I got the Fellowship! I’m spending 2013 hacking on cities with Code For America. Yeah yeah yeah!
Code For America is a new organization that helps upgrade cities. It has quickly become the most distinguished force in the emerging open government, smart city movement. It’s like ‘PeaceCorps for geeks’ which I’m way down with.
They’ll send me out to one of the 2013 partner cities where I’ll get to flip the local government onto state of the art tech. My first job will be to meet tons of government employees and community leaders and just listen. After hearing what the local problems are and figuring out the local political quilt, I’ll come back to San Francisco for the rest of the year and hack. I’ll have the opportunity to hack on solving the specific problems my partner city faces, and solve them in a way that is scalable to any city in the world.
If the quality of projects from the past years Fellows are any example, its going to be an immensely exciting, yet challenging year. Bring it.
2013, the official year of Hack Your City.
Here is the Code For America founder and executive director, Jennifer Pahlka preaching church at TED.
Check out the latest Hack Your City project! Smart Bus Stops Done Dirt Cheap!
San Francisco’s Bus stops are already kinda smart, they have those cool Next Bus arrival signs, and some detailed maps of bus routes. Those help answer a few questions people have when they are stuck at the stop. Smart Stops is a project to help bus stops answer all kinds of local questions though. Think of it like Siri for the block.
You’ll be able to ask your favorite neighborhood smart bus stop all kinds of things. Just text in a question and your bus stop will send you a answer. How do I take the bus to Golden Gate Park? You’ll get SMS directions you can carry with you on your trip. Who’s got the best burritos in this hood? Where’s the local health clinic? We’ll ask around and find out for you. Smart stops will also collect stories from the neighborhood to share if you ask nicely.
This project came about because of the always awesome GAFFTA and their upcoming Urban Prototyping Festival. Hack Your City was invited to submit a project. We are honored to have Smart Stops included in the selection of urban interventions for the festival. All of the projects chosen have a mix of open source technology, public art, and had to be easily built by others in any city.
We chose to make Smart Stops a text message app so that it would be more accessible to people who are riding the bus. I’m not really feeling making a smart phone app, it just doesn’t seem as important. The spirit of this festival is create open source art that any one can clone and easily reproduce in their own city. By creating a SMS service, our Smart Stops art project can easily be built in any city in the world. There are parts of the globe where text messaging is used way more than the internet. Smart Stops is ready for these places already, no digital divide, no expensive hardware, just any easy code base to upgrade your bus stops.
We’ve got a talented crew of Hack Your City hooligans making this happen. We got people coding the backend, the questions, and the SMS service. You can check our work in progress code at https://github.com/visiblethinking/sbsdc.
We’ve also got urban hackers hand building our signs from reclaimed materials. We’re hand painting them with classic hand styles. The’re gonna be fly.
Awesome! Urban Hacker John Locke from NYC has been fabricating and installing DIY Payphone Lending Libraries around Morningside Heights. I’m really feeling them because they turn this unused, deprecated, relic of the city into something equally antiquated, yet fresh. The little libraries are getting a lot of love lately from the press, yet this interview in World Literature Today is the coolest review.
I’m excited about this project because it’s part of something bigger that John and his crew are trying to do, The Department of Urban Betterment, which is like Hack Your City NYC. What up DUB, lets link!
DIY Libraries are important because they install a little shelf of pride in a neighborhood, by showing that neighbors are chill enough to ‘give one, take one’. They are also easy enough to build that you can replicate them anywhere in the world and since people have been building bookshelves since forever, they’ve gotten crazy stylish too. Building a DIY library in your neighborhood, inspired by the local architecture can produce infinite, unique designs that can be thrown up in a day.
A crew of Urban Hackers in in Puerto Alegre, Brazil have been putting in DIY Libraries at a few of their Bus Stops. They started as one DIY project that got lots of respect, so the city and some nonprofits sponsored them to be built in other neighborhoods. A great trend that a lot of these DIY Urban Design projects have had lately is posting easy to follow instructions so that other like minded neighbors around the world can replicate these good ideas.
In the video below, this crew in Brazil has stepped up the design of the DIY libraries by encouraging local artists to help build and decorate the shelfs.
Colombia, always on point, has a bunch of small libraries in there public parks. The local gov took an easy, cheap idea and ran with it. They have over a hundred of them throughout the country.
More DIY Libraries
The App Quest
The New York MTA hosted an App Quest contest to see what the tech community could build on top of recently opened transit data. This contest arose from the newly revealed experience that hackers and designers can create apps that are more attractive and accessible, for far cheaper and much quicker than transit agencies themselves can.
The winner of the the App Quest contest was Embark NYC. Embark is an app that routes you all over NYC and looks great. I’ve been using their iBart app for San Francisco for a couple years now. I’ve always admired their custom map of the BART system.
My work, Urban Mapping, also entered an app into the App Quest contest. We developed and submitted TravelShed, a visual way to see how far you can travel on transit in a given amount of time. I didn’t personally work on it at all, yet I think its a great iteration of the isochrone map.
A runner up of mention is NotifyME. Its an Android app that will send you updates if the trains you usually take are delayed. I’m mentioning this one because I just built the same sort of service as a text message app, here in SF. Check it out at Late BART.
The era of urban hacking has arrived. The city of San Francisco is throwing a ‘Summer of Smart’ effort to get urban and civic hackers of all stripes to start working together. Local arts orgs and the relevant City departments have partnered to create space and time for designers, developers, journalists, and activists to make apps and tech solutions to important urban problems. These ‘Civic Hackers’ will link over the summer for a few super intense creative sessions called hackathons.
There are going to be three weekend long hackathons. These are events where interested people meet up to code and draw like mad for 48 hours straight. At the end of the weekend they compare their achievements and party. The first of these three weekends just happened and it was rad sounding. The Gray Area Gallery gathered SF’s finest civic hackers to work on the themes of Community Development and Public Art. Unfortunately I was only able to stay for the keynotes and the introductions, but the list of projects made is super impressive.
The started projects include Art Mapper, a slick twitter based app that maps out all the pics of Street Art sent to it. Also surprising it hadn’t been made yet is Public Art Spaces. Additionally, there were location constrained digital bulletin boards, and even a tool to help make paying taxes fun. Keep on eye on YayTaxes.org. There were many more ideas passed around during the introduction that didn’t get teams. My favorite idea presented was a kickstarterish way to crowdsource funds for urban renewal. Such as community funded gardens, bike paths, and the like. Holler at me if you want to work on that one sometime.
There are two more hackathons happening this Summer. Sustainability and Transportation at the end of July and Public Health and Food in August. These events aren’t just for computer programmers, come through if you have any ideas or desires to be a part of the new civic hacker movement.
Gavin Newsom came through the first hackathon, here he is talking about the importance of Open Gov, Open Data and Civic Hacking.
GOOD Magazine posted a great photo essay on DIY Urban Design. My favorite is the SignChair in the picture above.