Special Report: Creative City

Hamilton Launches Map of City-Owned Properties

The City of Hamilton has just published a comprehensive map and listing of city-owned properties.

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 14, 2011

this article has been updated

As an early contribution to the goal of open public data, the City of Hamilton has just published a comprehensive map and listing of city-owned properties:

The map application is a Java applet that runs in the browser. It allows you to overlay a Hamilton map with a number of points of interest, including bus routes, water and sewer mains, buildings, parking lots, and ward boundaries.

Access to the map requires you to acknowledge that you have read and agree with the following disclaimer:

For your convenience, we are providing information about Construction Projects in the City of Hamilton. We will do our best to ensure you have the most accurate and reliable information. However, the City assumes no responsibility for any errors and is not liable for any damages of any kind resulting from the use of, or reliance on, the information contained herein. Due to a number of variables, information is subject to change as the Construction Project progresses. Dollar figures are based on the budgeted amount approved by City Council.

I was able to get it to run in the Firefox 3.6 and Chrome 11.0.696.43 beta browsers running on Ubuntu 10.10. I was not able to get it to run in any browser on Windows XP, even after updating the version of Java I was running.

This is one of the problems with using proprietary technologies like Java applets, which require users to have the correct runtime installed and which transmit the data in a binary format.

Line-By-Line Data

Another issue is that it is usually impossible to extract the data from a Java applet in a usable format. However, the City has provided the line-by-line city property data in Microsoft Excel format.

This is also a proprietary format, but the free-and-open-source OpenOffice productivity suite is able to open and access XLS files.

I have already extracted the data and inserted it into a table in the RTH Data database. It is now available in HTML, JSON and CSV formats.

Debbie Spence, Communications Officer with the Planning and Economic Develompent General Manager's Office, notes that this data set is still a work in progress.

Please note that some of this information may not be complete in all fields (i.e. category - parks and open space, cemetery etc. in the Excel spreadsheet) and other data may not be up-to-date.

She adds that the city is in the process of creating a single, comprehensive Zoning By-Law for the entire city and that this process means some zoning rules for particular land use types may still be harmonized.

City Opening Up

This is an important early step from the City in support of an open public data policy and an encouraging demonstration of good faith from the Planning and Economic Development Department, whose senior management recognize that open data should be embraced rather than feared.

City Manager Chris Murray has already issued an information update to Council explaining and supporting the concept of open public data. As well, the City's Legal and Information Services departments have acknowledged that the City is moving forward with an initiative to modernize the City's approach to data licencing.

Staff have already worked with Raise the Hammer to create an accurate map of crossing guard locations across the city, and have expressed interest in collaborating with the Open Hamilton citizens' group.

We can expect still greater public value as the City and the community continue to increase their understanding of the potential benefits of a commitment to open public data and community engagement.

Update: The city owned building data is now available in the RTH Data store in HTML, JSON and CSV format. You can jump to the changed paragraph.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By rednic (registered) | Posted April 14, 2011 at 15:19:40

Map doesn't waork on my mac either .. safari or firefox ... works better than before but it has never allowed me to see the map at magnifigation which would show the sewer mains etc ... Some thing i need for my place.. could almost be rebuilt with the excel sheet in Google maps ... then it might actually work ...

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 14, 2011 at 15:35:14

I'm just waiting for the HSR to provide the city's bus-route data in any form other than nightmarish computer-crushing PDFs.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted April 14, 2011 at 15:46:45 in reply to Comment 62272

Interestingly using google maps on my iphone i can get the bus routes and next bus time etc .. for each route and stop ... This Does not seem to work on the Desktop version of google maps.

BTW the data is pretty accurate .. ie i sometimes wait an extra five minutes, which is better than missing the bus by five minutes.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 14, 2011 at 16:50:45 in reply to Comment 62275

Google maps desktop has bus routs - you say "I want to go from X to Y" and it will tell you how to get there. But that's not the same as having an actual map of the system. There is no high-level view, just source-to-destination instructions.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted April 14, 2011 at 15:39:40

Kudos to Matt Jelly for his work in securing this data.

He's been pushing for this data for months.

Credit to the city for working to provide it in the openness format they can at the present time.

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By MikeyJ (registered) | Posted April 14, 2011 at 15:54:56

The City of Vancouver also seems to offer mostly XLS files, but they offer much more options as far as GIS formats (KML, DWG & SHP).

What would you say the most accessible formats for Open Data are? for data - CSV or XML? and for GIS - KML?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 14, 2011 at 17:00:22 in reply to Comment 62277

CSV is probably the most democratic in that anybody can open it including laymen (Excel handles it moderately well), but CSV is poorly-standardized and also fails for any kind of hierarchical data.

RTH seems to focus heavily on JSON - while the data can really primarily be consumed by webapps, it's pleasantly human-readable in plain text form.

For this kind of data - hierarchical or flat data files - XML offers no value over JSON and is more verbose and less pleasant to read.

But XML has good tool support thanks to being more mature than JSON by virtue of it being a major fad about a decade ago, so it still sees a lot of use.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2011-04-14 17:01:46

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By Lord Elgin (anonymous) | Posted April 14, 2011 at 18:36:40

I've (very) quickly made a rough google map using batchgeo.com to geocode the csv.

Some very obvious flaws to the geocoding (see locations in USA and Guelph), but the raw KML is downloadable at the bottom of the page:


This is only for the rows with numbered street addresses. Geocoding by lot and concession or roll # would be a different story - any ideas?

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted April 14, 2011 at 18:39:30 in reply to Comment 62294

On Sunday, we'll hold a special hackfest at Think|haus to map the city property data released today.

The data includes the street address and zoning of each city owned property in the city of Hamilton. Much of the data also includes a description of the property such as noting if its a parking lot or park space.

(Guess the ratio of parks to city-owned parking lots - Bill Dunphy's already crunched this and it will be on thespec.com later today. My guess was way off)

We'll take the city dataset and mesh it up with the vacant properties list to discover which vacant properties are city-owned.

We were going to hold a mapping workshop at the beginning of the month but could not arrange facilities. During this special hackfest will more than make up for the lost momentum from that cancellation.

Hope to see everyone on Sunday.


Hackfest - city property and vacant buildings data Location: Think|haus at 25 Dundurn St N Time: Starts at noon until 5pm

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By Woohoo (anonymous) | Posted April 14, 2011 at 20:33:46

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By Nords (anonymous) | Posted April 15, 2011 at 08:49:44

Unrelated to the open data project, but just FYI that the map of city owned properties doesn't appear to include properties owned by City Housing Hamilton. If those were included there would hundreds and hundreds of more properties.

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By mattjelly (registered) - website | Posted April 15, 2011 at 11:06:11

From Debbie Spence: "CityHousing - no, they are a technically a separate entity. You can do a property search on their website: www.cityhousinghamilton.com"

They'll also be updating the list on a weekly basis, and more properties will be added as time goes on- they acknowledge that this list is not totally complete.

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By mattjelly (registered) - website | Posted April 15, 2011 at 14:03:46

Thanks Ryan. I don't know for sure that I'm the only one who's been asking for it though. This data can be useful in a lot of different ways. One thing I would love to do is to map out all the alleyways in the city, and find out which ones are owned by the city, rather than shared between abutting properties. If an alleyway is City-owned property, they're responsible for maintenance and to ensure illegal dumping doesn't occur. Someone mentioned the idea of taking some awkward bits of property and using them for community gardening.

I can't wait to combine this info with the Vacant building list, could turn out an interesting result.

I think it would be neat to have a list of every city-owned asset too, if it doesn't already exist.

Open Data or bust!

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