Civics 2.0

Open government, open data, and coding with a civic purpose.

Comments on Twelve Years of Commission Service

On March 27, 2014, I received a Distinguished Service Award from the City of Austin for twelve years of service on the Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission. Here is the video, followed by my prepared text.

Thank you for this recognition. I see this as a recognition not just for my personal efforts, but also for the accomplishments of the many groups I've had the good fortune to work with over the past ten years.

I'd like to share this recognition with: all my fellow Community Tech and Telecom Commissioners, past and present; City Council and its Emerging Technology Committee members; Rondella Hawkins and her staff in the office of Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs; the city's CTM and PIO departments; and the many groups who work so hard on behalf the community, such as Austin Free-Net, Channel Austin, Big Gig Austin, and Open Austin.

Feedback on Technology Items in City of Austin Budget

I'm down at City Hall, waiting for the hearing on the city's FY2014 budget.

Here are my notes on feedback I want to share with the City Council, regarding budget for some technology-related matters.

It's Time to Create a Civic Innovation Office at Austin City Hall

6:30pm update: This afternoon, Austin City Council approved a budget that includes funds to create an innovationn office. http://austintexas.gov/news/city-council-adopts-fiscal-year-2012-2013-budget

If you're a Boston resident and a pothole springs up on your street, help could be just a phone click away. The Citizen's Connect phone app will file a report for you.

What could be easier than a phone click? How about no phone clicks?

The Street Bump app, recently unveiled in Boston, uses the accelerometer built into your smart phone -- a device that measures speed and directon changes -- to detect when you've encountered a pothole. When you run the app, It will record a street bump event and file a report for you.

Call to Hack, Civically

Next, weekend (Sat., Sept. 8, all day), Code for America is sponsoring a Hack-a-Thon, their second this year.

As Alan Williams explains:

Civic hackathons are about making things happen. At civic hackathons, passionate people of all kinds come together to solve shared problems. You don’t need to be a coder, you just need to care. They help communities like Austin build strong ties between talented designers and developers and the countless organizations and individuals that work daily to make the city a better place. The diverse experiences, expertise, and ingenuity of residents can help shape what gets built at civic hackathons, and improve their resonance and relevance with citizens at large.

Free signup is here: http://codeacrossaustin.eventbrite.com/

I've got a project I'm going to propose, and I hope you'll consider coming to hack on it.

Central Texas Bar Camp: Hack Your City

I did a presentation "Hack Your City" at the Central Texas Bar Camp yesterday. It was intended to be a demonstration presentation on open government and open data resources. Unfortunately, due to A/V issues, the demo part was nixed. So, I did an on-the-fly Plan B instead, which, I think worked out fine, based on the group discussion.

I did promise to blog the resources I wanted to show, so here we go.

City of Austin Data Portal – https://data.austintexas.gov/

Find It Nearby: A Mobile-Enabled Web Application with Austin Government Data

screenshot of Find It NearbySupport for open government data is an emerging national trend. In January of this year, the City of Austin unveiled its data portal at http://data.austintexas.gov. On February 21, Code for America sponsored "Code Across America", a national day of "hacking" on civic-minded software applications. (That's "hacking" in the original creative sense, not the popular mischief-making sense.)

As part of the event, here in Austin, about 50 people participated in a CfA Hack-a-Thon. People organized around three projects. You can find out more about the projects at the event wiki page.

I worked on the "Find It" team, which focused more on an R&D effort than a target application. The question we set out to answer is could we acquire sufficient datasets from the government, primarily the City of Austin, and what could we do with them once they were incorporated into a common database form? You can read more about that effort at the aforementioned wiki page.

By the end of the day, I had a small Ruby script that would take a location (latitude/longitude) and search for a number of nearby features -- such as libraries and post offices -- and report the closest. After the event, I built out the proof-of-concept prototype into a web-based application that would attempt to determine your current location (using a built-in GPS if your device had one and you permitted it), and display the features on a map.

The result was the Find It Nearby application. You can try the application here: http://nearby.webatx.us/

New City Website Arrives Monday

Below is a message I just posted to the Austin Neighborhoods Council mailing list:

The City of Austin website is going down for maintenance Sunday. When it returns Monday, the historic "Austin City Connection" will be replaced with the first public release of the new city website.

This will be what they call a "beta" release, made available for public shakeout and testing. The full release is scheduled for January 12.

The press release is linked here:

http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/news/cnews.cfm?nwsid=4338

(I wouldn't normally do this, but due to the impending downtime I'll include a copy below.)

As some of the most engaged users of the city website, it's very important that we all get involved during this critical time. This rollout is a massive undertaking. It's likely going to be similar to the final phases of a kitchen remodel. There will be some dust and hiccups, but as the pieces go into place for completion, it (hopefully) will be beautiful -- so long as we pay careful attention.

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