A couple of weeks ago I attended my first Grand Rapids Perl Mongers meeting in order to hear a presentation about the City of Grand Rapids‘ efforts to build a GIS driven by perl and hosted on linux. The presentation was interesting, though the coverage of the technology used didn’t dig much deeper than “we used perl and linux because they’re free and we had staff who advocated them” and “this is all done in perl,” and I didn’t get a sense of a broad vision for the future potential of such a system (by contrast, the Mayor’s speech when launching the latest phase of citywide WiFi testing demonstrated a broad vision for enhancing city services through the use of pervasive technology).
My main interest in the city’s GIS is the potential of opening up city information for use by community organisations in location-aware applications. There is potentially considerable benefit for community organisations in being able to integrate with the city’s databases in order to pull out information about issues that affect their constituency (road closures, zoning hearings, etc) and for businesses in being able to integrate with details such as public transport stops and routes. I’m also interested in using it as a backbone for more participatory politics tools, as keeping track of ward boundaries can be a tricky process and is best managed in one place.
Sadly my questions regarding web services hooks for the GIS were met with a response that I could get hold of my own map data from their source, which wasn’t really what I was going for. I’ve followed up with emails, and hopefully will hear more soon, but don’t hold out much hope that there will be any potential for integration any time soon. It is frustrating that a relatively recently built system using tools which are touted in part for thei “open source” credentials should lack interfaces which needn’t be hard to implement and that would encourage a much broader uptake of the system to build a rich information environment.