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Civic Hacka-what?


Hack4Colorado will be just one of 100 civic hackathons happening all across the U.S. on the weekend of May 31, all under the umbrella of the National Day of Civic Hacking. A hackathon is an event where computer programmers and others in the field of software development, as well as graphic designers, interface designers and project managers collaborate intensively on software projects. These events are food and caffeine fueled events where innovation happens and new ideas are born.

What does it mean to participate and support a Civic Hackathon? Well, it means different things to different people.

Some people come with visions of venture funding, a great new start up, building a company and becoming the next Techstars company. That’s a great aspiration but that’s not really the primary goal of a “Civic” hackathon. It could happen. You could build an app that really blows up and you form a company and sell this app to every city, state and municipality and retire like Ted Turner. But a Civic hackathon has a different spin. It’s about the community we live in and giving something meaningful back to that community.

There are others who come because they are just sick and tired of not having an app that tells them to move their car because it’s street sweeping day or they are desperate for an app that really addresses the Veterans struggle to overcome PTSD. At our last organizing committee meeting, one of our members was talking about their frustration of not being able to get live bus data to help her catch the next bus without standing around waiting. Can you get your head around that one? Imagine, you open the app on your mobile device or tablet and it tells you that the #6 will be at your stop in 2 minutes- better run!

Why will you come, invest a weekend, hack, collaborate, and compete? For the challenge? The food? The fun? The comraderie? To give back? For the prizes? Hack4Colorado promises to be challenging, super cool and if you’re good, very rewarding!

The organizers come from OpenColoradoPlaceMatters, and Executive Lattice. The sponsors include some great local companies like iTriageSendGridReadyTalkNoodles & Company, Illegal PetesGalvanizeCOIN, and Commerce Kitchen.

Check it out at Registration is open for the event, May 31st – June 2nd, and we’d love to have you! Come on and join the Geeks for the Good of Colorado! Follow @Hack4Co on Twitter for more updates.
If you missed the Hackathon we put on last year, you can read a re-cap of it here.

Re-posted with permission from writer, Ann Spoor. Original post here.


Civic hackathon inspires competition, collaboration around planning and sustainability apps in Denver region

This past weekend, July 27th to the 29th, PlaceMatters presented Colorado Code for Communites: A Civic Hack-a-Thon at the Uncubed Coworking space in Denver.  With the support of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and a number of sponsors and partners, we had a successful event that brought open data, talented coders and designers, and plenty of food and refreshment to produce a strong set of ideas culminating in 2 winning applications to help advance sustainability and livability within the region.  If you don’t get through this whole blog post, please at least jump below for ways to get involved in this growing effort.

Participants watch final presentations at Colorado Code for Communities

Participants watch final presentations at Colorado Code for Communities

First, I would like to acknowledge all of the hard work of the nearly 30 participants and a number of partners and advocates that made this a truly inspiring community driven event.  In the end our panel of judges chose 2 applications that will receive additional support from PlaceMatters and it’s network of partners as well as mentorship from Galvanize (a local firm supporting investment in entrepreneurial activity through 3 pillars: venture, community and curriculum).  These applications were:

  • EndPoint – an app built to provide information about the characteristics of your neighborhood and help to support more sustainable choices.  In a weekend, the team produced an application using open data from the Denver region including crime data, transit stops, libraries, and demographics among other data.  They also managed to pull together a well documented API to serve that data back out to developers in the city.  The team included: Levi Beers, Clay McIllrath, Jon Hemstreet, Jiran Dowlati
  • RadRoutes – pitched by Justin Lewis and Jill Locantore of the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), this application crowdsources ratings of the various bike facilities and provides additional mashups of crash data and bike theft data to help improve biking in the region.  It also provides great feedback to DRCOG to make planning decisions on future investments around safety and building a more complete bike network. The team included: Justin Lewis, Michael Lockwitz, Jeremy Thiesen, Mark Scheel, Mehdi Heris
The EndPoint team hacks away at their winning application

The EndPoint team hacks away at their winning application

It was a hard decision and we had a number of other apps including:

