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Smart Bus Stops Done Dirt Cheap

8 Oct

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.

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The Summer of Smart

6 Jul

Flick from summerofsmart.org

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 Mag on DIY Urban Design

20 Apr

GOOD Magazine posted a great photo essay on DIY Urban Design. My favorite is the SignChair in the picture above.

DIY Urbanism in Detroit

14 Sep

“Cities have always went down. It’s people who bring them back.” – Larry D’Mongo

Palladium Boots sent Johnny Knoxville (?) to Detroit to see whats up with the DIY scene out there. We’ve all seen the photoessays by them “dutch assholes” focused on the massive empty buildings, so it’s really cool to finally see the human reaction to the abandonment. This video series does a great job of showing off the creativity people employ when provided all the infrastructure. Watch the whole three part series over at palladium.com.

DJ Kool Herc

19 Jun

Dj Kool HercHe was a young Jamaican American and he just wanted to throw a party. His uncle had given him the best sound system in the neighborhood, yet he had no venue to play at and he was broke. What Kool Herc chose to do could have been done anywhere, but because it happened in New York, he forever changed the world.

Kool Herc brought the party to the people and set up his sound in the streets.


“To accommodate larger crowds, Herc moved his parties further up Sedgwick Avenue into Cedar Park. He had seen construction workers hooking up power by tapping the light posts, and so he started doing the same. “I had a big Macintosh amp. That thing cost a lot of money and pumped a lot of juice. It was 300 watts per channel. As the juice started coming, man, the lights start dimming …  The results shocked the borough.” Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, pg 78,  by Jeff Chang.


“At dusk a van rolled up with Kool Herc and his crew. His boys dragged a couple of portable tables into the schoolyard through a hole in the fence, while Herc unscrewed a plate in the base of a light pole and hooked a heavy industrial extension cord into an outlet inside. Soon crates of records, large speaker cabinets, and Dj equipment were set up and Herc started getting busy. ” – Hip Hop America, pg 26, by George Nelson.

He hacked the city and fathered the global movement of hip-hop.

Kool Herc had that hacker mind state though, he was the first DJ to buy two of the same record and play the break over and over, turning a five second snippet into a five minutes of something brand new. He also custom built his sound to be louder than any of the other local djs in the Bronx. Yet the act of hacking into the city’s hidden innards and demanding that it serve him, a young black man from the Bronx ghetto in the 70’s, is why Kool DJ Herc is the godfather of Hack Your City.