I think it’s just a sign of city’s taking open data one step at a time. For a first release of opening data it’s easier to provide a raw file rather than engineer an or manage an appropriate API. That said, I think developers and city IT know that an API (as say RESTful APIs or SPARQL RDF queries) is the ideal solution. However in some cases, cities release data as files and app developers will create an API for them. There were a number of examples of people creating APIs for the NYC datamine data. Here’s one example:
I’m trying to keep track of the systems that cities are using to release their data here:
a list of cities with data catalogs is here:
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