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Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

Pittsburgh’s Regional Data Center Coming ‘Very Soon’

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Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday will take a final vote on a bill that would take the city one step closer to the creation of a Regional Data Center.

The legislation authorizes the city to enter into cooperation agreements with Allegheny County and the University of Pittsburgh to create and operate a web-based open data portal.

Council passed a bill establishing a comprehensive open data ordinance last March, which goes above and beyond the state’s Right to Know Law.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, who sponsored the initial legislation, said residents will no longer have to ask for information, but rather will be freely given it.

“This information is going to be helpful not only to the city, but the county as well, when we’re looking at everything from aging to economic development,” Rudiak said. “This Regional Data Center where all of the region’s data is going to be deposited is pretty amazing.”

The plan is part of Mayor Bill Peduto’s promise of open government. Policy Director Matt Baron said during the initial announcement last year that it will also help hold city government accountable.

“We can’t truly measure how we’re performing unless departments are sharing information with one another and sharing that information with the public,” Barron said.

The city began by putting its budget data online last year through the website OpenGov.

Debra Lam, Peduto's chief innovation and performance officer, said the portal will include information on the city’s budget and finances, energy usage, city planning, licensing and more.

She said Pittsburgh is not unique in putting its data online or even in its collaboration with the county.

“But it’s pretty cutting edge in the sense that we’re starting as a city with that regional data center, and ... that we are looking into the wider community and other stakeholders,” Lam said.

Those other stakeholders include both the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

Councilwoman Deb Gross, who has both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology, said the information will be particularly useful for social scientists.

“There (are) so many times that we have questions that we can’t quite figure out an answer to," Gross said. "We’ll be able to get the answers more fully and sooner.”

The first 18 months of the project will be funded by a $1.8 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

Lam couldn’t say exactly when the Regional Data Center will launch, but said it will be “very soon,” hopefully before the end of the year.