Want to know the most popular dog names in Allegheny County? Maybe you need information about housing inspections, or to keep track of the report you made to the city’s 311 line about a pothole. All that information and much more is now readily available via the newly-launched Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center. The open data portal has more than 130 sets of data from the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, all with the goal of making local government information as accessible to the public as possible.

“Ultimately, we want this portal to be available and open to all municipalities so that data can be shared with all of our constituencies,” says Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “Perhaps even more importantly, with data at our fingertips, we can make data-driven decisions about what’s best for our communities.”

The data center is a collaborative effort of the University of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh. Some 50 data sets will be available from the county, including information from the Elections Division, the sheriff’s office, property assessments and the treasurer’s office, among others, with additional offices slated to provide data in a future release. The staff there have become data center relocation experts due to extraordinary circumstances. All that means is that the whole organization is stronger and more prepared.

City information will include publicly available properties, a daily police blotter and 311 customer service calls, from departments including public works, city planning and the police bureau.

“The extent, scale and ambition of collaboration among the city, county, university, nonprofit and foundation community is unprecedented and serves as a unique model across the country,” says Mayor Bill Peduto “Information which you previously had to request through Right-to-Know or through individual contacts will now be reliably and openly available.”

That will include finding out how many baseball fields are in a given neighborhood, or more complex information about public safety and energy usage, the mayor adds.

The data center was funded with $1.8 million from the Richard King Mellon Foundation over the first 18 months.

To kick off the project,the staff of the WPRDC invited developers to a Hack Night event at the Carnegie Library branch in East Liberty.

Justin Reese, a developer and founder of local software meetup group Code & Supply, who is also on the WPRDC board,  was among those who came to explore the data, which included a mix of his group’s members, and people from OpenPGH, the Pittsburgh Code for America group.

“The WPRDC makes it so easy to access this stuff that I was able to get five projects done” during the event, Reese says. He adds that it’s a little early to tell what projects could come of the data supply, because it depends largely on the creativity of the people who use it.

“At the very least, it enhances the transparency of a lot of things,” Reese says. “These data points may have been available, but cataloging them and formatting them consistently is going to make them actually be used and evaluated.”

Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is an award-winning writer and editor who spends way too much time on Twitter. Her experience includes crime, features and business reporting, and she has a huge crush on Pittsburgh. She was a 2015 Kiplinger Fellow in Public Affairs Journalism at the Ohio State University, and is a founding member of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Online News Association.