Open source and civic engagement

Open source is one of the most powerful, and underappreciated, ideas of our generation. Modern open source is about building and collaborating in public, not about the license. Most importantly, open source isn't conceptually limited to software development; it's most prevalent here because we have the correct tooling.

The other day, I was reading Tualatin City Council's work session materials for January 22nd (PDF warning). It's actually pretty interesting. Tualatin is considering a "Local Congestion Relief and Neighborhood Safety" bond measure, and the packet provides much of the background. But it's a PDF packet and I was only reading it because someone emailed it to me.

Which brings me to the three realizations I had:

  1. Open source is Good™ because it increases collaboration. Increased collaboration means increased value creation. Ergo, civic engagement (and pretty much everything) would benefit from open source methodologies.
  2. City data is really hard to come by. It needs to be manually collected and it's often out of date as soon as it's collected. Nowadays, any effort put into collection should result in a real-time, persistent data stream.
  3. Cities should be learning from one another. Meaning, Tualatin must have a data profile similar to dozens of other cities in the US. If city A tries experiment B and it works, then we should use that knowledge as the basis of our evolution, infrastructure investments and otherwise.

Specific to the congestion problem at hand, I also thought it would be pretty cool if someone created an open source traffic modeling system. Lo — OpenTraffic already exists! And here's some project that calculates traffic speed from cell phone video.