Updates from the Open Data program

Today, the Open Data team and all who contribute to the Open Data program here at the City of Seattle are proud to share updates on our accomplishments in 2017, provide more details about the work we will do throughout 2018, and let you know about a new look for our Open Data program website!


2017 Annual Report:

The “2017 Annual Report” (link) highlights the large volumes of new open data that we pushed onto our open data portal (https://data.seattle.gov) in 2017.

76 datasets resulting in 130 million rows of new data were added to our platform, empowering the public with additional rich sources of data. The report also highlights the many other accomplishments of the dedicated City staff who help identify, create and release high-value datasets onto our open data platform.


2018 Open Data Plan:

The “2018 Open Data Plan” (link) gives a detailed overview of the work that the Open Data team will complete in 2018, with work on the top priorities well under way!

  1. Improve how our City departments release open data
  2. Make our Open Data more accessible to the public
  3. Implement recommendations from assessments of our Open Data program
  4. Make continuous quality improvements to our Open Data platform
  5. Improve our usage of data to identify high-value open datasets


We plan to build on the progress made in 2017 to enable our departments to release more datasets that update automatically, remove/update stale datasets and continue to improve our metadata quality, and increase our efforts to make our open data more accessible to the public – through visualizations, storytelling and enabling additional ways for the public to avail of our open data through systems already familiar to them.


Updated Open Data program page:

We have updated our website (https://seattle.gov/opendata) to make it easier for the public to access key information related to the Open Data program, such as our Annual Report and Open Data plan.


Special thanks to all members of the Open Data Champions network who represent all departments at the City of Seattle, it is through their hard work that we have so many rich datasets to share with the public.

Expect more updates from the Open Data team throughout 2018 as we move forward with delivering upon our 2018 Open Data plan!


Contact details:


Facebook hackathon applied Machine Learning to our Open Data platform

In October, Facebook held a civic hackathon, inviting in-house engineers as well as representatives from other tech companies to apply machine learning to our open data platform (http://data.seattle.gov) to solve problems.

(If you don’t know what machine learning is, here is a great primer: http://www.r2d3.us/visual-intro-to-machine-learning-part-1. In machine learning, computers apply statistical learning techniques to automatically identify patterns in data. These techniques can be used to make highly accurate predictions, and these are the techniques that the hackathon participants applied to our open data platform).

Two projects were deemed to be the winning efforts, one focused on issues related to parking and another focused on helping the public get contractor estimates when they want to undertake a major construction or remodeling project.

On Thursday October 26th, the two winning teams were invited to speak at the monthly “Breakfast of Champions” meeting, and share their project ideas and prototypes with over 40 City staff who act as Open Data Champions across all City departments. The aim was to spur new ideas for future uses of machine learning within the City and for the relevant departments to connect directly with the winning teams.

Find n’ Park team

The first project, “Find ‘n Park”, tackled the problem of Seattleites spending a lot of time searching for open parking spaces. Seattle is ranked as one of the hardest places to find a parking spot amongst large US cities; and currently there is no way to get good data on the availability of parking in lots or for on-street parking. Find ‘n Park used deep learning vision models to determine how many cars are currently parked in a particular lot, to give real-time availability of parking. You can find more details on this project here: https://github.com/raghakot/facebook-hackathon

The second project, “Contractor 5”, tackled the problem of looking for a building contractor and quickly getting a realistic cost estimate for new construction or remodels of existing properties. The Contractor 5 tool models the estimated price to complete a project by to within $5,000 by leveraging City permitting (open) data and using natural language processing to compare your project description with similar projects. It greatly simplifies getting an estimate and increases market transparency. You can find more details on this project here: https://github.com/FBMLHACK2017/Contractorfive

Contractor 5 team

Both presentations evoked many questions and follow up interactions between City staff and the winning teams, and gave our Open Data Champs a great insight into the power of ML and how powerful applications could be quickly developed using the open data they are providing. These presentations also provided us with a lot of food for thought re: our 2018 Open Data Plan, especially when it comes to potential investments in using ML to power applications and services, or powering AI scenarios.

Special thanks to the Facebook staff who helped organize this event – Aria Haghighi, Lindsay Amos and SarahBeth Donaghy. We hope this is the first of many partnership interactions!


