9 Localities Commit to Open Data Standard for Construction, Building Permits

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Accela BLDS 1.0 Launch

Nine localities — at  both the city and county level — have committed to a set of open data building and construction permit standards, a move primed to boost insights into the housing market and propel civic app development.

On July 15, an alliance of cities, counties and companies from the civic tech and real-estate industries announced the Building and Land Development Specification 1.0. (BLDS, pronounced as “builds”) open data standard. Civic engagement company Accela led the joint endeavor to support civic collaboration and to complement its cloud offerings — many of which are based in building and construction services.

The standard is available on GitHub and via the BLDS collaboration site at Permitdata.org. Participating cities and counties include San Diego County; Alameda, Calif.; Deschutes County, Ore.; Bernalillo County, N.M.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Tampa, Fla.; Fort Worth, Texas; and the cities of Seattle and Boston.

Accela’s Developer Evangelist and former Philadelphia Chief Data Officer Mark Headd has spearheaded BLDS since the the project’s inception, and said he believes it could do for city building and construction what standardized transit data did for the transportation sector, noting the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) standard. The GTFS’ common data formats and data feeds have allowed tech developers to envision hundreds of transit apps for consumers across the nation and enabled officials to get a comparative analysis of operations, jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

“We’ll have insights that we’ve never had before, and I think that will be really powerful,” Headd told Government Technology.

With the structured data flow, civic app developers may also increase the quantity of jurisdictions they can market their apps toward, giving government more options for building and construction permitting solutions.

“The first step toward creating a building standard is getting agreement on what it will offer municipalities,” said Eddie Tejeda, CEO of the building permit and inspection startup Civic Insight in a press release. “We are excited to contribute to the creation of the standard, but also to leverage the data to provide tremendous value to the public.”

Pragmatic in approach, the group’s struggle was to identify a compromise between requirements for granular level data (which data consumers pined for) and universal data that was more basic — yet that also was accommodating to diverse jurisdictions. The nuanced tug-of-war was the reasoning behind the standard’s “1.0” designation. As new as it is, and as additional jurisdictions sign on, the prevailing thought is the standard can’t help but evolve. With that kind of iterative mindset, Headd said the announcement was more of a beginning than anything else.

“Very early on we recognized that everyone didn’t have everything in terms of data, so we knew that if we were going to craft this, we were going to have to craft this in a way that’d allow people who didn’t have all that data to participate,” he said. “We didn’t want to shut anybody out.”

This includes smaller cities and counties that might not have a trove of IT resources. Further, Headd noted the architecture of the requirement weren’t engineered to isolate governments in different geographies. It’s functional for jurisdictions on both the east and west coasts.

“We have a really good cross section, this will be coast to coast, for cities and counties large and small,” He said. “It won’t be just something that big cities can do.”

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