Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of participating in the first Code for Livability event in Washington, DC. An incredible group of policy makers, community leaders, and web developers came together with the purpose of developing strategies to sustain communities across the country. From this first meeting, amazing ideas and conceptual designs for smart-phone applications were generated with the goal of bringing environmental sustainability to the forefront of peoples’ everyday lives.
This weekend in Denver, Colorado, coders and designers will build on the success of the Code for Livability event, converging on the Uncubed coworking space to participate in the Colorado Code for Communities civic “hackathon”. One of the first civic hacking events in the region, this event will bring together non-profits, local foundations, local and regional government agencies, Federal agencies, and private local tech startups and entrepreneurs. “Hackathons” like this one bring together a number of people to build web and mobile applications and other products to help improve communities. They happen in one whirlwind weekend and this one will result in two or three winning teams and applications.
Funded in part by the Obama Administration’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities Technical Assistance Grant awarded to a team led by PlaceMatters, this event has helped catalyze a community of individuals interested in innovating around community sustainability. Already, ahead of the “hackathon,” the City of Denver released 80 GIS datasets into a truly open data Denver catalog. This means citizens, planners, students and anyone else can download these geographical data sets without lengthy forms or clearances. This furthers the region’s ability to bring down the costs of regional and urban planning analysis (one of the long-term goals of building regional capacities throughout the country).
Over the past couple of years the term civic hacking has come into greater use. Civic hackathons like this one in Denver are inspired by Code for America’s call for a different kind of public service. America’s tech-savvy workforce loves a challenge and these hackathons and other similar opportunities give people an outlet for giving back and volunteering time. For example, the iFindit app aims to assist social workers, case managers, providers, and residents with quick information on food, shelter, and medical care for Chicago’s underprivileged, in addition to information on location, hours of operation, and whether services are provided free of charge. And the NYC Volunteer Opportunities Finder gives you easy access to volunteer opportunities based on location and type, making it easier than ever before to give back to your community. But opportunities like these are not just about volunteering service to local, regional, or Federal government. It’s about fostering connections among innovators who will also go out and build the next great businesses.
Colorado Code for Communities has been a community effort, led by PlaceMatters but not possible without the support of some gracious sponsors (many of them grown in Colorado): Full Contact, Bill Track 50, SendGrid, Granicus, and Pivotal Labs with additional support from Galvanize and Microsoft’s Boulder Office. Our partners at Open Colorado and the Denver Regional Council of Governments have also been instrumental in helping us organize and get data.
I look forward to other Code for Communities taking place around the country. Thinking about doing one? Write me at email@example.com and let me know of your ideas.
Chris Vein is US Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Government Innovation