Exploring Transparency

I find urban studies fascinating, which is perhaps why it was a concentration back when I was in school. To me–perhaps because I have lived in big cities most of my life–finding ways to reform city government, bring transparency, better deliver services and improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas is a passion, because I think there are so many possibilities (especially with today’s technology) for making people’s lives better by rising up to meet these challenges.

This is why I am thrilled to be working with the City Forward initiative. What is City Forward? It is a tool that pulls public data from urban centers on different issues (user specified) and displays it in customizable graphs.

For example, users can create an ”˜exploration’ for important environmental issues such as water usage in multiple cities, and then have it displayed in charts that will visually present the data in a way that people can understand it. These charts allow anyone to make a case or tell a story about what one city or many cities are doing to improve in an areas such as this one, and what others are neglecting.

In other words, in addition to being groundbreaking in its potential applications, its a pretty cool tool for improving government transparency and letting people access public records in a useful, understandable way.

You can go to the site and see what explorations have already been done in cities across the world, and come up with some of your own. And you can encourage your city to share data with the initiative, to fight for the kind of improvements we all need, and quite frankly, deserve.

This is just provides another way to bring some light into the often dark corners of government, while improving our everyday lives. Not a bad thing in today’s world, for sure.

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Cliff Schecter

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  • One of the things I noticed, and if you really want to make a difference, is to make something or do something that brings transparency to persons who don’t like to be watched. Of course they will come after you but that’s all part of the fun.

    For example, publishing energy facility siting requests within the region that they effect. The reason to do this is that in many states and with the FERC itself there are building permits issued, water permits issued at the state or federal level that trump community and regional planners. A water permit equivalent to the water used by a city of 120,000 can be issued by a state planning commission at the state capital without local participation. A power plant has huge regional impacts and benefits but whole planning process, granting of rights of way etc is out of the hands of local official and many community planners do not know this fact.

    So let’s suppose a power plant developer gets a site permit within your community. You could find that your community hospital is situated one block away to the number one source of health problems in your community. This almost happened here in my town but Duke abruptly cancelled the project when Enron went down. The local city planning office was surprised to find out that had Duke built that plant, the building permits would have been issued by a commission in the state capital.

    Bringing the siting process to light in the city or area that is the site would help people participate in that process but power plant developers don’t like communities knowing what is going on until they are ready to break ground and not just because of concerns about NIMBY but to keep their costs down.

  • http://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/radical-transparency-in-local

    Govloop is pretty good for jabberings of local government/techie stuff.
    a local watchdogblawg

    We already had wikileaks incident in Minnesota’s Senate recount, when they posted up the leaked credit card data. That was an interesting incident, when I and a bunch of people wrote up stories on this credit card data being posted. (my story wasn’t exactly groundbreakign but i talked to the players & rounded it out etc)

    Anyway no one in official world cared that all the credit card numbers got posted (or notified the holders of the breach!).. So wikileaks came along to punk that situation a few weeks later. Surprise! They cited my story as the most “approachable” which was nifty… There’s a cavalier attitude about disclosing data breaches with regular people’s key private info, which is pretty different from the secret world of policy machinations.


  • Northern Virginia had a medium intensity snow storm a week or so ago. The transportation people were so unprepared, major roads were not passable in a couple of hours. Hundreds of cars were abandoned on these major roads. There was no reason for it and no explanation. In fact the press didn’t even cover it as a massive failure of public services.

    Your passion for local government is highly recommending in my book. The analytic tools look great. Keeping an eye on the elected is especially helpful with the help of a tool like that. Thanks.

    The Money Party RSS

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