City, News

City launches user-friendly data hub

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh launches Analyze Boston on Friday, a new website that provides data and information about life in Boston. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY KANKANIT WIRIYASAJJA/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and the Department of Innovation and Technology launched Analyze Boston on Friday, a website that compiles data about Boston life so citizens can access it easily, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

Data on the website includes maps of historic attractions around the city, information about 311 services and crime reports.

Howard Lim, the project manager of Analyze Boston, said he believes the project will benefit residents by making the government more accountable.

“Sharing public information in the form of data is something that Mayor Walsh is really putting focus on,” Lim said. “It leads to increased government transparency … and really [builds] an atmosphere of what the government does for the people that it serves.”

The Department of Innovation and Technology partnered with AppGeo and OpenGov to build and improve the functionality of the site, Lim said.

AppGeo is an organization that works to integrate data with geographical information in order to better inform governments and citizens about their surroundings, while OpenGov works with governments to help them better incorporate data into their budgets and financial management, according to their respective websites.

Lim said new features on the site include data dictionaries, new downloadable file formats, improved data preview and better content. New improvements and datasets will be added as the program continues.

Lim said he hopes Analyze Boston will be a tool that engages young talent in the city and encourages them to get more involved with local government.

“The city of Boston is uniquely situated because it’s located so close to so many talented [college] students,” Lim said. “Because there’s so much talent around here, we really are hoping that by providing this resource to the academic community … we can tackle problems together and really bring in fresh and new ideas on how we can continue to innovate.”

Lim said the software gives people an idea of the various ways in which their tax dollars are spent to provide services and build up Boston as a center of innovation.

“We came up with a very innovative approach to how we wanted to develop this particular platform because we wanted to put emphasis on something that was accessible to a wide audience of people, regardless of their technical capacity,” Lim said.

The project originated with a grant from the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge competition, an initiative sponsored by the nonprofit to support innovative thinking within the media, according to the release.

Lim said Open Data runs the Analyze Boston site in general as well as a program called the Analyze Boston Open Data Challenge, which invites the community at large to participate in problem solving with the city.

“[The Analyze Boston Open Data Challenge] would really help to solve our problems here in Boston,” Lim said. “A lot of the problems that surfaced we got from departments here in the city or through community-based organizations within the city. They are real world problems that we don’t really have the capacity to address right now in-house.”

Lim said the initiative has the potential to “build collaborative opportunities for folks that work within the city and potentially reside within the city and beyond the community of Boston.”

Several Boston residents, such as Nick Martino, 23, of Allston said the website will be useful in providing information to the public.

“A website is a great resource for people to get that sort of [data] information,” Marino said. “Once people know more about it I think it will be more beneficial to people in the city.”

Others were skeptical about the new data hub and its potential to change the city, questioning if this is the best way to allocate city resources.

Michael Gilroy, 58, of the South End, said he is not yet familiar with Analyze Boston, but thinks the government may be exaggerating the benefits of the program and should address concerns in a more direct manner.

“It could potentially be a good thing,” said Gilroy. “[The city needs] to stop supporting tax breaks for the big corporations that come in like [General Electric] and Liberty [Mutual]. They could focus on affordable housing, too.”

Anne Lodick, 31, of Jamaica Plain, said the project has potential to be good for residents if it works well, but the city still has plenty of work to do to improve the lives of its residents.

“If they [the city] think just building a website will help, they’re wrong,” Lodick said. “There could be a lot more done to bring attention to this information and these issues, especially in Boston.”

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