It's fair to say the word 'hacking' carries with it more negative connotations than positive ones. At its worst, it's destructive cyber-vandalism, an invasion of privacy and an interruption of the online systems many of us rely on each day.
But at its best, hacking allows creative, highly-skilled individuals the chance to improve upon these online systems and build technological applications that make a positive difference in the community.
The latter concept is the inspiration behind 'Hack-a-Thon,' part of an event being held in Kansas City, Mo., this week, CityCamp, bringing government officials and staff, private planning experts, programmers, designers, journalists and residents together to produce actionable ideas for applying technology to government challenges.
The great news is that the first-ever Kansas City 'Hack-a-Thon' is charged with creating a mobile application for citizens to find safe and convenient places to walk or bike, report road or sidewalk hazards, and provide data to local officials planning new bike lanes, trails and sidewalks.
Even better news--the work on a Kansas City biking and walking app will be done for free. Programmers from across America will donate their time and talent. It's hacking for civic good.
"In a world of rapidly changing technology and constantly shrinking government resources, it's more important than ever for local governments to leverage technology and citizen engagement to deliver more efficient and more relevant services," says Eric Roger, executive director of BikeWalkKC.
After being launched in Chicago in 2010, CityCamp has gone on to host 'unconference' events in a number of America's largest cities. In a nutshell, the goals of CityCamp are to address:
How can technology enable us to work together across jurisdictions?
How can we empower citizens to take greater part in our government?
How can open source software and open data save taxpayer money?
How can we increase online service delivery despite shrinking budgets?
The term 'open source' means that the design and building blocks of a program are not locked and made private by one owner, but kept open so that others are able to produce their own variations and offer improvements. CityCamp 'Hack-a-Thons' use open source events to gather and share knowledge about how to use new technologies and policies to make government work better for residents, and to produce actual programs and apps for that purpose.
Such mobile platforms have an important role to play in increasing rates of walking and biking, particularly in urban areas, with speed and convenience often the two prime considerations for choosing active transportation options in the city.
Following the lead of states like Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Maine, Missouri is fast rising up the bike-friendly ranks. Hot the heels of the announcement earlier this year of a new bike-sharing program, a cutting-edge app to improve biking and walking in the city is sure to bring plenty of attention from bike/ped advocates, city planners, and potential new residents and businesses.