Over the last few months there have been lots of exciting announcements about open data from cities around the world. We decided to take a look at what is currently out there – in particular taking note of:

  1. Whether datasets are open as in the Open Knowledge Definition – i.e. whether they explicitly say that they can be used by anyone, for any purpose, without restriction (except perhaps attribution, integrity or sharealike requirements).
  2. Whether or not there are facilities to download raw data in bulk – i.e. whether they easily allow users to directly download all the data in open, machine readable formats.

We’ve now got 16 packages with the city tag on CKAN, our open-source registry of open data:

Manhattan Skyline Crop

United States



New Orleans

New York


San Francisco

Washington, D.C.

  • Background: One of the earliest and best examples of publishing local government data online – publicised by Vivek Kundra, who went on to work on data.gov.
  • Open?: Yes. Users must notify the OCTO and redistribute a disclaimer.
  • Bulk download?: Yes. All datasets are linked to from main page.
  • More information:



  • Background: A draft motion to make the City of Calgary’s data open was reported in July 2009. At time of writing no open data appears to be published yet.
  • Open?: No.
    Not yet published.
  • Bulk download?: No. Not yet published.
  • More information:






  • Background: Digital Birmingham announce their ‘Open City’ initiative to increase access to public datasets in April 2009. They host an event in August 2009, reported here. At time of writing no open data appears to be published yet.
  • Open?: No. Not yet published.
  • Bulk download?: No. Not yet published.
  • More information:



  • Background: Initiative to open up the City of London’s data was reported in the Guardian in October 2009. At time of writing some datasets are published.
  • Open?: No. Currently no permission is granted to reuse data.
  • Bulk download?: No. Datasets cannot be downloaded in bulk.
  • More information:

How to open up city data

There are some excellent examples of publishing open data on cities – in particular New York, Washington and Vancouver. However not all data is explicitly open, or made available in bulk. Below is our recipe for opening up city data:

  1. Use a license or legal tool to make datasets legally open! – If you are using your own custom copyright notice, license, disclaimer or terms and conditions, make sure they are compliant with the Open Knowledge Definition. You can also use existing licenses and legal tools, such as:
    • the PDDL, the ODbL, or CC0 for data
    • and CC-BY or CC-BY-SA for content
  2. Make the raw data available in bulk! – Publish data in open, machine readable formats in a way which makes it easy for users to automatically download it. This could mean directly linking to all files in a single HTML page, or putting files in a single publicly accessible directory. Don’t make it difficult for users to download material by only allowing access to data via a shiny interface. Keep it simple!

Get involved!

Does your city publish open data? Do any of the details above need to be amended or added to? If you would like to get involved we encourage you to:

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Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at jonathangray.org and he tweets at @jwyg.

14 thoughts on “Open data on cities: an international round up”

  1. The City of Toronto launched our open data page at toronto.ca/open on Nov 2, with an initial set of machine-readable data in our catalogue. It would be great if you would update your list in the article.

    Ryan Merkley
    Office of Mayor David Miller
    City of Toronto

  2. @Ryan, Trish: this is great to hear.

    We have updated the CKAN page and please feel free to make any further additions/amendments to bring it up to date (anyone can add information to the CKAN package page).

    We’ve also updated this article to reflect this information.

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