State Data, Local Insights

Along with releasing open data themselves, one of the most important things Upstate governments can do to use data to enhance services and make better decisions is to leverage data that is available from counties and the state.

The New York State open data portal is an invaluable resource that contains important data sets that Upstate governments can use at no cost to enhance their operations and make smarter decisions. This post will explore some of those data sets, and some of the things that can be achieved with data from the State of New York.

Identify Unpermitted Businesses

Some Upstate governments have permit requirements for businesses that are unique to their jurisdiction. All of the major Upstate city governments (AlbanySyracuseBinghamtonRochester and Buffalo) have their own set of requirements for businesses that want to operate within their jurisdiction. Ensuring compliance can be a tedious and time consuming task. Using data from the State of New York can be an easy and efficient way to identify businesses that are not permitted within your jurisdiction.

Does your government require permits for auto service facilities (like Rochester does)? Cross check against the State DMV’s list of licensed facilities.

Does your government require a license for retail food stores (like Buffalo does)? Check your local licensee list against the State Department of Agriculture and Market’s list of licensed food retailers.

This is a simple, effective, low cost way to determine if local businesses that have complied with state requirements have obtained necessary permits or licenses from local governments.

Identify Zoning Violations

Businesses operating without local permits or licenses may also be in violation of local zoning ordinances, that determine where businesses may locate.

Almost all of the data available from the State ‘s open data portal comes with geospatial information, which makes it easy to put on a map and compare to zoning districts. Using zoning data from Broome County, we can examine different business types in the City of Binghamton to determine if any are potentially operating in areas not zoned for commercial activity.

The map below shows areas zoned residential in the City of Binghamton, and displays the location of various business types using data from the State’s open data portal.

Most of the commercial activity displayed using the state data appears in areas that are not zoned residential, but there are some cases that warrant further scrutiny – particularly of food service establishments. In addition, there are a number of other business types that can be examined to ensure that commercial activity is occurring only in areas properly zoned for it.

Optimize Snow Plow Routes

The challenge of keeping roads plowed during Upstate winters  is significant. And every year, government officials Upstate face scrutiny about whether the plows are running quickly (and fairly) enough.

Every snowstorm is different, but using data to ensure that critical facilities and infrastructure are cleared as quickly as possible can be an effective way to respond to such scrutiny – and to make the process more transparent for citizens. Using state data to ensure that vital locations like bus stops, nursing homes and child care centers are cleared efficiently can go a long way toward helping foster trust in local services and help citizens carry on with work and play after a big storm.

Generate Economic Indicators

Using state data can help local officials get a better picture of not only where economic and business activity is occurring in their jurisdiction, but also how much it changes over time. This can be a huge benefit for not only local economic development efforts, but can also be used to inform local planning changes and infrastructure investments.

It can also help local officials determine if there are areas in their jurisdictions that are underserved by certain types of businesses, or areas where certain types of businesses are concentrated in low-income neighborhoods. For example, the map below shows the location of retail establishments that sell alcohol in Syracuse and highlights census tracts that have high levels of poverty.

The New York State open data portal – and other state-level data resources – make hugely valuable data for local governments availalbe for free and in easy to use formats.

Governments in Upstate New York that want to enhance their services and make more informed decisions should  leverage this important resource.

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