Hamiltonians may be thinking of what ails our city and how we can fix it. A good start would be to access quantifiable data to use as a measurement.
By Tyler Collins
Published May 06, 2014
In 2011 the City of Hamilton announced that they would be starting an Open Data project, and last year released the first batch of data.
For those not familiar with Open Data, it is a movement that seeks to make information available to anyone, free of cost, and not restricted by copyright. The datasets can include just about anything, come in many forms and be used for many purposes.
Once someone obtains Open Data, they may use it for whatever purposes they like, and not have to worry about paying licensing fees. The Open Data Institute has a guide explaining open data in more detail.
The Open Institute is based in Nairobi and aims to engage people from all walks of life with their project and derive from data, solutions to poverty; but also to "Support and promote listening and responsive governments, particularly in Africa."
While Canada may face different challenges than Kenya and its neighbours, Open Data can give us insight into our living conditions and also promote transparency within our institutions.
The federal government has an Open Data website offering data on our country that has been arranged and packaged for quick downloading and ease of use.
Provinces and municipalities have also released varying amounts of Open Data. The data has long been used by each level of government, but in the past was only used internally.
When looking through the datasets, it soon becomes apparent that there is a lack of consistency. What Edmonton makes available may not be the same as what is made public by Toronto or Montreal.
However, our cities differ by size, with different geographies and different issues to address. With this in mind, Hamiltonians may be thinking of what ails our city and how we can fix it. A good start would be to access quantifiable data to use as a measurement.
So far the city has given us data on roads, schools, planning units and waterfalls among other things. The data is available primarily as KML and shape files, meaning there is a spatial component to it.
Surely, many people could benefit from this data, but are unaware of how to use it or unaware of what they can learn from it.
I have a background in Geographic Information Systems and know how to display Hamilton's Open Data. I started playing around with the different sets and made some maps that might say something about Hamilton.
By manipulating the data on the city's park lands, I was able to show how far a spot is from the nearest park in the form of a heat map.
Heat map: distance from nearest park
When looking at a standard map, many people not familiar with Hamilton may not appreciate just how much of a geographical division the escarpment is. With the city's data, we can belabour the escarpment's presence.
Geographical division: Niagara Escarpment
Using 2011 Census data, I made a population map, with the darker areas indicating a higher population density. I then overlaid parks and bike paths (in pink). By looking at this, maybe we can an idea of where in the city there is good or bad access for cyclists.
Population density, parks and bike paths map
Flooding is a concern of some residents and by using the rivers dataset we can see what areas could be threatened. In this map, the rivers in Dundas were given a 50 metre buffer and the buildings data was overlaid to show what could be affected by such flooding.
Dundas rivers: potential flooding risk areas
Aside from imaging, the data can be used to derive statistics. Green space is not hard to find in rural areas, but can be more of a welcome sight in busier areas. Using the urban boundary, wards and park lands sets, I made this chart showing how much of each ward, within the urban boundary, consists of park land.
|Ward||Area (sq. km)||Park Land (sq. km)||% of Park Land|
|* Ward 14 is entirely outside the urban boundary.|
These examples were relatively easy to make. For those concerned with particular issues, Open Data can be invaluable.
It could be used to determine what parts of the city would be best or least served by light rail transit. The openings and closing of schools across the city might seem sensible or ridiculous when looked at in a new light.
Perhaps there is data not available, that you think the city should make public. Open Data gives us access to information that can help us improve our communities along with the government.
People often say the city should follow their idea. Now we can back our ideas up with data. It is an election year, so the right people just may listen.
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