City for All hackathon is a hit

Pandora for Streets/Smellevation Maps Team

The City for All hackathon was a big civic hit over the weekend. Nine teams competed for recognition and prizes at City Hall’s Bertha Knight Landes room. The theme of the hackathon was to find solutions for the challenges of aging and accessibility. The winner for Best Overall Innovation was the Pandora for Streets/Smellevation Maps team which addressed several of the eight domains of livability in a single app. The app would also include paths in Seattle that present the best smells, sounds, views, and hills. Users can rank how important each aspect is to improve the algorithms of the app. The winner of Best Accessibility Hack was GoInfo Game which gamified the collection of bus stop information that’s crucial for disabled riders. The Winner of Best Use of Open Data and and Best Data Visualization was SeaSidewalks which developed a visualization of data from SDOT’s recent Citywide sidewalk analysis. The team came up with a mechanism for prioritizing sidewalk issues based on factors like proximity to hospitals and other key facilities.


Open datasets available for City for All hackathon

Image courtesy Linnea Westerlind, Year of Seattle Parks

In preparation for the City for All hackathon where data scientists will look at long-term solutions to answering the question, “how can the City contribute to health, longevity, and a vibrant life?” – four City departments – Human Services Department, Parks, Office of Housing and Seattle IT – have released  new open datasets. Together they contain nearlytwo million rows of public data that show what kinds of programs and services the City provides and who takes advantage of them.

Human Service Department



Seattle IT

The U.S. Census Bureau has released data about the demographics of Seattle in relation to age, ethnicity, and economic status. You can find that in a SharePoint folder here. The folder also includes data from Sound Generations about its Meals on Wheels program and tables from the most recent Decennial Census and 5-year American Community Survey that cross-tabulate age by an array of characteristics including household size, race, language spoken, income level, car ownership, and disability status. All of the tables are easily mappable and are provided at the census tract level, with some going down to finer geographic levels.

These data visualizations shed light on demographics, aging, and health in our city:

Special thanks to all the data owners and Open Data Champions for making this possible in their departments, and to the Open Data and Privacy teams for their hard work to release this data in time for this weekend’s hackathon.

Hackathon teams will present their solutions on Sunday, September 24 at 2 p.m.to a panel of judges from AARP, Impact Hub Seattle, Microsoft Accessibility, Socrata, Sound Generations, Tableau, and the Age-Friendly Seattle Initiative. Teams will compete for recognition in four categories: Best Overall Innovation, Best Data Visualization, Best Accessibility Hack, and Best Use of Open Data.

Happy hacking!

Civic Metadata Standards and their usage within our Open Data Program

Earlier this year, we redesigned our open data portal and wrote a blog post at that time outlining the updates we made and the rationale behind them. In that blog post, we spoke to some of the related work we would be doing regarding making improvements to the metadata of our datasets.

As part of that work, Nina Showell who is a Masters Candidate from UW iSchool, spent 10 weeks over this summer working within the Open Data team as part of an Open Data Literacy (ODL) project, funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Over the course of her internship, Nina developed a “Policy Analysis of Civic Metadata Standards and Implications for the City of Seattle Open Data Program” (available here). In this report, she analyzed the work of seven cities who were some of the original pioneers in the US municipal open data movement (Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle) and their usage of civic metadata standards.

Focusing specifically on the Seattle Open Data program, she developed a set of key recommendations based on our current usage of civic metadata standards, and how we might implement those within our Open Data program in the future. We expect to include some work streams related to these metadata recommendations into our 2018 Open Data Plan.

Nina also wrote a series of blog posts charting the progress of her work over the 10 weeks, which you can access here.

In the coming months, we in the Open Data team will blog about the ongoing work we’ve been doing regarding metadata improvements within our existing datasets on our open data platform. Again, Nina’s work will help inform some of our decision making regarding this project.

In closing, we would like to thank Nina for her fantastic contributions to our Open Data program this summer, and her project sponsor Prof. Nic Weber from the UW iSchool. Additionally, we would like to thank the staff from the cities of Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco who very kindly and generously provided us with fantastic insights into their usage of civic metadata standards and helped shaped this report.