Our annual look at the extensive information now available from city governments, and the tools people are building with it.

Last year, Cities named ten of its favorite metro datasets of 2011 from cities across North America, illustrating the breadth of what we might learn (regarding mosquito traps! misplaced vehicles! energy consumption!) in the still relatively young field of urban open data. For this year's installment, we're going one step further. Sure, raw data is great. But useful tools, maps and data visualizations built with said data are even better.

Below, you'll find our picks for 2012's best open data releases from municipal vaults, with an emphasis on tools that can be used by anyone, not just developers and data geeks. If we missed your favorite, please add it in the comments.

1. Crime in Philadelphia. Philadelphia snuck onto our 2012 list just under the wire, publishing last week a big data set on all major crimes in the city dating back to January 1, 2006. The data is now updated daily, covering incidents of homicide, rape, robbery, assault and theft. Philadelphia now joins Chicago, which released 10 years of crime data last year. Baltimore has a similar dataset. For Philadelphians more interested in live trends than historic ones, the city is now also mapping recent crimes (see the above graphic). A smart bonus feature: when you click on an individual incident, the map gives you an opportunity to "submit a tip" to the Philadelphia Police Department.

2. Bikeshare rides in Boston. Boston’s Hubway bikeshare system published a massive file of historic trip data earlier this year, then invited riders and developers to turn the information into something useful with a data visualization challenge. This map comes from one of the winners, Ari Ofsevit, showing the average speeds across different routes between bikeshare stations:

Ari Ofsevit's Boston Hubway map.

Capital Bikeshare in Washington also publishes trip data. Nice Ride in Minneapolis did so earlier this year as well, although that release ran into privacy complications when it turned out the anonymoized data wasn’t so anonymous after all.

3. Public transit in Atlanta. Earlier this year, we wrote about the handful of large metros in the U.S. that were still not opening up their GTFS files of public transit data to anyone other than Google. Atlanta was one of the notable holdouts. In October, however, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority finally published this feed, making it possible for developers anywhere – and not just Google Maps – to produce apps, maps, trip planners or other tools with the city’s real-time transit data.

4. Blight in New Orleans. Code for America helped the city build a web tool this year mapping and tracking blighted properties all over town to help neighbors and community groups keep track of the status of abandoned and code-violating properties. With Blight Status, residents can for the first time follow blighted properties through the process of inspections, legal hearings, judgment and resolution. As a result, the city is able to convey that it’s actually working on the problem, while residents are given some reassurance of that progress.

5. Pedestrian injuries in San Francisco. San Francisco’s Department of Public Health publishes a slew of data and maps (see their great Sustainable Communities Indicators website tracking everything from air quality to food access). One project in particular has had a significant impact. San Francisco’s High-Injury Corridors map tracks data on pedestrian injuries across the city. But instead of mapping individual collisions, the tool weights pedestrian deaths more heavily than other injuries and highlights injury-prone corridors instead of intersections. “The story that this map tells is that 5 percent of the city streets account for 55 percent of the injuries weighted for severity,” says Rajiv Bhatia, director of environmental health for the city’s Department of Public Health. “That was a transformative map to both the pedestrian safety stakeholders, to the police department and the transportation agency.” This is the map he’s talking about:

San Francisco High-Injury Corridors map.

“The transportation agency realized that if you overlay this map with a map of where the city of San Francisco has made their traffic calming and traffic safety investments,” Bhatia adds, “you’ll see almost no overlap.”

6. Green roofs in Chicago. The city has identified 359 vegetated roofs across town, with a total surface area of more than 5 million square feet. The city’s data portal now publishes data complete with location, dimensions and satellite imagery for all of them, as well as a map of their locations. Perhaps the most well-known green roof in town? This one, above Chicago’s City Hall:

Chicago City Hall, via the city's green roofs map.

7. Rat sightings in New York City. No, New York doesn't keep a special call-in line or data log just for rat spottings across the city. This data comes instead from the broader database of 311 service requests to city hall over the past three years. The good news? "This information is automatically updated daily." And you can use the New York data portal to map the results. But we're holding out for someone else to do this with a bunch of tiny rat icons.

8. Tsunami sirens in Honolulu. Honolulu published data on the location of dozens of warning sirens around the island, and Code for America helped to build an app on top of the data allowing local citizens to "adopt" a siren in the same way that other communities have created adopt-a-hydrant programs. In this case, instead of volunteering to dig out hydrants during snow storms, Honolulu residents can take responsibility for listening to siren tests and reporting problems ahead of any Tsunami. As this map shows, about half of the sirens (those in green) have already been adopted:

Honolulu Adopt-a-Siren.

9. Dangerous dogs in Austin. "Declared Dangerous Dogs" in Austin are court-ordered to be restrained at all times and are required to wear large tags identifying them as such. "They have attacked in the past," warns the city. "If they attack again the court could order them put to sleep." Want to know where they live? The city has now mapped them, complete with useful dog descriptions. Watch out, for instance, on Daleview Drive for "Nibbles," a female red-and-tan Golden Retriever/Chow mix.

10. Fixed speed cameras in Baltimore. Baltimore has dozens of these things around town waiting to snap photos of aggressive drivers. The penalty? A $40 mailed citation for going more than 12 miles per hour over the speed limit. But at least the city is up-front about where these cameras are located. This map and dataset on Baltimore's open-data portal identifies the intersection, coordinates and even driving direction (southbound, eastbound, etc.) for all of them. We can imagine such data might come in handy in any number of navigation apps.

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