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The Houston Hackathon

From the Mayor’s office:

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Houston Mayor Annise Parker today announced the City of Houston will host a 24-hour “Open Innovation Hackathon” on May 17-18 at the Houston Technology Center and at Start Houston. A hackathon is a day-long event in which software developers, designers, and data analysts collaborate intensively on data and software projects. Over 24 hours, Houston’s “civic hackers” will pitch ideas, form teams and develop innovative new websites, mobile apps, and insightful data visualizations to address community and city problems.

“Houston leads the nation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) job growth, and we want to leverage local talent to produce outcomes,” Mayor Parker said.  “Everyone involved has worked very hard to define high-impact projects that solve our problems and that can be completed in 24 hours.  We want to use the applications and insights that are created at the Hackathon as soon as possible.”

Mayor Parker also announced the launch of the City’s Open Data Initiative, a program that puts public city data in the hands of citizens. The open data originating from dozens of city systems will be critical for the civic hackers in using technology to build tech solutions that solve city problems.

“We’re really excited that Houston is taking this historic step toward liberating data,” said City Council Member and Hackathon Co-Chair Ed Gonzalez.  “Hackathons are a great way to engage citizens and start a dialogue between City officials and our talented analytical and software developer communities.”

Preparation for this initiative and the Hackathon involves publishing data on a publicly accessible website.  Over the last three months, the City has identified more than 25 “weekend projects” that a team of software developers, designers, analysts and others could reasonably complete, ranging from a Houston bike app that displays all bike lanes, trails, B-Cycle kiosks, and bike shops to dashboards that show citizens how the city is performing and where it can do better.

While Houston’s Open Data Initiative is modeled after programs in New York, San Francisco, Austin, and Palo Alto, Houston will also include a STEM outreach component designed to teach children across the city about career options.  “Sometimes, just talking to a successful software developer can inspire a child to pursue a career in technology,” Council Member Gonzalez said.

The city is expecting strong turnout from citizens, corporate participants, and members of Houston’s startup communities.

More information, including some sample projects and the form to enter, is here. The open data portal on which these and other apps will be built is here, though it appears to be not quite finished yet. Making this kind of data publicly available, and in a standard format, is the key. It should spur innovation even in the absence of a hackathon, though that’s a pretty good way to kick things off. I’m especially delighted to see the shoutout about bike maps, since I have whined before about how crappy the current maps are. I look forward to seeing what comes out of this.

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