From issues like youth employment to social justice, open data is increasingly being seen as the panacea to a variety of city-related problems. The problem is that different cities use different metrics and methodologies to measure a variety factors. There is no agreed upon standard by which different cities can compare and contrast one another.
That is until now.
A new initiative called the Open City Data Portal aims to correct that problem by creating a standardized set of metrics, and has its roots in Toronto.
The project was started by Patricia McCarney, a professor at the University of Toronto. Starting in 2008 as the Global City Indicators Facility (GCIF), the professor and her colleagues asked nine cities from around the world to submit data sets. When all was said and done, the nine cities sent over data sets that used a 1000 different indicators to measure a variety of factors affecting urban environments.
Everyone at the GCIF realized that they needed to create a universal standard, which is how the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 37120 and the World Council on City Data was born. The publication of ISO 37120 marks the first time that there's been an international standard on city services and quality of life.
"ISO 37120 and the WCCD Open City Data Portal will allow cities, for the first time, to have standardized data so they can speak to each other and learn from each other, to measure themselves against peer cities from around the world and to analyze, benchmark and compare," says Professor McCarney. "Data is an extremely important commodity for city planning in the face of climate change and aging infrastructure. Toronto, and cities around the world, will be able to learn from each other and to prepare for everything from demographic shifts to increasing demands for increased infrastructure spending on education or healthcare."
Besides Toronto, cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, London, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Amsterdam and Shanghai are participating in the initiative. Of the cities listed above, Toronto has the highest ratio of residents with post secondary degrees, and a city like Barcelona has the highest life expectancy. However, Professor McCarney wants that the database isn't about comparing cities.
"What makes ISO 37120 and the WCCD unique is that neither are about 'ranking' cities in the traditional sense," she says. "This isn’t about 'What city is best?', rather it’s about 'How can a city become the best version of itself for its citizens?'”
By the end of the 2016, the World Council on City Data will hundreds of more cities to its database, though Toronto residents can take a look at it right now.
"Open data allows citizens direct access to information that was formerly only accessible through a tedious bureaucratic process, if at all available for public consumption," says the professor. "Today’s modern city dwellers want, require and deserve an understanding as to how their city functions."