  • CityCycle – an application offering a clearinghouse of information to cyclists in the region on routes, bike racks, and BCycle (bike sharing) stations. The team included: Oza Klanjsek, Ian Harwick, Shilo Rohlman
  • MyFairElection – an application offering increased transparency on election day for polling locations.  You can find polling location data, the laws affecting voting in your state, check in and out of polling locations to report wait times, rate polling locations, and share that you voted with friends on your social networks. The team included: Karen Suhaka, Cole Chambers, David Miller, Philip Hickey, David Chapman, Curtis Floth
  • Parking Thief – parking data is notoriously hard to collect and keep up to date.  This app gamifies the data collection process and helps support better decisions around parking and aids in parking management.  For example, get more points if you park at a Park and Ride and take the light rail or bus in to downtown. The team included: Vui Nguyen, Andrew Corliss, George Peterson
  • Transit Trends – in the absence of real time information, this app allows transit users to report the arrival time of their bus or train and rate the experience.  The app could be used to alert users downstream of a late bus.  It can also be used to provide real time feedback to the transit agency on the quality of service and support future service decisions. The team included: Laura Leslie, David Viramontes, David Stile, Jim Lindauer

We have encouraged everyone to keep on hacking and stay engaged as this is just the beginning of building a robust civic hacking community devoted to building more sustainable and vibrant communities throughout the region.  You can check out more presentations and resources from the weekend on the wiki and read a round up of the weekend’s event from Tekhne (our media sponsor). Continue reading

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: April 24, 2012

Next American City reports on New York’s use of wikis to solicit feedback on an overhaul of its data publishing rules and on Oakland’s move toward an open data environment.

A new “collective online urban planning platform” is hitting the streets. Grist describes Neighborland, the latest in a growing ecosystem of promising tools for enabling community members to collect and organize ideas (with a hat tip to the Guggenheim/BMW LAB blog). The project grew out of Candy Chang’s amazing (but simple) participatory art installations in New Orleans (and now elsewhere), and Candy Chang posts about Neighborland on her blog as well. If you don’t know Candy Chang, well, you probably should.

Museum of the Future draws a useful distinction between outreach (communicating with people unknown to you and connecting them to your institution) and engagement (converting people from passersby to enthusiasts). Outreach can lead to engagement, but it’s a mistake to conflate them. Gov 2.0 Watch cites a TechPresident story exploring at a similar distinction between feedback and engagement.

EngagingCities argues, through two case studies, for a “blend of moderate technology venturing (in terms of scale), the readiness to look abroad for inspiration and solutions, and … deep engagement with their citizens throughout the process.”

EngagingCities also writes about Denver’s new participatory budgeting process and tool (Delivering Denver’s Future). It looks promising, and the team behind it is a capable group (we are fans of Urban Interactive Studio), but we’re also looking forward to the next generation of participatory budget tools that help constituents better understand the on-the-ground implications of the various budget options. It’s one thing to give constituents budget allocation options, which is what most participatory budget tools do, but it would be quite another if the users understood how levels of service or the quality of life in their community would actually be impacted by those various options.

Participatory budgeting is getting plenty of attention these days, including a New York Times article several weeks ago providing a detailed account of a participatory budgeting project covering four City Council districts in New York and and an Intellitics post mapping participatory budgeting projects around the world.

The concept, specs, and implications of Google Glasses are slowly working their way through the pundit/observer/technologist-o-sphere. We share Digital Urban’s sentiment: “With technology it always seems like one is waiting for the next big thing, but this takes it to another level….”

The Denver Post covered the Box City event here in Denver, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects Colorado, enabling 200 kids to design and build a mock city (another h/t to BMW Guggenheim LAB).

Finally, Planetizen writes, now that everyone is back home from the American Planning Association conference in Los Angeles, about the “winds of change” blowing through the APA.

What did we miss?

A National Housing and Transportation Affordability Index

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced yesterday that they’ve awarded a 2-year contract to Manhattan Strategy Group (MSG) and our friends over at the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) to develop a national Housing and Transportation  (H+T) Affordability Index.  CNT developed an H+T Affordability Index for 337 Metro regions; this contract will allow them to expand that research and cover the nation.  From the site:

Americans traditionally consider housing affordable if it costs 30 percent or less of their income. The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index, in contrast, offers the true cost of housing based on its location by measuring the transportation costs associated with place.

H+T Affordability Index home page

The H+T Affordability Index allows users to see the true cost of housing and transportation where they live in 337 different regions.

