A Smart City needs a strong #CivicTech Community

In Louisville, we value our local tech community. We show this not with passing platitudes, but with real, direct support for their projects and initiatives. And, it isn’t just a grassroots effort from interested government employees, it starts at the top with our leader, Mayor Fischer. Under his leadership, Louisville Metro Government has seeded and grown a strong, connected civic tech community that helps us take action against some of our communities biggest challenges.

Mayor Greg Fischer interacting with some of the participants

This past weekend, our civic tech community again showed its value to our community at Derby Hacks 2017. The Office of Civic Innovation worked with the University of Louisville student organizers to host a Major League Hacking event focused on Smart City hacks #MakeYourCity. Over the course of 36 hours, over 100 hackers from around the country (many hailing from nearby states) worked on technology projects, both hardware and software, at the University of Louisville Engineering Garage, which is co-located with internationally recognized FirstBuild facility.

The civic minded projects presented on Sunday included, among several others, a prototype for a sensor network that could help identify noise pollution in neighborhoods, a database to collect Graffiti reports, and an application to determine the best place to live in Louisville. Many of the applications even if they didn’t fall neatly into the Smart City category used open-data from data.louisvilleky.gov, Metro’s Open Data portal.

Michael Schnuerle, Data Officer, giving a workshop on Louisville Metro Open Data

But, the work of the Office of Civic Innovation didn’t start and end this weekend. It started back in the fall and continued right up until the event. While the planners were working furiously behind the scenes to get ready for the weekend, the Office of Civic Innovation helped facilitate connections, plan and host workshops, develop some of the challenges, and financially support the event. We believe that working closely with our local tech community is not only a good idea, but beneficial to the work we do in our office. It allows us to explore solutions to ideas that we may have not thought of ourselves or even just learn more about emerging technologies and how they can be applied to our civic challenges.

Grace Simrall, Chief of Civic Innovation, with some of the winners

We have found immense benefit from our work with local technologies organizations. In the past year, they have helped us take three projects from hackathon to pilot including our Smart Smoke Detectors and SpeedUpLouisville.com. But, it would not have happened if we hadn’t invested our time and resources into our local tech community. The investment has more than paid for itself and has accelerated our progress on the path to becoming a truly Smart City.

by Ed Blayney, Innovation Project Manager, Twitter: @edblayney