It's fair to say the word 'hacking' carries with it
more negative connotations than positive ones. At its worst, it's destructive
cyber-vandalism, an invasion of privacy and an interruption of the online
systems many of us rely on each day.
But at its best, hacking allows creative, highly-skilled
individuals the chance to improve upon these online systems and build technological
applications that make a positive difference in the community.
The latter concept is the inspiration behind 'Hack-a-Thon,' part
of an event being held in Kansas City, Mo., this week, CityCamp, bringing government
officials and staff, private planning experts, programmers, designers, journalists
and residents together to produce actionable ideas for applying technology to
The great news is that the first-ever Kansas City
'Hack-a-Thon' is charged with creating a mobile application for citizens to find safe
and convenient places to walk or bike, report road or sidewalk hazards, and
provide data to local officials planning new bike lanes, trails and sidewalks.
Even better news--the work on a Kansas City biking and
walking app will be done for free. Programmers from across America will donate
their time and talent. It's hacking for civic good.
"In a world of rapidly changing technology and constantly
shrinking government resources, it's more important than ever for local
governments to leverage technology and citizen engagement to deliver more
efficient and more relevant services," says Eric Roger, executive director of BikeWalkKC.
After being launched in Chicago in 2010, CityCamp has gone
on to host 'unconference' events in a number of America's largest cities. In a
nutshell, the goals of CityCamp are to address:
How can technology enable us to work together across
How can we empower citizens to take greater part in our government?
How can open source software and open data save taxpayer money?
How can we increase online service delivery despite shrinking budgets?
The term 'open source' means that the design and building
blocks of a program are not locked and made private by one owner, but kept open
so that others are able to produce their own variations and offer improvements.
CityCamp 'Hack-a-Thons' use open source events to gather and share knowledge
about how to use new technologies and policies to make government work better
for residents, and to produce actual programs and apps for that purpose.
Such mobile platforms have an important role to play in
increasing rates of walking and biking, particularly in urban areas, with speed
and convenience often the two prime considerations for choosing active
transportation options in the city.
Following the lead of states like Oregon, Minnesota,
Wisconsin and Maine, Missouri is fast rising up the bike-friendly ranks. Hot
the heels of the announcement earlier this year of a
new bike-sharing program, a cutting-edge app to improve biking and walking
in the city is sure to bring plenty of attention from bike/ped advocates, city
planners, and potential new residents and businesses.
Photo courtesy of BikeWalkKC.