Data-Driven Cities: A New Global Trend

No one could ever accuse Michael Bloomberg of thinking small. The former New York City mayor has taken on national and global issues ranging from gun control to climate change, with varying degrees of success. Now, through Bloomberg Philanthropies, he’s taking his passion for urban concerns to a national scale. Since 2011, his foundation has committed almost $70 million and given grants to 17 cities for one broad purpose: fostering innovation. It’s up to the mayors to decide how these grants should be spent. But for many of them, innovative policy will inevitably be tied to open data.

Cities around the country, and around the world, are finding that data can drive a new understanding of urban challenges and lead to new solutions. In New Orleans, for example, the city government used its Bloomberg grant to analyze its crime data in the hope of driving down the murder rate. The data showed that the city had more gang-related deaths than they had thought. The city used that information to target its law enforcement efforts – and brought the murder rate down to a forty-year low.

This kind of data-driven policymaking is becoming almost the norm for cities these days. Michael Bloomberg was one of the pioneers of this approach when he set up New York City’s “geek squad” to analyze and act on the city’s open data. (The leader of those geeks, Mike Flowers, has now joined, one of the most innovative new data companies in the U.S.) In Detroit, which is on the verge of a tech renaissance, new companies are building businesses on property data and other open data resources. At a recent innovation workshop I also learned about Data Driven Detroit, a nonprofit that’s making the city’s data accessible and usable in creative new ways. For cities, innovation and open data are joined at the hip.

Open data is a driver of urban progress all over the world. I’ve had a chance to see its impact in cities from Mexico City to Shanghai. Many are using data to improve public transportation, support urban planning, reduce crime, improve education, deliver better healthcare services, and address other problems and goals that are common to cities everywhere. And by making their data open, these cities enable startups and nonprofits to do their own analyses and create their own new programs and solutions.

At the Center for Open Data Enterprise, our Open Data Impact Map will help track new developments in the use of city as well as regional and national data. Please keep us informed about new developments in your area as we help chart this urban data revolution.

Joel Gurin, President and Founder, Center for Open Data Enterprise