The requests and conversations happening at are providing some great virtual interactions; and I look forward to seeing another ChangeCamp coming together in Ottawa over the summer.

    Let’s keep the dialogue and interactions going strong – the data provides the content with which to work; and the passion, demand and innovation, creates the value.

  3. I agree, Shapefiles are not the best format for the City to have released this data in, but these files were probably readily available for the purposes of a beta open data site.

    Thank you for posting the links to the tools that can help read these files. For those of us without much experience with GIS, this should help in making some sense of what we’ve been given to work with – so far.

    I can’t wait to see what else the City releases.

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