Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Chief Innovation Officers, Open Government, and Urbanism

The cities of San Francisco and Philadelphia recently created the position of Chief Innovation Officer.  As Emily Badger writes for Atlantic Cities, the job description is to open up more city data to public access and to find ways to use the data to improve city life.  It would be a part of the move toward open government.  Which in turn can benefit urbanism.

To test local thinking on the Chief Innovation Officer concept, I spoke with Dan Lyke, a former member of the City of Petaluma Technology Advisory Committee and someone who has thought at length about data and open government.   He was also the reader who first suggested the monthly Petaluma Urban Chats.

 Lyke wasn’t surprised about the San Francisco and Philadelphia direction.  He said that it’s a direction that many cities are considering.  Lyke reported that many people in the Petaluma City Hall would be willing to share more city data if it can be done in an effective manner, providing good data without undue financial stress on the City.

Lyke offered a comprehensive summary of the issues that would face the City of Petaluma if they continue on a path toward increased public access to city data.  It was a thoughtful and informative summary and will form the basis of a future blog post.

Lyke also recommended the blog of Andrew Hoppin,, for more insight into the open government movement.   He described Hoppin as an astute observer and a leading proponent of open government.

The connection between urbanism and open government is the many of the possible data uses apply to a walkable urban lifestyle.  The two applications which Badger provides are transit schedule monitoring and taxi availability, both of which would be pertinent to an urban resident.

Additionally, building walkable urbanism will require new kinds of partnerships between cities and developers.  Effective sharing of data is always a good thing for partnerships.  To offer an example from my profession, designing a waterline in a downtown setting, where surrounded by existing sewers, stormdrains, telephone conduits, traffic signal wiring, and much else is a different task than designing a waterline in a recently cleared cornfield.  Good access to city data can only be helpful.

I don’t know where the open government concept will go.  But I’m sure that there are people with creative visions of great potential benefit to residents.  And that it could work to the benefit of urbanism.  It’s a subject worth tracking.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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