Like a big bucket of Legos, a huge batch of city government data recently poured down on Baltimore and on Saturday, a group of about 30 civic-minded web-types (and a smattering of journalist and other observers) gathered in Canton to see what they could build out of it.
Armed with data released as part of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s new Open Baltimore initiative, participants in Civic Hack Day, most of them web developers and designers, launched into a day of hacking and mashing to see if they could come up with any useful ways to analyze that data that would by helpful for the community.
What they had to work with included property tax data, parking citation data, crime data, requests called in to the city’s 311 non-emergency help line, etc.
Discussions early in the day suggested the different directions members of the group might go. A real-time map showing where the Charm City Circulator is at any given moment, for instance, was one idea. Bryan Liles, a web developer from Glen Burnie, was trying to overlay 311 calls (for potholes and such) with property tax data, to see if there were any trends in wealthy vs. poor neighborhood.
“I’m not making any judgments, I’m just going to lay it out, see if there’s any correlations and let people make what they want out of it,” he said.
Dave Troy talked about a project he and others are working on to use new visualization tools made available by LinkedIn to map the connections between people in Baltimore and Annapolis in various areas – business, technology government.
“There are patterns we can identify that really identify these relationships, the degree to which groups are integrated or operate separately in individual silos,” he said. “And we’ll see how that changes over time.”
Hack Day organizer Mike Brenner talked about a project he’s kicking around to map photographs of public art around the city — “murals and whatever you think is art,” as he put it today.
He already articulated the idea on the Hack Day discussion group, an on-going list-serv where people from the community are encouraged to join the conversation and suggest projects.
“I’d be interested in seeing if anyone wants to help build a tool that lets you Tweet a picture of ‘art’ around Baltimore from your mobile phone, which then automatically puts that picture-marker on a citywide map,” he wrote, there.
“Second step would be to be able to turn on/off a crime layer on the map and potentially see if art effects crime.”
(There’s a D.C. version of this idea, Art Around Us.)
Brenner said he hopes people will continue to participate in the Civic Hacking, via the discussion group.
“Ideally I’d like to hold some more of these events,” he said, looking around the room where conversations were buzzing. “There’s so much we can do.”