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Designers Show Off Payphone Re-Inventions in New York

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, March 7 2013

Frog Design's Beacon, winner of best visual design in New York's Reinvent Payphone challenge

Since last year New York City has tested ways to update its increasingly disused (but revenue producing) infrastructure of over 11 thousand payphones. But the city’s experiments with touch screens and free wifi seem tame in comparison to what designers, architects, and students showed off at the demo day for the city’s Reinvent Payphones design challenge, last Tuesday. Read More

How A Canadian School District Is Building Its Own Open-Source Software

BY Sam Roudman | Wednesday, March 6 2013

Archaic education technology. Photo: roger4336 / Flickr

Exclusively for Personal Democracy Plus subscribers: With around 8,000 full time students, the Saanich School District, north of Victoria, B.C., is not what anyone would call large. This hasn’t stopped its IT team from pursuing the ambitious goal of developing an open-source system for student records, openStudent. District officials believe openStudent could expand to cover all 600,000 students in British Columbia, and many more in the United States, at one-tenth the price of a commercial system. Read More

Researchers Say Making City Planning Into a Game Actually Works

BY Sam Roudman | Friday, March 1 2013

Composite illustration: Nick Judd / TechPresident

Public meetings and focus groups aren’t the only tools at the disposal of planners and communities. For help, some cities are looking to a game. As Boston and Detroit did before them, planners in Philadelphia have turned to an online game called Community PlanIt, developed by the Engagement Game Lab at Emerson College, to augment their planning process. Emerson researchers and city planners say it's working: The games are bringing more people into city planning than would otherwise be there, and a more diverse group of participants. Here's when they say it's worked, how it works, and a little bit about why. One hint: Yes, Community PlanIt has in-game rewards, but those aren't the real incentives — in-game currency is a way of tracking and understanding progress. People play to help improve their communities, researchers say. Read More

"A Whole Lot of Things All at the Same Time:" A Q&A with Baltimore CIO Chris Tonjes

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, February 14 2013

Baltimore at night. Photo: ebmorse / Flickr

Exclusively for Personal Democracy Plus subscribers: Baltimore has a thriving tech community and a top-level leadership that has made moves over the years towards embracing a bigger role for technology in civic life. But the city has also dealt with its share of challenges, like internal discord in City Hall, a leadership switch after Baltimore's previous chief information officer left under a cloud of scandal, and a small budget in a city now synonymous — thanks to "The Wire" — with crime and political infighting. Baltimore's new CIO, Chris Tonjes, took office last July. He spoke with TechPresident's Sam Roudman about where the city stands on civic technology and where he wants to go from here. Read More

EveryBlock Shuts Down

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, February 7 2013

The early hyperlocal news and information portal EveryBlock announced its closing today. The site was founded by Adrian Holovaty in 2007 with a $1.1 million grant from the Knight Foundation. It was bought by msnbc.com in 2009, which was in turn acquired by NBC News last year. "As we refined our larger strategy for NBC News Digital and dug more into the financials, we came to the conclusion it was not a fit," wrote Vivian Schiller, Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer for NBC Universal, in an email to techPresident. "Hyperlocal is not part of our focus for the future," she added. Read More

Once Relics of a City's Past, Now in Plans for a Digital Future

BY Sam Roudman | Tuesday, February 5 2013

In the 1900s, these tunnels hauled freight under downtown Chicago. Will they carry fiber-optic cable next? Photo: Wikimedia

Exclusively for Personal Democracy Plus: As leading city governments across the country consider how to approach the Internet age, they're taking the concept of "adaptive reuse" to a new frontier by thinking of new ways to turn old standbys like payphones or disused rail tunnels into new pieces of digital infrastructure. Read More

Open Docket, an Open Government Tool for Small Towns and Cities

BY Sam Roudman | Monday, February 4 2013

In small towns, getting civic information can be a mess. Figuring out the history or status of a request for a new stop sign can require a slog through weeks or months of PDF files of meeting agendas, minutes, and reports. Is the information public? Yes. Is it accessible? No. Sean Roche lives in Newton, Mass., population 85,000, and he's hoping to solve that with Open Docket, an open-source project he's launched to provide a better way to track the lawmaking goings-on of small cities and towns.

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When it Comes to Disclosure, New NY Gun Control Law is Shooting a Blank

BY Sam Roudman | Wednesday, January 16 2013

Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out an ambitious open government agenda in his state of the state address, declaring his commitment to provide "easy, single-stop access to statewide and agency-level data, reports, statistics, compilations and information." This week he carved out his first exemption: gun owners. Read More

How Open Source Civic Technology Helped Flu Vaccinations Go Viral

BY Sam Roudman | Tuesday, January 15 2013

Photo: rocknroll_guitar / Flickr

In the middle of what might be the worst flu season in a decade, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a public health emergency — and civic hackers found a way to help the cause. With help from Code for America volunteers, the Boston Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics was able to repurpose a Chicago app that maps free vaccination locations in little more than a day, just in time for a weekend vaccination campaign at 24 locations. The app's journey from Chicago to Boston is a model of intra-civic partnership. Read More

Online Civic Engagement: Hey, Folks, It's Harder Than It Looks

BY Sam Roudman | Friday, January 11 2013

Budding interest, mixed results in city-backed online volunteer organizing. Photo: Eric Kliff

City officials enticed by the oft-repeated promise of the web for increased citizen participation, beware — if you build it they won't necessarily come. Read More