Half a year of ’hood clickin’

Neighborhood shapes

“I think I just spent 1½hrs playing this.”—Mick Thompson, private correspondence

Earlier in the year, we built a game called Click That ’Hood for two simple reasons: to learn the neighborhoods of Louisville (my fellowship city), and to learn some geovisualization techniques. Half a year later, with 98 cities across 12 countries, I am looking back at Click That ’Hood and realizing we have learned so much more.

“First time making a pull request – thanks for the opportunity.”—@scottbirdsey, GitHub pull request

We learned how having a fun project is a perfect excuse for getting to know that technology or tool you always wanted to learn. Thanks to Click That ’Hood, I am so much more comfortable with D3 and GitHub today – and so are quite a few more people. We also learned how to domesticate a small universe of geo formats and some tools needed to make Mr. Mercator happy. (CartoDB has been a fantastic resource here and so was QGIS, helping us convert data between forgotten projections and obscure formats.)

“I noticed that my home town wasn’t represented and wanted to rectify that. I noticed it was super easy to add the city myself, so I decided to just do it.”—Matt Keoshkerian, interview at YongeStreet

We learned about the enormous power of lowering barriers to entry. We took our lessons and shared them publicly so that others did not have to repeat our mistakes or revisit our blind alleys. Some of our wonderful contributors did the same. And while the first locations came from us, more and more often we would see strangers just sending in new data files, or even ready-to-deploy code patches that included their cities.


Mick Thomson trying to perfect his score.

“Great to be able to share this with the city guys that gave me the data. I’m trying to use this as a bit of a lever to get them thinking about making all this data available online.”—@JHKennedy4, GitHub pull request

We learned how easy it sometimes is to open up data. After seeing many of our collaborators send in neighborhood files never before seen in the wild, I asked the planners of my hometown to share theirs as well. I expected this to be a lengthy, arduous process… but I got the file straight away and put it in the game the same day.

“I saw the Click That ’Hood app and thought it was really cool and then started thinking of other ways it could be used.”—Brendan Babb, private correspondence

We learned that the simpler an idea is, the more flexible it becomes. We fought hard not to add too many bells and whistles; instead, we spent many an hour refining and polishing what we had. Later on that simplicity allowed Click That ’Hood to expand from a neighborhood game to also cover boroughs, cantons, and even states.

“I say this only half in jest, but if left to me I would have one of the upcoming mayoral debates dedicated to having all the sundry candidates play this game in real time before a live studio audience.”—C. Briem, Nullspace

We learned how you don’t need to know everything to build something. The day I started working on Click That ’Hood, I was still confused about which number was latitude, and which longitude. During the early days, I just cobbled together enough magic for the game to work, and then slowly kept improving it as needed – instead of waiting to figure out everything and predict all the possible outcomes before even starting.

“I work at a university center for community engagement, and will share this with students. It might be a fun way for them to get oriented with the city’s neighborhoods.”—Bridget A. Smith, private correspondence

We learned about generosity of open source and civic hacking communities. Many of the Code for America Fellows contributed their knowledge and experience to our little folly project. People at MapBox were incredibly helpful when we decided to switch to their mapping engine. I never heard “stupid” when asking stupid questions, and I was constantly amazed by the willingness of people donating their time to a little folly project.


The old (left) and new (right) UI for choosing a location. We needed to redesign it once we realized the old one won’t scale past a dozen cities.

And the little folly project became something bigger. One of our contributors used Click That ’Hood to recreate the famous map of Indigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska. Another used the game in the class with their students. Just last month, The Knight Lab built a new project, Neighborhood Buzz, based on the neighborhood boundaries gathered in our game.

Yet our most favorite story happened when someone in Pittsburgh wrote us about how the official neighborhood name he lived in has never been uttered by its residents. I encouraged him to look into learning GitHub and just making the change himself. Just a few hours later, I received his code change request and the same day, he was able to see his neighborhood name – Observatory Hill – on the map for the first time in decades.

“[The neighborhood being named incorrectly] has been something that has bugged many of us for decades. And finally glad to see that we are able to do something about it. I know it sounds trivial – but it really means a lot to many of us in the ’hood.”—Mark Masterson, private correspondence

Perhaps what we really learned was what Charles Eames knew all along when he said, “Toys are not really as innocent as they look. Toys and games are preludes to serious ideas.”

Feel free to grab the Click That ’Hood source code, add a city, or play with the geo files already there. Maybe you’ll decide to build something fun. Maybe some of the things we learned could be useful in your project. And we can’t wait for what next we’ll learn from you.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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