I was lucky enough to be a part of the team that first made that site. Here’s a post I wrote on our launch day explaining what it meant to be a meaningful contributor to the project. I had been obsessed with municipal data for years, and EveryBlock allowed me to put my obsession into action. I am forever grateful.
My four years of work there were seminal. I got to work with amazing people— Adrian Holovaty, Wilson Miner, and Paul Smith— on something that mattered. I feel very close to them every day. And later I got to work with Joseph Kocherhans,Paul Wilson, Becca Martin, Brian Addison, and (one of my favorite people ever) Sandor Weisz.
From jumpstreet, my job at EveryBlock was about data. Get moar data. Cold calls to Mayor offices, advanced Google searches, complicated queries of databases hidden in plain sight, FOIA requests, follow-up calls, flights on airplanes, knocking on doors in municipal buildings. Whatever. Get moar data.
And I got to be a crazy person from the future, calling up a public information officer of the building department of a city of 8 million people and asking him to send me his building permits. He asked me, “which one?”. I said, “all of them”. He said “what date?” I said, “all of them”. There was a very long silence on the line, then he told me I was crazy, and basically hung up.
The municipal government of New York doesn’t think I’m crazy anymore. Anyone can download what I asked for in a single click now. In my role at the Smart Chicago Collaborative, I continue this work, thinking about how to make data useful to humans.
We won the open data movement. Now we have to win the municipal products movement.
There is so much more work to do. Most of this data sits on digital shelves, waiting for people to make businesses and serve residents of cities. We still struggle to find ways to make popular products out of this stuff. Last Friday Smart Chicago launched a project devoted to engaging with Chicago residents to test out new civic apps. Let’s keep working. We’re not done yet.