A technologically-savvy city is no longer fodder for fantasy film; it’s an expectation. We live in a time where technology can and should make our urban environments more efficient in terms of energy consumption, transportation, land use, citizen participation and government processes. The Internet of Things — an interconnected network of technological devices, users and data — has already fundamentally changed the way we live compared to even a decade ago. (Read more in this month’s cover story, “The Internet of You” by Robin Epley.)
And as our cities grow more connected — from the services they offer, to the residents within their boundaries and the needs of their communities — they are generating a massive amount of data, with the potential to generate so much more. The 2013 federal Open Data Policy (in which data is made available to the general public via open data portals) allows cities to find gaps in services, such as identifying food deserts or inefficiencies in our transportation systems. They allow civic technologists to access information regarding a community’s assets and needs, which in turn allows anyone to identify (and build) potential solutions. You can access the City of Sacramento’s open data portal at http://data.cityofsacramento.org.Roseville’s can be found at data.roseville.ca.us. The City of Elk Grove’s is at gisdata.elkgrovecity.org.
Access to this information gives rise to civic hackathons and app competitions during which developers can use the information available to solve real problems in their own cities. Last year, local firm Apptology won California’s Health Data Code-a-Thon with an app that helped connect WIC users to vendors that accept their benefits. (The California Health and Human Services open data portal can be found at chhs.data.ca.gov.) On June 4, in participation with the National Day of Civic Hacking, local developers created a mockup app called OreoSwamp that plotted food deserts, transportation lines and food access points.