July 31, 2012

Palo Alto Opens Its Arms to Open Government

PALO ALTO is already well known as a global center of technology innovation. But now the city is embracing technology with a potential to disrupt local government.

The city of Palo Alto announced today the launch of a new open data platform that represents a first step to becoming a truly digital city. The platform, powered by Junar, will give the city's tech-savvy residents and other interested developers a wealth of easily consumable data in hopes that they will go off and create new, useful applications that tie the city's residents closer together and change their view of government from a provider of services to a facilitator of community building.

Imagine, for instance, a developer creating an app with public data that lets users adopt a roadside storm drain and volunteering to clear it if it clogs - such an app would create a sense of community involvement for the user and potentially save the city money. (Seattle already does this least you think it's a crazy idea).

At first, Palo Alto will be releasing the following information to developers as part of the project:

-2010 census data for Palo Alto
-Pavement condition ratings
-City tree locations
-Bicycle paths and hiking trails
-Creek water level
-Rainfall tide
-Utility data

Read an interview with Palo Alto's Chief Information Officer here >

July 23, 2012

Legislators' Daily Words, In Your Hands

ATTENTION REAL, political junkies: this app is for you.

It's the Congressional Record and it's put out by the Library of Congress and it presents the daily Congressional Record in app form. The app, like the report, is broken down into sections and users can quickly access the daily digest, the Senate section, the House section and the Extensions of Remarks. You can select any issue of the Congressional Record dating back to January 4, 1995 and users can copy text from the record in case they need to quote something later.

I must admit - I downloaded the app for my iPad and it's pretty cool.

You can perform keyword searches, share documents via email, save documents to your preferred iPad PDF reader and more.

Download the app here >

July 21, 2012

Participatory Budgeting

PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING is a decision-making process in which community members decide how to spend parts of a public budget. It allows citizens to identify, discuss and prioritize public spending projects and gives them the power to make real decisions about how money is spent. While the model is flexible and various forms exist, the basic process involves citizens in the analysis, deliberation, decision-making, implementation and monitoring of public spending.

A sample general mode might include:

1. Local officials give guidance on general budget guidelines and may specify spending ceiling.
2. Residents identify and prioritize local needs and brainstorm ideas to respond to these needs.
3. Residents develop concrete projects that address the identified needs.
4. Residents vote for which of these projects should receive funding given budget constraints.
5. The government implements the chosen projects.
6. Residents monitor the implementation of these public spending projects.

July 11, 2012

Project Raises over $150,000 for Park Project with Crowdfunding

It's amazing today how citizens can recognize their local diversity, culture, creativity, and innovation and run with it. While taking the steps to garner support from the community and pitch the idea to the city can be hard work, it can yield some truly awe-inspiring results.

Back in 1999, in New York City, resident in Manhattan's westside proposed renovating an abandoned rail like and turning it into a park. They were successful with the campaign and eventually construction began on the park, known as the High Line. The park opened to the public in 2009 and was quickly recognized as a cherished green space within the city. Build on an elevated railway that runs for about 16 blocks, there is elevator access and street entrances along the way.

Recently, entrepreneurs Dan Barasch, a social innovator, and James Ramsey, designer and former NASA engineer, proposed turning an unused trolley terminal beneath Delancey Street on New York City's Lower East Side into an underground park. A major part of their plan is a technology developed by Ramsey that would direct sunlight below ground via fiber optic cables, allowing plans and trees to grow in the underground space.

Recognizing the need to look for support both online and offline, project leaders utilized the crowd funding platform, Kickstarter, to get the word out about "the world's first underground park." They raised $100,000 in a week.

Read more here >

July 7, 2012

Tech Companies Leave Phone Calls Behind

QUORA IS a Web site that crowd sources answers to just about any question imaginable, including "What is the meaning of life?" and "Is it possible to stick someone to the wall with Velcro?" But anyone searching for a phone number for the company is out of luck. Not only is the number unlisted, but the very question "What is the phone number for Quora?" has gone unanswered for months.

Quora is not the only social technology company that presents an antisocial attitude to callers. Twitter's phone system hangs up after providing Web or e-mail addresses three times. At the end of a long phone tree, Facebook's system explains it is, in fact, "an Internet-based company." Try e-mail it suggests.

Voice calls have been falling out of fashion with teenagers and people in their 20s for some time. But what is a matter of preference for the young is becoming a matter of policy for technology companies; phones cost money, phones do not scale. Besides, why call when you can use Google or sent a Twitter message?

Read more here >

July 5, 2012

Hacker Hostels in the Bay Area

FROM THE outside it's just a beige three-story building in a quiet residential neighborhood. But inside, in a third floor apartment, there are enough Ikea bunk beds to sleep 10 people, crammed into two bedrooms. The living room is bare except for a futon, a tiny desk and laptop power cables strewed across the hardwood floor like a nest of snakes.

The tenants, mostly men in their 20s, sleep next to heaps of dirty laundry. There is no television set; the men watch online video, on laptops with headphones. On a recent afternoon, 23-year-old Steve El-Hage, who came here from Toronto in May, ate slices of ham straight out of the package: "As you can see, I was going to make a sandwich, but I didn't get there."

This is not some kind of dorm, but a "hacker hostel." It's one of several in the Bay Area that offer short-term or long term stays for aspiring tech entrepreneurs on the bottom rung of the Silicon Valley ladder, those who haven't yet achieved Facebook-level riches. These establishments put a twist on the long tradition of communal housing for tech types by turning it into commercial enterprise.

Read more here >

July 3, 2012

Online Town Hall Lets Residents Improve Their Own Neighborhood Without Leaving the Couch

A FEW years ago, Omaha urban planners Nick Bowden and Nathan Preheim arrived at a conclusion that has haunted anyone who has ever sat through a four-hour plea for a new traffic light: The current model for city planning is broken. "We were doing traditional town hall meetings and nobody showed up to them," Bowden says. People don't have time to sit through an hours-long meeting for a couple minutes at the microphone, the pair thought. And the few who do are often loud, cranky or long-winded - - those views about what towns and cities really need to improve are hardly ever representative. So Bowden and Preheim decided to build a town hall online instead.

Their web-based platform MindMixer is a virtual meetup for citizens and officials to connect, share ideas, and spur the most popular conversations into real action. Since launching in March 2011, more than 200 communities including tech hubs like San Francisco have signed on, paying anywhere from $4,000 to $25,000 a year to subscribe to a homepage where citizens log on to view a blueprint of upcoming city projects - or suggest their own - and then riff on ways those things should work.

Read more here >

Visit SF's MindMixer site here >