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GeoData Alliance

The GeoData Alliance is a nonprofit organization open to all individuals and institutions committed to using geographic information to improve the health of our communities, our economies, and the Earth.

The purpose of the GeoData Alliance is to foster trusted and inclusive processes to enable the creation, effective and equitable flow, and beneficial use of geographic information.


Another great American project, is:

a free, searchable database of federal government spending…. With over $14 trillion in federal spending, this more open and accessible tool for citizens to find out where federal money goes and who gets it is long overdue. We believe this website is a good first step toward providing that access.

The project is run by OBM Watch, a “a nonprofit government watchdog organization located in Washington, DC. Our mission is to promote open government, accountability and citizen participation.” Funded by the very busy Sunlight Foundation.

We’re planning to do some email interviews about citizen access to government data and related projects with academics, hackers, web project instigators, statisticians, activists, politicians, bureaucrats, writers and the like.

Our first interview is with Rami Tabello, of – Tracking Toronto’s Outdoor Advertising Industry, a Toronto-based, grassroots project set up to fight illegal billboards. Says the about:

Our Streets are where civic capital is created. Illegal billboards monetize our civic capital, under no colour of right, by treating citizens as consumers first. Illegal billboards commodify what is unique about our neighbourhoods by turning our Streets into pages of a mass-market magazine, without regard to the law. Join us as we fight to legalize and democratize Toronto’s visual environment. Join us as we fight to Reclaim the Streets.

And here is the interview:

1. What do you think of the state of democracy in Canada?
I donÂ’’t much think about it. I think the British Parliamentary system tends towards stability.

2. What do you think of the state of democracy in Toronto?
The problem in Toronto is not lack of democracy, it’Â’s a public service that doesnÂ’’t work and doesn’t hire the right people.

3. How do you think the mechanisms of democracy can be improved?
I have no idea. David Meslin is working on a project to bring instant runoff voting to Toronto:

4. Are you optimistic? Why?
IÂ’’m optimistic because city councilors want to do something about illegal billboards.

5. Why did you start
More of a challenge than anything. An easy way to make a big difference to the visual environment.

6. What tools do you use in
Our main tools are freedom of information inquiries. We have been barred from that process. Please see: The City Clerk Tries to Shut Down Our Research Team [ed: well worth a read * see below]. We are currently appealing this to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

7. What has been the public reaction to your project?
Nothing but positive feedback from the public, the media and city councilors.

8. What has been the reaction from the City?
On the other hand, the bureaucracy has reacted negatively, mainly because we are a source of criticism. See above.

9. What other similar projects would you like to see in Toronto or Canada?
WeÂ’’d like to see a site that tracks illegal parking lots. half the lots in Toronto are illegal.

* has filed hundreds of freedom of information claims to get the information on hundreds of signs they claim, and indeed have proved to be illegal. The reaction of Toronto’s City Clerk, is to ban them from the process (see review here, and the Clerk’s letter here-pdf). The Clerk claims the requests are “frivolous and/or vexations,” which means the City might not have to respond. Here’s the key summary about dealings with Toronto’s City Clerk:

The Clerk claims: “the high volume of your requests appears to be for the sole purpose of revisiting enforcement policy matters that City enforcement staff have already addressed with you.” In fact, the high volume of our requests is due to the high volume of properties in Toronto that have illegal billboards on them; this high volume was created because the bureaucracy was operating without scrutiny. The Clerk’s decision, if upheld, would shut down that scrutiny.


Fixmystreet is a neat little project out of the UK, made to:

help people report, view, or discuss local problems they’ve found to their local council by simply locating them on a map. It launched in beta early February 2007.

You enter a postal code, are shown a map, click on the map, and add your comments about problems (graffiti, overflowing drains, broken lights, etc). An email is then sent to the local municipal council. As of today, 171 reports have been made in the past week, 381 problems have been fixed in the past month, and 2462 reports have been updated.

The project comes to you from MySociety, which:

builds websites which give people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and community aspects of their lives. For more info on our aims, click here.

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