niagraI had written myself a note to check out Niagra Falls’ new website and Open Data Catalogue.  I’m not sure where I heard about it, but something about the small-town-with-big-ideas caught my eye. Niagra Falls, Ontario is a small city of about 80,000.  About a year ago, they set out to redefine their city website, which gets about as many visitors a month as the city has residents.  It launched last month with a few local news sources picking up the story. I visited the site today to look around.  The homepage is overwhelming, with lots of images organized in an unclear way.  At first, I really didn’t like it.  I don’t think it works, visually.  I’m just not sure where they want me to go when I land there.  This is a common feeling I have when looking at municipal websites, but I digress.

What is amazing about the site is the plethora of information available.  It takes a little digging, but the GIS data is really quite incredible.  You can do a genealogy search for a particular name and find out exactly where that person is buried, with a GIS-based map display.  You can see live data on calls to the fire department.  You can even “go to a park” – it’ll identify for you which parks suit your needs whether you need an arena or just track.

The point here is that Niagra Falls has joined the movement towards transparency and open government.  It isn’t elegant, but first trys rarely are.  If they can do it, so can other small cities.  It’s one small step in the right direction.

- Terra Curtis

 

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