Saturday, May 2, 2015

Civic Hacking In The News: May 2, 2015

Here's your May 2nd update of recent news relevant to civic hacking.

"The kind of hacker your city wants"
You know a topic is reaching mainstream media when you're seeing it in USA Today. This article talks about civic hacking in general and also hackers who are in the Fellowship Program from Code for America. It's good to see a mainstream media article giving a group of people called 'hackers' positive press like this:
"They sound like a budding Silicon Valley dream team: a designer who studied engineering, a cartographer who worked as an analyst in a big city's office of innovation and technology, and a former Spotify engineer...In fact, they're Code for America fellows who are spending a year to help Pittsburgh's city council modernize its outdated administrative systems and boost the transparency of spending...While so many of their peers are busy courting the Apples, Amazons and Googles of the world, a growing army of "civic hackers" — consisting mostly of designers, programmers and data scientists — are using their eclectic skills to solve government and civic problems, with their own twists. Their work has included local initiatives in the Big Apple and the Windy City, such as Smart Chicago, a civic project that wants to improve lives through tech, and a pilot program that assists with the city's public planning policy where it sold plots of vacant land for just $1. They're also behind nationwide rollouts like Turbo Text, which sends text message reminders before elections. Indeed, the civic hacking movement is invading practically every corner of the country, fine-tuning the nuts and bolts of American cities...The technologists themselves are quietly changing the face of urban centers by helping them run faster and smarter, and they've become some of the most sought-after employees in tech."
"App helps people in wheelchairs plan travel routes, wins at civic hackathon"
Seattle had a Hack The Commute civic hackathon in March 2015 to design user-centric tools that improve the commute in the Seattle area. The top civic hack that came out of the event was an app to help people in wheelchairs get around the Seattle area more easily.
"For most people, using a tool like Google Maps is an adequate way to find walking or public transit directions. But for those who face mobility challenges, be it a disability or a temporary injury, it can be difficult to know where closed sidewalks, steep inclines, ramp curbs, or other obstacles may exist...Hackcessible’s team members — Allie Deford, Nick Bolten, Reagan Middlebrook, and Veronika Sipeeva — came together last month at the initial Hack the Commute event after learning about problems faced by people with mobility challenges. Dr. Alan Borning and Dr. Anat Caspi of the Taskar Center for Accessible Technology at the University of Washington, one of many community members that participated at the event, helped the team understand what dilemmas people were facing...Hackcessible, which qualified for Wednesday’s championship round back in March with two other teams, is a map that displays obstacles and elevation changes that may affect a person’s travel route. The team pulled sidewalk data from the City of Seattle, used Google Maps for elevation information, and utilized the OneBusAway API for bus stop information. The app is designed primarily for wheelchair users and people using crutches; however, one of the team members found Hackcessible useful to avoid large hills downtown because of an injured foot."
"Civic tech contestants range from Microsoft to M.T.A. and housing"
It's both unexpected and encouraging when an article starts out with the words "an open-source Microsoft initiated tool." Microsoft is not renowned for initiating open source tools, so it's great to
read about them being a lead developer for an open source tool and being involved with civic hacking activities. Kudos to MS for having their work voted by a NYC civic hackathon as the Best Civic Hack developed at the event.
"Athena, an open-source Microsoft initiated tool visualizing the civic technology space, won the most votes from participants for Best Civic Hack at the conclusion of this weekend's Code Across NYC encourage civic technologists to engage with city open data and build tools to make government services more accessible. Other partners were Microsoft, New York Tech Meet-up, Silicon Harlem, the Mayor's Office of Data Analytics, Code for America's brigade program and the Internet Society..."It's not just something to look at, it's something to interact with," John Paul Farmer, director of tech and civic innovation at Microsoft NY, said...He explained how the platform aims to make it possible to see links between groups and individuals that invest or fund each other, or that collaborate or share data with each other. In addition, the tool, which also won the best visualization award, seeks to show influence based for example on the size of an organization or Twitter followers...A team working on BetaNYC's year-long effort to create a digital interface for the City Record was awarded the title of Best Document Scraper..."This is the second-most important data set in the city," Noel Hidalgo, executive director of BetaNYC, said during project presentations. "Nobody knows about it, but once it's out there it will be as important as the law of the land and 311."...A related submitted project involved scraping Department of Finance documents to track the number of rent-stabilized units over time, and was inspired by conversations with the office of Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal."
"Stop Waiting for Permission"
This article was referenced during a PyCon 2015 talk by Catherine Bracy about civic hacking. She was a keynote speaker at the conference and was promoting civic hacking to the Python developers. Bracy told the audience that "developers help communities by making publicly accessible information and tools...and she called for further reflection on the roles FOSS developers have in our society..." The article she referenced has the subtitle "How civic hacking changed the way I saw my city —and myself" and tells this story:
"Philadelphia was one of the first cities to host Code for America Fellows—men and women spending a year of their lives dedicated to finding ways to leverage technology and open data to improve government...I vividly remember watching one of those Fellows, Peter Fecteau, talk about civic hacking at my first Ignite Philly and thinking, I want to do that. I want to help. But there was one big problem: I didn’t know how to code. I mean, I knew as much HTML/CSS as the next marketer — enough to build email templates. But I wasn’t a programmer or developer, and I certainly wasn’t a hacker...I’d search once a year, at least, usually while apartment hunting. What are the parking rules on this street? Most often, I was looking for a map of residential parking permit zones. Google Trends said I wasn’t alone, but I couldn’t find so much as a jpeg...I’d never made a map before. Buried in more search results, I discovered the text of the city code that defined the district boundaries. And then I found Mapbox, which changed everything. I could essentially take a crayon and draw the outlines of these districts on a base map that wasn’t covered in terribly-aliased text. It was beautiful on mobile, even retina devices."
Enjoy your weekend! As you're out and about in your city tonight or tomorrow, think about what problems civic hacking might solve, or how it could make your area a better place to live.

If you don't yet have a reserved spot in the June 6 "DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015," REGISTER TODAY!!!


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