Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance adds hackathon to annual big data event - Baltimore


Jul. 11, 2013 9:00 am

Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance adds hackathon to annual big data event

At Data Day, civic hackers will have the opportunity to use the latest community statistical data to work on two different projects pitched by community-based organizations.
Data Day 2012.

Data Day 2012.

For the fourth consecutive year community leaders and lovers of data will join together at Data Day on Friday, something of a public unveiling of the latest community statistical information on such subjects as crime rate, poverty and unemployment for Baltimore’s neighborhoods.

Organized each year by the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance-Jacob France Institute, Data Day represents the intersection of community-based data and technology centered on one main question: can statistical information be employed effectively by community activists and neighborhood leaders to bring about improvement and change in this city?

As Seema Iyer, an associate director of the Jacob France Institute who oversees Data Day, told Technically Baltimore at last year’s event, “People really want to manage success. Based on data, people can try to intervene.”

Indeed, registration for this year’s Data Day, taking place at the University of Baltimore, closed earlier this week, with a little more than 200 people planning to attend.

Notably different about this year’s Data Day, however, is a hackathon, running concurrently, during which technologists with a civic bent — civic hackers, in tech journalism parlance — will have the opportunity to use the latest Vital Signs data from BNIA-JFI to work on two different projects pitched by community-based organizations:

  1. The Old Goucher neighborhood, just north of Station North, received a grant focused on neighborhood design, specifically on streetscaping and the flow of transportation into and out of the neighborhood. Civic hackers are being asked to use BNIA-JFI data to put together a mapping project to determine how people are using the streets and what might be done to alleviate traffic congestion.
  2. The Pigtown Main Street Association wants to help retailers move into the Pigtown area, but wants to use Vital Signs data to figure out what sorts of stores local residents need. They’re looking for civic hackers to sift through BNIA-JFI data to determine the types of retailers that might do well given Pigtown’s demographic makeup.

“Communities themselves have questions [about the data],” Iyer said. “This day provides the opportunity to talk about what they’re doing in their communities and have conversations with technologists.”


BNIA-JFI data comes packaged as Vital Signs, quality-of-life data collected from 55 different community statistical areas the indicators alliance divides Baltimore into.

  • The Vital Signs, like “Housing and Community Development” and “Census Demographics,” are broad, general categories.
  • Inside those categories are a number of indicators, which are more specific, pinpointed pieces of statistical information. “Percentage of properties under mortgage foreclosure,” for instance, is an indicator included in the “Housing and Community Development” Vital Sign.

The goal, then, for civic hackers is to parse through these indicators and pull out just the data that can help advance the two pitched projects.

“With six hours, there’s a modest expectation of what you can finish,” Iyer said. “But the hackathon could be the way for people to access the BNIA data in ways we don’t know about.”

Not to mention the Data Day hackathon offers a nice inversion of the typical hackathon structure, where technology is the focus and community-related issues are more peripheral or tangential to the stated goals. At Data Day on Friday, the health of Baltimore’s communities is the focus, with technology simply being the means through which moderate improvements might be made.

“That conversation between communities and tech folks is unique to Baltimore Data Day,” said Iyer.


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