Civic Hacking is Portland’s Funky Sauce

This year’s Civic Design Fest was the fifth time Portland has participated in the National Day of Civic Hacking. And it was our biggest yet. When we started scheming about the event, inclusivity was a top priority. In our minds, hacking just about as Maine an activity as you can find. It’s a 21st century rebrand of yankee ingenuity. But the term, useful as it is, seemed confined to election meddling and ultra-high tech projects in a lot of people’s minds — the kind of stuff that generally turns off a casual onlooker.

So then we came up with the Civic Design Fest and reached out to a wide variety of groups and partners. Did we succeed? Not yet — we’d like to include even more groups and participants next year. But it was undoubtedly more inclusive than years past.

Where else can you connect a free and low-cost services directory that directly addresses community needs like Emily Felger’s community services guide:

With Open Bench Project’s (literal) eye on the streets;

A participatory mapping project from the Portland Society for Architecture:

And a redesign of the planning process, thanks to planning board member Lisa Whited of Workplace Transformation Facilitation:

And even more! We had two voter scorecard projects, one for Portland city council votes and one for state-level elections. We had a project work on a musical staircase for Congress Square Park. And Kesho Wazo launched #WazoTech as part of the Portland Civic Design Fest.

Where do we go from here?

Civic hacking, design, innovation — whatever you’d prefer to call it. These projects show us this movement’s potential for Portland: one where anyone can make, break, hack, recreate, iterate, and ideate to address very real public problems. It’s a movement that can tie together disparate elements from the maker scene, local agriculture, education, public service, art, design, politics and technology — all to push for a more equitable and participatory city.

And we’re just getting started. Interested in joining us? Take this post-fest survey, even if you didn’t attend, so we can help make the event bigger and better next year:

And join the brand new Facebook page dedicated to the fest and civic design in Portland:

Emma & Nick

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P.S. Next year there will be more tiny pants.