Cool Brigade apps

As I helped pull material together for our Annual Report this year, it occurred to me that we have so many incredible stories coming out of our communities program, the Brigade, and that it was worth taking the time to highlight a few of them. These dedicated volunteers spend their precious free time building and advocating for better cities and we ought to celebrate that work, both to show what’s possible in civic tech and inspire others around the world to do the same. So since they’re busy doing good things for the world, I’ve decided to brag a bit for them.


Interviewee: Nick Floersch
Project: Lakecraft
Brigade: Code for BTV

Nick is a GIS developer in Vermont. Here’s how he got started on Lakecraft:

“So I sat there in the opening presentation of the National Day of Civic Hacking event in Burlington (my first civic hacking event) and lo-and-behold there was this strange idea up on the screen — re-create the Lake Champlain Basin inside of Minecraft. It was too strange of an idea not to at least talk to the project leaders (Nina Ridhibinyo and John Cohn) about.”

Lakecraft gamifies environmental education. It empowers people of all ages, especially youth, to interactively engage with the public spaces that surround them, creating an accessible first step towards civic awareness and action. It’s one thing to see a picture of a dirty lake, but imagine the reaction of “moving” through the lake and watching as pollution seeped into the water — it may be a game, but it sure does make a point. The Lakecraft team is excited to partner with local youth organizations and get Lakecraft in the hands of real users.

Interviewee: Jim Smiley
Project: Construction Permits
Brigade: Code for Philly

As someone who works in San Francisco, I’m constantly aware of the hum and buzz of construction emanating from the downtown area. Our city, along with others in the Bay Area, has seen a dramatic spike as demand for housing skyrockets in areas of the city previously deemed uninhabitable. Jim noticed the same thing in Philadelphia, so he built a heat map which visually breaks down the number of properties issued construction permits, in order to track change over time.

“A lot of my motivations for the project came from my experience with community reporting for the Frankford Gazette,” Jim reflected to me in an email. “I became very interested in how Philadelphia’s former industrial neighborhoods are changing in the 21st century, and how that change is perceived. To many Northeast Philadelphia residents that I know, Kensington is a dirty word. Many of them grew up there, saw jobs leave, saw crime rise, and left…But I’m not seeing that. And many newcomers and younger residents aren’t seeing that either. They’re looking at Kensington with hope.”


Interviewee: Emma Fletcher
Project: Sacramento Hashtag Project
Brigade: Code4Sac

Like Jim, Emma Fletcher wanted to create something that would help neighbors better engage with each other, so she worked with MaryJayne Zemer, Kaleb Clark, and Andrew Axton to create the Sacramento Hashtag Project. By creating unique hashtags for each neighborhood and encouraging residents to tweet with them, they’ve created an awesome website where you can track tweets (a virtual database of information) for the City of Sacramento. But Emma and the team don’t just think this works in Sacramento — it’s ready to redeploy in other cities:

“The hashtag project is created to easily add neighborhoods, and we are planning on launching four new neighborhoods in the Sacramento area this summer. All the code is available on Github. The infrastructure can stay the same, [interested cities] simply need to come up with new hashtags unique to their neighborhood and import the correct geographical fields for their area. We would love to work with other cities to launch their own version of the hashtag project.”

What’s really clear from each of these projects is the unceasing optimism that radiates from each person working to make their cities a better place. Whatever the issue, these projects demonstrate that citizens are doing something to fix the problems that see and to perpetuate a better community. It’s how we define ourselves at CfA — we’re a culture of doers, and each new app we build reflects that ethos.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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