Vancouver Opens Up

If proprietary software is the proverbial dam, Open Source is the raging torrent pushing to break through — one might even continue the analogy to identify certain figures in the proprietary world as the little boy with his finger in the hole, with more nefarious intent, of course. More and more cities, countries, and even continents are embracing Open Source with open arms — and, given the analogy above, snorkels — and as of last Thursday, one more municipality has been fitted for fins.

There are many interesting attributes to the City of Vancouver: it is regularly rated as one of the three best cities in the world to live, it trails only LA and NYC for films produced in North America, and will host the Winter Olympic Games in 2010, among many others. There is one new attribute to add to the list, however: Vancouver is now one of the growing number of governments implementing Open Source.

Councillor Andrea Reimer proposed the idea to Vancouver's city council, moving that the city begin offering its data and materials openly and in open formats, and begin to implement Open Source solutions to the city's needs. Reimer has hopes that Open Source will eventually be preferred over proprietary software options, but accepts that the city may need time to evaluate open options before making such a move. One city councillor did, as Reimer described it, try to "water down" the motion's provisions, but was overruled by the rest of the council. The motion was supported by fifteen city residents, while not a single speaker turned up to oppose — the only dissent from the speakers took the form of "Can't you go further? Can't you do more?"

City staffers are reportedly enthusiastic about the new policy, and are eager to begin implementing open solutions. Among the items Reimer expects will be immediately addressed are the proprietary format currently being used for city-produced video, which can only be viewed on the city's website with IE8, and can't be shared through sites like YouTube. Much of the motion's focus is on the openness of city data, pushing for as much data as possible to be published openly, and to make use of open standards when doing so. It also directs that, unless prevented for legal reasons, any data provided by third parties — consultants, contractors, and developers, among others — be unlicensed, un-copyrighted, and delivered in an open standard format.

In addition to providing Open Source software with equal footing against primary options, the motion also sets out that software developed by the city should be licensed in a way that allows not only other governments but also business and individual users to utilize them. It also encourages city officials to create a plan to begin sharing information with the Integrated Cadastral Information Society, a non-profit that facilitates the sharing of map data among municipal governments in British Colombia as well as businesses such as utility companies. Reimer's motion took this area one step further, suggesting not only that Vancouver share its information, but also that ICIS should be encouraged to share its own information freely.

Among the arguments for supporting the motion — which obviously resonated with the city councillors — were that the taxpayers who will benefit from sharing data openly are the ones who paid for it to be collected in the first place, and that they should be entitled to use it to further their own projects, commercial or otherwise. These, along with the other arguments raised, including the increased transparency such a move would bring, would be good notes for us all to stash in our Open Source toolkits for the next time such an opportunity arises.

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