This is an exciting announcement for many tackling this issue on a planning level, not to mention for personal decision-making, business decision-making and policy making.  Our hope at PlaceMatters is that the data that comes out of this 2 year study is made available through an API.  It looks like that’s in the works for Abogo, another tool by CNT built on top of the H+T data and centered more around individual decision making.  By making this data easily consumable on the web through a service architecture, people could develop all sorts of new tools on top of it.  Imagine a scenario planning tool (on the web or desktop) that let you populate the data in your analysis of a neighborhood or region.  And I’m not talking about shapefiles or zipped downloads (although that would be great too).  I’m talking about a truly accessible API that allows mashups in the same way that Google’s APIs have inspired hundreds of innovations.

I’d even love to host an H+T hackathon someday where we get a bunch of programmers, developers, and UI designers in a room and dream up innovative uses for the data.  What about a real estate search with H+T data embedded in the results?  Or a site that invites you to track your actual transportation and housing costs against the average with “rewards” or bragging rights for beating the region?  If the data is open, these are all real possibilities that could be designed not just by contractors but people with passion and interest.   We’ll be tracking this and hope to report that someday this data will be accessible so the benefits can multiply and really help individuals, communities and regions understand the true costs of their decisions.

How would you use this data?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: June 8, 2011

Mashable has a great roundup of where augmented reality technology is and where it’s headed. It’s quite easy to imagine a ton of useful and amazing applications in the community engagement context.

inCommon writes about California’s first ever statewide deliberative poll: randomly selected residents participate in shared learning and opinion forming on complex policy issues. Intellitics writes about it as well, and offers a few thoughtful observations, including how critical it will be that participants trust the briefing information provided through the process or at least come to trust that information through the shared learning.

Engaging Cities thought out loud about the use of video- and film-based storytelling in urban planning and commented on the potential of immersive technologically-mediated approaches to community participation.

Involve offers an extended reflection on the new AlphaGov project (“an experimental prototype of a single UK Government website”) and the challenges involved in the shift from a unilateral decision-making process to a more collaborative, consultative process.

Open Plans reports that their Civic Commons initiative is moving out of their Civic Works incubator and into full-fledged adulthood.

Both The Dirt and The City Fix had interesting posts about the growth of the very cool “intelligent cities” idea, which is tied to the availability of data and the increasingly real-time nature of so many of the data streams. It’s interesting that the idea is framed largely (though not entirely) in terms of data – collection, access, analysis – and not much in terms of process or community engagement. The City Fix post includes a cool physical data visualization of educational attainment data against crime data.

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: April 4, 2011

A clever public engagement approach: Common Sense California posts a video involving legos and something that vaguely sounds not-quite like hip-hop.

Common Sense California also posts about Yo Yo Ma and the Citizen Music Initiative, a music-based approach to community engagement.

Museum 2.0 describes a terrific crowdsourcing participatory engagement technique they developed at the San Diego Museum of Natural History using visitor feedback to develop labels for the museum specimens. I’m guessing the technique could be adapted for any number of community engagement purposes.

The Collaboration Project reviews online idea generation tools for public managers and published a guide to designing online community brainstorming.

The Spring 2011 issue of Planning and Technology Today is out, and it includes pieces by Anthony Flint of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (“New Technologies for Visualizing Sustainable Planning”), Karen Quinn Fung (“Urban Planners and Open Data: Making the Connection), and PlaceMatters’ own Ken Snyder (“The Power of the Kindergarten Art Supplies in Planning”). Thanks to the Goodspeed Update for the heads up.

Deliberations reports that Recife, Brazil is the recipient of the Reinhard Mohn Prize for democratic innovation for its participatory budgeting process.

Another flavor of participatory budgeting, the Backseat Budgeter, is the subject of this Denver Post article.

We’ve noted IBM’s new City Forward effort a few times already, but Engaging Cities offers a bit more background.

Engaging Cities also posted a video on the Kennedy Plaza planning process in Providence, Rhode Island. Part of the effort involved actually programming community activities and events in the plaza as a way of testing ideas and introducing community members to the redesign possibilities.

SimCity Grows Up

Little did I know that my fondness for the earliest SimCity versions so many years ago would mark a point on a path leading to elected office and a great job with PlaceMatters helping communities improve their decision making and become more sustainable along the way. While SimCity was inexplicably fun for the geeks among us, and probably did something to convey a sense of the relationships between land use, growth, and economic health, a helpful model of community leadership or municipal management it was not. Even in its later iterations, with fancier graphics and more sophisticated management options, while helpful perhaps at teaching some of the basic challenges and trade-offs, SimCity never offered (or pretended to offer) a tool for tackling real municipal challenges.

Continue reading