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Unconferences, Hack-A-Thons, and a Code for Livability

This past weekend saw three amazing open government events take place in both Washington, DC and New York City.

This past weekend saw three amazing open government events take place in both Washington, DC and New York City.

On Saturday, the Transportation Camp held its annual “unconference” in Washington, DC.  An unconference is a more open version of a traditional conference, allowing participants the opportunity to help shape the structure and format of the day’s events.  This year’s Transportation Camp, which was organized by OpenPlans, Mobility Lab, and Greater Greater Washington, hosted several hundred citizens, students, developers, businesses, and local and Federal government employees.  Discussion focused on ways to engage citizens in decisions affecting transportation issues – including ways to better use bike shares open data. In addition, citizens and city officials brainstormed on ways to increase access to public transportation for all users, including those with limited mobility.  And developers leveraged city and Federal datasets—ssome via the Federal  platform—inin addition to data provided by businesses like Capital Bike Share, to create platforms and services that help citizens make more informed decisions related to their commute. 

Meanwhile in New York, CleanWeb Hack-a-thon developers, designers and business professionals worked to build applications that tackle energy, waste, water, and other sustainability issues by leveraging web and mobile technologies. Attendees built more than 15 applications over the weekend, many using data from the newly launched Green Button challenge.

Building on the theme of sustainability, the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which includes the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the US Department of Transportation (DOT), and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), held the first Code for Livability in Washington, DC, on Sunday.  The Partnership, with support from the White House Open Government Initiative and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), convened web developers, the technology community, and a broad range of stakeholders representing housing, transportation, and the environment, to work on solutions that bring environmental sustainability to the forefront of peoples’ everyday lives.

This unique code-a-thon started with a lively discussion on the issues facing agencies that are working to create more sustainable communities.  By generating the data to help planners build sustainable communities; enhancing existing sustainability applications with additional data; and building new sustainability applications that help individuals, businesses, and governments make more educated choices on livability, employment, and leisure, the day’s attendees collaborated with policymakers as never before on the issues that we all care about.

As the Administration’s Open Government movement moves into its third year, these events illustrate the potential for change when data are made transparent, citizens participate in turning those data into valuable tools, and public and private partners collaborate to scale innovative tools that they create nationwide.

Chris Vein is Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Government Innovation