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Tag Archive: New York City

Which of Your Local Candidates Support Transparency?

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In anticipation of this year’s local elections, many open government advocacy groups have surveyed local candidates on open data issues and shared the results in hopes of informing and mobilizing citizens to vote for candidates that are committed to transparency. We’ve seen open data questionnaires conducted around North America this fall for a variety of motivating factors, including: To Fight Past Corruption, To Foster New Open Data Initiatives—or simply—To Maintain Current Open Data Momentum. This trend of open data surveys is indicative of a widespread interest in transparency issues this election season, and with a growing number local governments adopting administratively-sensitive open data laws, a trend we likely see more of in the future.

Below we have rounded up a mini-landscape of open data candidate questionnaires distributed this election season.

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NYC’s Plan to Release All-ish of Their Data

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On Monday, September 23rd, New York City released a plan to, as Government Technology put, open “all” its data. Pursuant to section two of Local Law 11 of 2012 (§23-506 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York) — also known as NYC’s Open Data Policy — the long awaited agency compliance plan does complete the monolithic task of  listing all NYC agency public datasets, with scheduled release times of no later than the end of 2018, but there are ways it could have been more inclusive and comprehensive.

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Open Budget, Open Process: A Short History of Participatory Budgeting in the US

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A simple twist on the traditional budgeting process has us paying attention to payoffs for transparency. Participatory budgeting (PB) is a political process that lets members of a community vote on how certain budget funds should be allocated. By including the public in decision-making, PB has the potential to be an agent of accountability, helping to demystify city budgets, to turn voters into active contributors and informed monitors of government progress, and to help support efforts for proactive budget disclosure. As it stands today, PB helps communities explore many of these opportunities, and it serves as an important gateway to engagement with local government for a wide variety of residents, especially traditionally-underrepresented groups. It’s a transformative process -- one that may cost governments almost nothing, since it just reallocates existing funds -- and it's a process we’re eager to see explored in more detail as more and more communities hold a magnifying glass to budgetary data.

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The future of civic software reuse?

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On Thursday June 6th at the Personal Democracy Forum (an annual conference exploring technology’s influence on politics and government), New York City’s Comptroller John Liu announced that the code behind Checkbook NYC 2.0, the city's transparency spending web portal, had been open-sourced and made available for forking on Checkbook NYC 2.0's github page. This is significant because (1) Checkbook 2.0 is enormous: it makes over $70 billion dollars in New York City spending available online in a timely, structured, and human-readable form, demonstrating that best practices in data disclosure can be followed even at scale; (2) it marks a shift to proactive civic application-sharing, by the way of the municipality’s desire to share the resources they’ve developed with other local (and even state) governments and NYC’s partnership with common municipal software vendors in this endeavor; and (3) it raises questions about what’s next for government transparency tools, civic software partnerships, and reuse.

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The Impact of Opening Up Zoning Data

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The content, format, and quality of the zoning information municipalities share varies widely. Posting this information online empowers policymakers to better understand the impact of their decisions and allows people to provide accountability on the process. Access to this information can also help people understand what they are or are not allowed to do -- but zoning data, even in an open format, is not always easy to understand. Thankfully, having this data publicly available has also enabled applications and news stories that contextualize the information and show people just how zoning regulations and processes can impact them.

Take a look, for example, at Second City Zoning created by the folks at Open City Apps in Chicago, Illinois. This app breaks down complex zoning regulations into categories that would make sense to someone who's not at all familiar with Chicago's specific codes. Users can look at the city's zoning by type (residential, commercial, or industrial) and by special purpose districts, such as planned development, transportation, parks, and open space. Hovering a computer mouse over any of these categories also reveals a short pop-up explanation of what that category means. Clicking on the interactive map allows users to see what exists on a certain section of land, ranging from parks and playgrounds to shopping centers and tall buildings. Visualizing zoning data in this way enables people to easily see what zoning regulations mean in practice, and it allows them to research how different zoning might lead to a changed landscape. Second City Zoning's About section also has explanations related to the zoning processes and regulations, further empowering users to understand just what this complex dataset can mean in practice.

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How Unique is the New U.S. Open Data Policy?

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The White House’s new Executive Order may be significantly different than the open data policies that have come before it on the federal level, but where does it stand in a global -- and local -- context? Many folks have already jumped at the chance to compare this new US executive order and the new policies that accompany it to a similar public letter issued by UK Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010, but little attention has been paid to one of the new policy’s most substantial provisions: the creation of a public listing of agency data based on an internal audits of information holdings. As administrative as this provision might sound, the creation of this listing (and the accompanying scoping of what information isn’t yet public, but could be released) is part of the next evolution of open data policies (and something Sunlight has long called for as a best practice). So does this policy put the U.S. on the leading edge?

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City Aims to Curb Lobbyists:

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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D) joined forces to push for strict limits to the influence of lobbyists in the city, according to the New York Times. The two “jointly proposed new legislation prohibiting all city employees, elected or appointed, from accepting gifts or meals from lobbyists,” and “also proposed legislation that would end matching funds for campaign donations from lobbyists, their spouses and other immediate family members.” The reform proposal also “would seek strict new disclosure and reporting standards, requiring that the information be filed electronically and that lobbyists disclose when they are also helping political candidates raise money.” A proposal for a mechanism to enforce infractions “had not been worked out yet.”

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