Since President Obama launched his Open Government Directive in December 2009, tech-savvy urban thinkers have been asking, "How can technology improve government and empower communities?" Although the Open Government Initiative suffered a hit when its funding was cut from $35 million to $8 million, nonprofits around the country such as Code For America have continued bringing open government to the forefront of public discussion.
This summer, the Gray Area Foundation of the Arts is hosting San Francisco's first annual "Summer of Smart," a three-month-long program of interactive workshops and seminars exploring the emerging role of the Internet in government. SPUR is proud to be co-sponsoring these events.
The Summer of Smart kicked off in June with programs including a 48-hour intensive "hackathon for everyone" that looked at community development and public art. The event drew a crowd of urban designers, programmers, artists, teachers and government officials, who broke into teams to develop — and then present — prototpyes for improving community-government relations. One group calling itself Yay Taxes proposed an interactive website that would allow people to visualize the connection between beneficial public services and tax dollars by comparing what they think their taxes should be spent on to how they're actually spent. Future iterations of the site could visualize and compare not only spending patterns but politician's voting patterns and neighborhood and regional priorities. Another group known as The Post proposed interactive digital community bulletin boards to serve underprivileged communities, referencing the fact that 30 percent of California residents do not have broadband access at home — a number that jumps to 35 percent among the Hispanic population. GetVolunteered posed the simple question, "What if volunteering could be as simple as going to the movies?" Their proposed online platform would sort volunteer opportunities by location, time and type.
Most projects illustrated the potential innovation that can occur as a result of the democratization of data. In our cities, the divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots" of data and Internet access leaves many communities in the dark. In order for these innovations to become reality, it will take both support and funding from local governments, as well as the creative gusto of innovators such as those taking part in the Summer of Smart.
In a city with a rich history of both grassroots community involvement and technological vision, the remaining Summer of Smart events will undoubtedly attract some brave new ideas. The next hackathon is scheduled for July 22-24, and will focus on "Sustainability + Transportation + Energy."