Brigade Spotlight: Code for Maine

Brigade Captain Andrew Jawitz discusses the origins and momentum behind Code for Maine, the value in organizing regionally, and just why every civic hacker should care about transit data.

What’s the origin story of Code for Maine?

Code for Maine grew out of a number of simultaneous initiatives that needed a catalyst to spark real progress. I came into it through two different avenues.

The first is a campaign that I created in 2010 called CarFree Maine that led me to efforts being made to develop multimodal trip planners, (such as Google Maps and OpenTripPlanner) which need to be open source in order to be flexible enough to accommodate multiple data formats and inputs. This served as my intro to the larger world of open data.

A second path that led me to Code for Maine, was through my friendship with many young leaders in Maine’s thriving African Immigrant/Refugee community. The experience left me in awe of the Somali diaspora’s ability to organize across the entire globe!

If you can imagine maybe 10-15 people with similar enthusiasm, undertaking similar projects then that gives a good idea of where we were before CfA. What the Brigade did was provide the nexus of previously siloed relationships to come together for a common goal.

Can you give me a sense of the momentum you have generated?

I think there really is something about Maine that attracts people who aren’t satisfied with waiting for professionals to solve a problem. That was true long before the web.

So when we introduced new ways of encouraging civic participation it fits perfectly within an existing institution. Albeit it’s a tradition which until now has lived on more in cultural life than in political structures.

Why should every civic hacker care about Open Transit?

Because its something we have to do so often we don’t even stop to think about it anymore. But it’s seemingly small things like making it that much easier to catch the bus that will have such a huge impact on the macro scale.

In rural areas, where service may be limited to a single round trip a day, having the tools to plan a schedule can literally mean the difference between getting to work, medical care, food, and all the necessities of life.

You’re holding multiple meetups regionally? Why?

Places like Biddeford, Lewiston, Portland, and Bath are actually extraordinarily densely populated in the historic downtown cores but there is no real cultural center, all encompassing university, or even jobs center where everybody coalesces. Each micropolitan center has its own unique identity and set of challenges.

How has the city reacted to your work so far?

City governments of places like Biddeford, Brunswick, Lewiston, and Bath have been right there with me since day one with CarFree Maine. So with CfA we already have a number of planners and people with various official roles participating on an advisory basis at the very least.

It wouldn’t be overly optimistic of me to say that bureaucratic resistance we face today are really just growing pains. There are so many incredibly brilliant young public employees, patiently waiting in the wings, that once they’re given any real decision making power, I think we’ll start seeing things quickly change.

What do you want to be able to say in a year?

If we can find a way to unite and amplify what already exists and figure out how to better coordinate these existing efforts, the effect should speak for itself.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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