Coding for a Better Neighborhood

Successful plans for growth are informed by the vision of community members. Now, an innovative web-based effort is helping that vision go mobile.

As the people most knowledgeable about and invested in their neighborhoods, local community members are key participants in any new planning effort. Residents of a town or neighborhood often understand the area in ways planners don’t, and by getting involved in new planning efforts residents can help make sure new development plans are in line with the community’s goals.

PlaceMatters is working to make this public engagement more effective and equitable, and they’re harnessing the power of web developers and public data to make it happen. The organization will host Colorado Code for Communities this coming weekend, July 27-29, in Denver, Colorado. The event will gather web programmers to collaborate and create digital apps full of civic information. The apps are intended to address specific questions or local concerns, using state and federal data to power their information.

To guide the programmers’ work, Code for Communities has set up a website for people to submit and vote for app ideas, bringing in the public to give feedback and be a part of the process. Currently app ideas range from providing election day polling locations and wait times to one that would allow cyclists to share information and alerts on local routes to other locals.

The Code for Communities event also seeks to promote the publicly available datasets and encourage other people to use them to create similar web and mobile tools, roping in more people to find creative, collective uses for this available data. Increased collaboration between non-profits, public agencies and the entrepreneurial spirit of technology can lead to better understanding of what needs to be addressed, informed by the people on the ground level who are affected on a daily basis by policy. Technology allows for these people to be a bigger part of the solution and provide nuance to the process.

Funded by a grant from the Department of Transportation and sponsored by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, Code for Communities highlights the intersection of technology and practical issues of smart growth. By using technology to encourage people to claim a stake in their communities, the event hopes to spur greater involvement from people who have an interest in making their neighborhood more livable, ultimately creating a better space for everyone in the community. This is the second Code-a-thon the Partnership has hosted.

For those who want to get involved in their communities but are unsure how to begin, Smart Growth America released Choosing Our Community’s Future, a guide for not only articulating clear arguments against development communities don’t want but also for creating a vision based on what they do. It is when community members cooperate amongst themselves and with planners that the best work gets done and better places to live and work are able to develop.

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Photo by flickr user hackNY

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