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The more you know

HRM’s new Open Data project is an important step to a more informed and engaged community.

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Trevor J. Adams, Photo: Tammy Fancy

Trevor J. Adams, Photo: Tammy Fancy

HRM’s new Open Data project is an important step to a more informed and engaged community.

If knowledge is power, Haligonians recently got the chance to make themselves a lot more powerful. Last month, HRM launched its Open Data project, which began with a unanimous Council vote last September, as one of the previous Council’s last (and best) projects. The idea is, through a simple web platform, to make large amounts of data on HRM and the municipal government available, without fees or long bureaucratic processes, for anyone who wants it.

With customizable and exportable charts, maps and datasets, users can browse through a staggering amount of information that used to be hard to come by: the location of every bus stop in HRM, the geographic footprint of every building in the city and much more. “We selected the highest quality data for the initial release,” HRM’s chief information officer Donna Davis said in a press release. “We wanted to ensure any data released was complete and accurate, free of private information and…of interest and value to HRM citizens.”

Right now, Open Data is a pilot project for HRM, with 17 datasets available. In February 2014, Council will decide the project’s future. More than 200 governments around the world have committed to open-data projects so far, including the federal governments of Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

This is the sort of thing journalists and researchers get excited about, and most other folks barely think of, but it really is a big deal. With more data available, more easily, people can better inform themselves on, well, anything. In any municipal issue, from a zoning discussion to wondering how far you’ll have to walk to the bus stop, you can find the information you want. Journalists now have another tool to add depth and context to stories.

It’s hard to say where this will lead—the free exchange of information often takes us in unexpected directions. But it’s a good sign for HRM. A better informed citizenry is a more engaged one, expecting more of our leaders, demanding better government. It can only be good for the city. Check it out at www.halifaxopendata.ca.

And while we’re talking municipal issues, have you ever wondered why our harbour-bridge tolls keep going up, while cities like Saint John are able to remove their bridge tolls entirely? Sarah Sawler has the story. We turn our attention to another local icon, as Richard Woodbury looks at the history of the Halifax donair. And Jessica Burns visits a mainstay of the downtown dining scene, as Café Chianti marks its 25th anniversary with a new chef and new menu. Writer Philip Moscovitch joins us for the first time in this issue, visiting the Historic Farmers’ Market on Lower Water Street. And as always, we welcome your questions, comments and story ideas. Email tadams@metroguide.ca.

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