Open Data coming to Cary

Yes, it’s time for another Technology Blog post.

(This is the moment when I know my mom is rolling her eyes – I can feel it.)  But, there is a “method to my madness,” because, as Nicholas Negroponte says:

Collage by Will Lion

Collage by Will Lion

So, with this post I hope to give you an idea, even if it’s a glimpse, into what Open Data IS, and why it is so important for Cary.  First, what is it?

What is Open Data?

Open Data is the act of making information that is collected during the course of normal Town operations (that doesn’t identify individuals or breach commercial sensitivity) available in a standardized way.  The data that we are talking about here includes geographic information (greenways, roads, parks), public event schedules, and basic crime statistics.  This is already public information, the act of making it OPEN and easily accessible in a standardized format allows users, developers, the Town itself, and the technology community to leverage and use this data in new and innovative ways. That can mean applications that increase citizen engagement, provide vital information to our citizens, and improve their quality of life. It can also mean ways to leverage the data to help us become a “smarter town”, by looking at ways to improve our processes and become more efficient.  Without consistent streams of this data, few people will invest the time it takes to unlock the immense value hidden in the information that is collected every day by the Town.

What does that really mean to me?

It means that by making this information more easily accessible, cool people (and companies) can create awesome apps.

RGreenwayLet me give you an example.   Check out RGreenway. (You can download the app for free from iTunes.

RGreenway is an iPhone app that came out of the CityCamp Raleigh event last year. (I was honored to participate in CityCamp with all of the fantastic citizen hackers out there.)  

From their website:

The RGreenway application, designed for smartphones, functions as a guide to the Raleigh Greenway systems. Long-term, the application is designed to make the 3800 acre 115 mile Raleigh Greenway system an integrated park. No other City or community of cities has invested as much as Raleigh and the Triangle in a system like ours. Few have committed themselves to the principle of open data like Raleigh has. Together this presents an opportunity to create America’s Smartest Park.

So, right now – it is only accessing Raleigh data – how about expanding it to include Cary, and the rest of the Triangle? Wouldn’t that be cool?

More Examples and Ideas

Let’s see how Open Data can be used to help citizens better connect with Town Hall, find information about Parks, Bus schedules, and more.

SeeClickFix is municipal app that creates stronger citizen engagement – by having citizens report issues directly from their phones to Town Hall.  (This app is being used in Raleigh, now.)

What if we had a Parks and Rec app that would list ALL of the parks, playgrounds, dog parks, community center, public restrooms and other interesting locations (like the Cary Arts Center and Historic landmarks) around Town.  We could enable location-based technology so that the app could tell you about interesting sites, greenways, paths or activities near you.

QR code for Video of Fire Sculpture

QR code for Video of Fire Sculpture

In fact, just the other day I was speaking with Town Staff about the Fire Sculpture that is currently across from the Cary Arts Center.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could walk up to our Fire Sculpture today, and see a placard that explained the process that was used in its creation? (If you were there that day, it was truly magical.    It can be hard to imagine what it was like that week, by just looking at the ceramic piece now. ) But, it would really hel put some additional context around the experience by having a placard near the sculpture that described the creation steps, along with this QR code, that would launch the video actually showing you the process.

And finally – how about an app that taps into our C-Tran bus schedules. TransLoc has a few apps available for the Triangle Transit Authority today  – but they don’t yet include C-Tran. (I hear it’s coming soon!)   It will be great when a  C-Tran app will show you where the C-Tran buses are, the bus stops, schedules, and real-time commuting information. That’s data that is open, and could be made available to the public.

Open Data is a step in the right direction

As you may remember, the Cary Technology Task Force was created last year by Town Council, and was tasked with taking a look at how to leverage and improve technology services to citizens.  They looked at everything from our Town website, to social media, mobile applications, Open Data, how to engage citizens, as well as how to leverage technology to enhance economic development (and more).

These nine thought leaders on the Technology Task Force did an amazing job last year. After 4 months, with 2 sub committees and more than 300 collective hours in meetings they presented a 254 page report with a long list of prioritized recommendations.   (You can check out their abridged presentation below.)

Pardon me while I gush about these folks.  I am truly honored that these people gave of their time, talents and energy.  They brought more than their technology expertise, they brought a fresh perspective, a child-like inquisitiveness and curiosity, and a passion for excellence that so many of our Town boards and commissions have.  We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.  

If you see the following folks, please thank them!

• Eric Brown

• Ian Cillay

• James Dixon

• Hal Goodtree

• Laura Hamlyn, Vice-Chair

• Ian Henshaw, Chair

• Brandon Smith

• Eleanor Thorne

• Raymond Zeisz

And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank all of the Town Staff who kept up with this group – they worked long, long hours, and made this effort a true team success.

Open Data DayGetting back to Open Data.  Open Data is just one of their many recommendations and the impetus for submitting an Open Data Day Resolution.  This is just the FIRST step in a set of recommendations that came from the Technology Task Force – but it’s also a VITAL step in taking Cary to the next phase of our technology innovation.

This resolution also demonstrates that the Town of Cary is serious and absolutely committed to enhancing our openness and transparency, improving our technology prowess and driving economic opportunities and innovation, as well as participation by anyone that wants to help Cary along the way.  (You can look at Cary’s Open Data that is available on the Town’s website once it is posted at:

This resolution also supports several upcoming events, as well.

  •  – Cary’s Open Data Day – Feb 23rd,  and Sunshine Week – starting on March 10th
Cary’s Open Data Day

The folks from the TTF were so energized that they set up Cary’s Open Data Day – scheduled for this Saturday, February 23rd.

Feb. 23 is International Open Data Day – when people from around the world will gather together “to write applications, liberate data, create visualizations and publish analyses using open public data,” according to

The event is sold out – but it’s just the first step in our journey. So if you are interested and didn’t get a seat, trust me, we will have more ways for you to engage.

In fact, check out the TriangleWiki – and share your knowledge of the Triangle , it’s a great way to get involved with the community.

Thanks for letting me “technology ramble” for awhile – hope to see you on Saturday!



7 Responses to Open Data coming to Cary
  1. […] me that these high-tech concepts and ideas aren’t self-evident and that, often, concepts like ...