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Mar. 29, 2013 10:30 am

Hack the Parks civic apps contest to change Baltimore’s green spaces [VIDEO]

In November the city announced plans for its first civic apps competition, calling on "civic hackers" to think up ideas for making government leaner and more efficient while improving the quality of life for Baltimore residents. Now we know what civic-minded technologists will be hacking on: Baltimore city parks.

The Pagoda at Patterson Park near Butcher's Hill.

In November the city announced plans for its first civic apps competition, calling on “civic hackers” to think up ideas for making government leaner and more efficient while improving the quality of life for Baltimore residents.

Now we know what civic-minded technologists will be hacking on: Baltimore city parks.

To watch Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announce the contest in November, skip to 3:50:

Hack the Parks, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology (MOIT), the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks and gb.tc, will solicit ideas throughout April for ways to improve the parks. These “hacks” can be technology-based or not, but the goal, according to a gb.tc blog post, is to create “simple, tangible benefits for the community.”

It’s the first challenge in a broader initiative called Hack Baltimore, unveiled Thursday night at Ignite Baltimore 12. As Jason Hardebeck of gb.tc stressed during his joint Ignite talk with city CIO Chris Tonjes, accessibility to and availability of city data is meaningless without some sort of corollary effort on using that information for a practical purpose.

This city’s history with open data has its share of wins, but there is unsurprisingly no shortage of calls for more.

While an upgrade to the OpenBaltimore website in the fall has since allowed shape and KMZ files to be viewed as maps, updates to individual datasets have been irregular, if cheered, since the OpenBaltimore website launch in spring 2011. There is still dispute over the precise number of vacant buildings scattered throughout Baltimore, as Technically Baltimore has reported, with Baltimore’s Slumlord Watch blogger Carol Ott contending that there are many more than the 15,928 vacants reported in the respective OpenBaltimore dataset.

But the announcement itself is equally important, as it represents what is hopefully the first step in a vibrant public-private collaboration between a city agency and citizens.

Presumably, new challenges will be issued for the city’s civic hackers after Hack the Parks, which is scheduled to be finished at summer’s end.

From the gb.tc post:

Hack the Parks is making grants available to support the most innovative park improvement proposals. We encourage you to think small, at least to start. The funded projects are all pilots. In addition to seed money, the selected pilot projects will also be given park space or other Rec and Parks resources to test their plans, pivot and evolve into truly viable products.

To be eligible for seed funding, proposals:

  • Must be submitted before May 1. (The deadline for proposals was subsequently moved to May 24.)
  • Must involve some type of new improvement to a Baltimore city park, not a continuation of an effort presently underway.
  • Must demonstrate that the pilot phase of any project can be completed by August 2013

The $10,000 MOIT had set aside for the civic apps contest will now be funneled toward Hack Baltimore projects as seed funding. For Hack the Parks, it’s suggested that each project proposal submitted be something that won’t require more than $2,000 in seed funding.

Read the full eligibility criteria for Hack the Parks, and then submit your Hack the Parks proposal here.

Pilot projects chosen will be announced in late May or early June. Throughout the summer, gb.tc will post updates on each of the funded pilots, culminating in an end-of-summer celebration with the final update on each pilot’s progress.

Watch city CIO Chris Tonjes and gb.tc’s Jason Hardebeck announce Hack Baltimore at Ignite Baltimore 12:

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Andrew Zaleski

Andrew Zaleski is a freelance journalist in Philadelphia and the former lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore. Before moving to Philadelphia in June 2014, he was a contributing writer to Baltimore City Paper and a Tech Check commentator for WYPR 88.1 FM, Baltimore city’s National Public Radio affiliate. He has written for The Atlantic, Outside, Richmond magazine, Washington City Paper, Baltimore magazine, Baltimore Style magazine, Next City, Grist.org, The Atlantic Cities, and elsewhere.

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  • Phyllis

    Patterson Park badly needs enforcement of illegal driving. There are only 2 rangers in the city, the signage is poor, there’s supposedly no money for gates.