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Dale Lutz

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About Data    |   May 21, 2009   |   By Dale Lutz

Vancouver, Open City

Perhaps a bit less dramatic than the famous 1945 Italian war drama movie Rome, Open City is the drama unfolding nearby to Safe’s offices (located in the beautiful Vancouver suburb, Surrey BC). Today at the Vancouver City Council, a potentially groundbreaking motion is being debated. The motion itself has been described here, and discussed here and here, but the basic tenets of it commit the City of Vancouver to freely share its data, and in particular its spatial data, with its citizens and businesses using open standards, and potentially using open source software to do so.

As the discussion around this on the blogosphere has pointed out, the passing of this motion will trigger a wide range of implications. Two are of particular interest to Safe:

The first is that Vancouver has been, and continues to be, a pioneer in the area of 3D Cities. I’ve had the privilege of hearing Dan Campbell’s EXCELLENT talk on the history of their initiative (which Geoff Zeiss has concisely summarized here), and I know they have a huge store of very good 3D data. I can just imagine the fount of great demos we’d be able to create out of this data if it became freely available. I can also imagine that if all of this city data became available for free, we’d consider adjusting our training course to use Vancouver as the reference city for “Interopolis”. And in general, having this dataset available should help to spur demand for our products – as we’d be able to provide a great platform for folks wanting to transform this data into other systems and use it for other purposes. And I can imagine that Vancouver entrepreneur Kevin Ham, who wants to create a “Vancouver 3D Second Life-like Virtual City” would get quite a jump on his project if this goes ahead as well. However, I imagine that some in the city may be concerned that the loss in revenue currently made by selling that data may not be made up by additional funding to keep this model alive and up-to-date.

The basic tenets of it commit the City of Vancouver to freely share its data, and in particular its spatial data, with its citizens and businesses using open standards, and potentially using open source software to do so.

The second discussion point of interest to us surrounds the “equal footing” of Open Source software as the City of Vancouver procures new systems. I know this aspect of the motion already has received a lot of air time, but from my perspective open source should always have an equal footing when any system is being created. The important word is equal. There are cases, undoubtedly, where open source provides the best value for solving a particular problem in a particular situation. And there are also cases where commercial software will provide the best value. The reasons and differences will vary on the case, and the challenge for decision makers is to correctly determine for their particular situation what represents the best value. At Safe, we constantly strive to give our customers very high value for their FME dollar, and so we don’t feel particularly threatened by that aspect of the motion at all. In any case, it will lead to very interesting discussions and debates as this story unfolds in the months ahead.

Tip O’Neil has said, “All Politics is Local” but for today anyway, all geospatial is local. And if this goes ahead, geospatial-media-darling Nanaimo is going to have to come up with a new trick to keep ahead of the mainlanders – but I’m guessing Jason & friends are up to the challenge…


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