Portraits of participants at Hack Upstate by Daniel Viau, 2019

Hack Your City

Crystal Penalosa
City as a Service
Published in
4 min readApr 29, 2019


Earlier this month, we joined the 13th iteration of Hack Upstate, a mainstay for Central New York’s tech ecosystem. Hosted at Syracuse’s Tech Garden, Hack Upstate brought together 150 participants and 13 tech companies together for a 24-hour hackathon. The City of Syracuse is also a member of Stae’s new Sandbox City Program, so we were excited to expand on this partnership by creating a $200 cash prize for the best hack using the Stae API with a Syracuse dataset. Two teams took up the task of using civic data as part of their application pitch. Here’s a snapshot of what the teams built and who took home the cash prize.

Edward Deaver, creator of “Synthesizing Centro Bus Lines” (Source: Daniel Viau, 2019)

Project: Synthesizing Centro Bus Lines
Edward Deaver
Tech Stack: Node.js, p5.js
Devpost: https://edeaver.gitlab.io/hackupstatespring2019/

What if data from traffic jams, taxi trips, and train rides were a disparate din that could be synthesized into an orchestra? Edward Deaver built just that — a way to sonify the city’s infrastructure. Deaver set out to use Stae’s API as the foundation for how this orchestra comes together. To demo this proof of concept, Deaver used Syracuse’s Centro Bus Routes to represent a layer of civic infrastructure. Utilizing the bus routes coordinates and bus line colors, Deaver created a rough version of what the bus routes “sound” like.

Code snippet that synthesizes sounds from the Syracuse bus routes

Deaver arrived at this sonic result by using a JavaScript library called p5.js, or Processing, which is an open-source software used by new media artists and visual designers. The color of the bus route and path of the route were linked to determines the pitch of three sound generators (oscillators). Finally, he added a visualization of the sounds, which created a live score that reflects the pitch. Here’s his take on using the Stae API:

“The API is pretty easy, you’re able to filter online. Other APIs just throw you documentation and examples and kind of hope you figure it out. It was nice having a graphical tool to filter data.”

Project: Parking Assistant
Developers: Gary Passero, Stephen Passero, Mark King, Linda Kovacs, Jennifer Tran, Jack Truckenmiller, and Salvador Galarza
Tech Stack: React Native, Python, Flask, Raspberry Pi
Devpost: https://devpost.com/software/parking-assistant

Does it feel like parking signs are sometimes out to trick you into thinking you’re safe to park, but then a ticket awaits you upon your return? Parking Assistant is an app that responds to the need for clarity on street parking rules in Syracuse. Here’s a typical Syracuse parking sign that conveys the rules for parking on alternating sides of the street.

Perplexing parking signage in Syracuse, NY

The goal of this app is to reduce the number of parking tickets and also provide cultural onboarding for drivers not familiar with the norms of snowy cities (where alternate-side parking rules exist to clear the way for snow plows).

The Parking Assistant team and designed multiple layers based on a diverse collection of strengths and interests. The back-end team built the connections to the City’s parking rules, crime data via Stae, and a notification system that alerts you to move your vehicle. On the front-end, the app requests access to your current location, the direction your vehicle is parked, and surfaces relevant to public safety information by crime data.

Demo of “Parking Assistant,” an app to help you know where it’s safe to park your car.

And the winner is….

The Parking Assistant hack team (Source: Jesse Peplinski, 2019)

Parking Assistant!
The judges were really impressed with the functionality the Parking Assistant team built within the 24-hour time limit. With multiple layers to the app, the team worked together so that each team member was accountable for a different layer. In addition to the API prize, Parking Assistant also Runner-Up to First Place, netting them another $500. Not bad for a day’s work!

We caught up with the Parking Assistant team after they got some rest to hear more about their experience working with city data and working together. Linda, a freelance web developer from Albany, shared her general trepidation of hackathons:

“There’s this imposter syndrome saying that ‘I can’t make it, I will be a failure, I can’t help my team, we WILL lose...’ But if you can just keep on going, you can make it, and you’ll get somewhere together.”

Mark, a web developer from Syracuse, remarked on the collaborative group dynamic:

“It was a very welcoming group, there wasn’t anyone trying to one-up each other. We all really respected each other and other groups in the hackathon. It wasn’t a super competitive environment.”

To learn more about how Stae can be part of your city’s next hackathon, get in touch.



Crystal Penalosa
City as a Service

Trans/non-binary (she/they). Community lead @staehere. Serial collaborator and sonic improviser.