What would a smarter Denton look like?

UNT College of Information doctoral student Abdulrahman Habib thinks about this question a lot. Imagine being able to monitor your electricity usage in real time, he suggests. What about passing by a construction site and getting a notification on your phone telling you what the construction is for? These are just a couple of the ways that Habib envisions that open data could be used to make Denton a smart city. Open data can “help us learn from real data, not anecdotal evidence” and is “a very good way to engage with the city by not shouting and criticizing,” Habib says.

While we aren’t at the level of Habib’s imagination yet, there have been significant local efforts with open data. On March 4, 2017, Denton participated in International Open Data Day at Stoke Coworking and Entreprenuer Center. Denton’s participation in the event was co-sponsored by the City of Denton, TechMill, UNT's College of Information, Ready Rosie, and UNT Libraries. Event coordination was provided primarily by Habib and Jesse Hamner, UNT Libraries Director of Research and Assessment.

The event allowed for people with diverse skill sets to collaborate on a variety of projects. Although the primary focus was on programming, especially with large data sets, the event also needed technical writers to document the work being done, as well as user interface designers to help ensure that any products made with the available data would be easy to use.

Participants worked on projects including:

  • Making a prototype of a mobile app that can notify users of available parking spaces in downtown Denton
  • Analyzing local data on homelessness to provide a clearer picture of what services homeless people need most
  • Creating APIs that make Denton’s open data easy to access for developers and ordinary residents

Most of the data used came from the City of Denton’s open data portal. Through collaboration with Open Denton and being named a What Works City by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the city has put significant effort into making its data more accessible both to developers and to members of the public. Open Data Day and the ongoing Open Denton initiative encourage people to get involved with the available data and use it to improve people’s lives. The data could even be used or combined in creative ways to develop a commercial product in the future.

Open Data Day comes along one day a year, but there is always work to do with Open Denton. On March 20, 2017, Stoke hosted a Big Idea forum for Denton residents and City Council candidates to present their big ideas for Denton. In fact, one Denton resident said she would like to see the same kind of parking app that was discussed during Open Data Day. Habib presented an idea that builds on the work from Open Data Day. He proposed creating an innovation lab to encourage development of technical products and technical talent that will help keep good, high-paying jobs in Denton. Habib encourages Dentonites to “adopt the mentality of a lab” to find creative ways of using open data to make everyone’s lives better.

If you would like to get involved, contact Open Denton through their website, go hang out at Stoke, or follow along with Techmill's upcoming events.