Inside Austin’s Issued Construction Permits
As the city of Austin, Texas gains popularity, it continues to experience what some are calling a “building boom.” During this time of increased development, the city’s issued construction permit dataset is helping boost efficiency and engage the local community on Austin’s latest building developments.
The dataset shares information on all issued construction permits, including building, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and driveway/sidewalk permits. It contains approximately two million records with information related to all aspects of vertical buildings.
One Dataset, Lots of Improvements
Fast & Accessible
While the dataset was previously available to the public, it was shared via a website and only updated quarterly. Austin also posted weekly permit updates on a large Excel spreadsheet that could be downloaded; however the process wasn’t as streamlined as it could be for users.
“Now that this API is available, it’s a lot easier for people to be able to scoop up this information and provide solutions.” —Julia Robbins, IT Data Architect, Austin Development Services Department
Julia Robbins, IT Data Architect with the City of Austin’s Development Services Department, was instrumental in solving that problem, as she spearheaded the launch of the dataset onto Austin’s Open Data Portal. Now, the data is updated daily and contains about 30 different views for users to access.
“Now that this API is available, it’s a lot easier for people to be able to scoop up this information and provide solutions,” Robbins says.
Internal & External Efficiency
As the Development Services Department regularly receives internal data requests from city employees and public information requests from the community, the new open data platform has been key in saving time across the board by sharing data directly to quickly answer questions.
“I personally love to be able to jump onto some website and get the information rather than having to submit a request that’s going to take 10 business days to even get a response.” —Julia Robbins, IT Data Architect with the City of Austin’s Development Services Department
“I personally love to be able to jump onto some website and get the information rather than having to submit a request that’s going to take 10 business days to even get a response,” Robbins says.
Now, as the department receives public information requests, they simply create a new view of the dataset and share the link to make it accessible to everyone while cutting down on repeat requests.
“Permitting is complicated,” says Robbins. “There’s a bunch of rules, and it’s difficult to find your way around it. Any way that we can make that information more clear and visible is a win.”
Casting a Wider Net
The open dataset has also opened the door for other municipalities and civic-minded organizations like Open Austin to conduct their own data analyses to help develop city solutions.
Robbins sees this approach to sharing permitting data as a possible win for other cities. “This dataset was compiled using the BLDS building specifications posted by Code for America so that municipalities across the U.S. can post with the same kind of column names so the data is accessible to do analyses across different municipalities.”
Beyond simply posting the data, IT Application Analyst Surbhi Bakshi went one step further by creating Socrata Perspectives pages to better explain how to access and understand the data in meaningful ways. Bakshi explains that she was inspired to create the pages after she began receiving the same questions, like ‘How many demolitions were permitted?,’ again and again. While the information was available, people just didn’t want to dig to access it.
Now, internal strategic planning teams and community members alike have guidance to understand how to locate and analyze exactly what they’re looking for, down to specific coordinates on a map.
So far, the Perspectives pages have been hugely helpful and received more than 280 views in the month of November. Looking ahead, Bakshi is working with a colleague to publish even more datasets on applications for site plans, zoning changes, and subdivisions.
The city of Austin is a co-host of Socrata Connect, our annual conference on all things data. Join us to learn more about how Austin — and other governments — are using data.