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How to get started in Civic Hacking

9 Feb

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Originally posted on Opensource.com. Reposted using Creative Commons.

What is civic hacking?

Seventy people gathered together one sunny Oakland afternoon, to volunteer and improve their city. There were no rakes or yard tools normally seen at volunteer day events though. No paint brushes, no trash bags, no canned soup bins. These seventy people were laden with laptops and were volunteering to improve the city’s website. This group of engaged citizens were building Oakland Answers, a new easy way to get answers for the most common questions asked on the Oakland city website. From finding out how to pay parking tickets, to checking what jobs the City was hiring for, this new website was citizen focused and community built. The day long event was called a “writeathon” and the majority of folks in the room were not web developers, but long time Oakland residents who came to write answers. Technologists were there too though, setting up servers and forking the open source code for the site. These web developers, the answer writers, and the City staff were all taking part in the growing new movement of civic hacking.

Civic hacking is people working together quickly and creatively to help improve government. – Jake Levitas

Here are a few more examples of popular open source civic hacking projects:

Open Source Civic Hacking
Open source software is fundamental to civic hacking. Passionate volunteers write code and invent services that improve their own neighborhoods, but do so in a way that can be repeated in other communities around the world. Being able to easily share code without restriction is what allows for civic technology to scale. For example, a few years ago in Boston there were severe snow storms that buried the fire hydrants. The same snow was downing powerlines and sparking fires. Some civic hackers saw this problem and created Adopt-a-hydrantGithHub, a way for neighbors to volunteer to shovel out the hydrants on their block. The following Summer, the same code was forked and redeployed in Honolulu, not for snow but for tsunami sirens. Adopta has since been redeployed dozens of times and is being constantly improved by coders across the country.

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Getting Started
A great first project is to include your city in an existing service. Take Click that Hood – GitHub for example. It’s a fun game that helps teach about a city’s neighborhoods. Whats great about it is that it has clear instructions for adding your own city to the game. These instructions include using open source tools, collaborating on GitHub, and finding open data — all necessary skills for getting started in civic hacking.

Finding open data
The civic hacking movement is dependent on being able to easily find data about governments and the places they govern. If transit data, like bus schedules and train station locations, aren’t available than we couldn’t make any useful apps about transit. Luckily, many cities understand the importance of making their data available and have open data portals now. Data.gov has a list of many of the government data portals around the country and world.  These portals gather all the available datasets that a City has and put them all online in one place. The best data portals have that data in a machine readible format, so that it can be easily included in apps. Check your City’s website to find if a data portal exists. If not, then working with your City to get one setup is a great civic hacking project to start with.

Open Source Data portals:

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Community
It’s important to remember that civic hacking includes both community and technology. All aspiring civic hackers need to join with others to solve our civic problems together. Check out the Code for America Brigade to find a local volunteer group or start your own.  The best part of joining up with other civic hackers is finding out how they’ve achieved successes in their own cities. The Brigade is one of the best resources for discovering the latest open source tools and projects to work on. Also, working with City staff and civic leaders who are part of the Brigade is vital so that the civic technology apps created by civic hackers solve real societal problems. Many different skills and many different perspectives are needed to work on problems that effect many different people. Finally, to get really immersed in the civic hacking movement, consider applying for the  Code for America Fellowship program.

Good luck!

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DIY Libraries

9 Aug

NYC

DIY Libraries

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.

BRAZIL

Poetic Civility.

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

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

World Literature Today 10 micro libraries.

Poster Pocket Plants

30 Jan

Poster Pocket Plants

 

Poster Pocket Plants are an idea by two artists from Toronto. They cut into the thick layers of illegal advertising posters, peel it back, fold it over, staple it, and fill it with soil and plants. Easy enough and you end up with a cheap, DIY green wall. Its a protest against advertisers, its slightly illegal, and a little hippie all in one. An A+ Urban Hack. One of them waxes a little deeper on his blog.

I appreciate that they have posted the ‘plans‘ online for easy replication. Looks easy enough, just use a razorblade to slash a top and side open, fold, fill, and photo. I bet you could get super arty with it. In addition to plant choices, how you cut them can make a statement too.

They have an old gallery online with lots of their work at http://picasaweb.google.com/sean.martindale/PosterPocketPlants#