Palo Alto, Athabasca get more open data


Palo Alto, California, and the Athabasca region of Canada will both be getting more open this week. The city of Palo Alto which has already embraced an aggressive open data policy, is adding more data. The local government will release the first sets of City Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) data as open data through the innovative use of Google Fusion Tables. And on Earth Day, federal Conservatives in Canada will be releasing data about the environmental health of the Athabasca region, which houses the oilsands.

Called Open GIS, this release joins Palo Alto’s existing open data sets at The new service, will, over time, make hundreds of data layers available. The data will contain a large volume of geographically-referenced features which have been created and catalogued over the past 20 years in Palo Alto’s GIS. Coupled with these features is attribute data—additional information about each of the features such as size, material, owner, census tract, and other characteristics.

Open GIS was created through the use of Google Fusion Tables, an experimental data visualization Web application to gather, visualize, and share large data tables. Developers can extend the power of Fusion Tables using the Fusion Tables API and by using FusionTablesLayers in the Google Maps API.

The initial data sets on Open GIS include location data, road centerlines, land use, tree data, public projects, and trench plate data.

In Canada, other geospatial and environmental data is being released about the often controversial oilsands region. Conservatives in the Canadian federal government will be launching a long awaited open data portal that will include quality of land, air and water in the oilsands area.

According to the Calgary Herald, the release is part of a broader plan by the party to convince Canadians and the world that the oilsands aren’t environmentally dangerous. The move comes at a time when officials are also looking for ways to pipe the oil out for sale, while fights over the Keystone XL Pipeline and multiple recent oil spills loom large in the background. The government launched an environmental monitoring service for the oilsands last year, but data from those efforts wasn’t public, until now.

Officials are also considering emissions restrictions for the industry, as part of the broader greening effort. Internationally, the deadline for the implementation of emissions restrictions under the Kyoto Protocol is fast approaching and the conservatives in Canada announced they were withdrawing from the agreement last year. The current efforts in Canada are meant to provide a small step toward a more sustainable industry in the wake of that decision, and with the hope of staving off an international boycott of oilsands product.