OpenSTL #Build4STL Hackathon: Hacking a better St. Louis

Most people think the issue of blight is a problem only for cities like New Orleans or Detroit — places where the news reports on massive numbers of vacant houses and the issues they cause: decreased development, increased crime, and a general concern for city vitality.

Yet, this is a problem that extends to nearly every major American city. The brass tacks is that most cities are spotted with blight. St. Louis is no exception. This is why OpenSTL, the region’s leading open data group, partnered with the City of St. Louis on #Build4STL, our annual hackathon to bring in creative technologists and city leaders to begin developing tools to address the problem.

On September 23, graciously hosted by our partner at LaunchCode, dozens of residents came together to spend the day building tools to tackle vacant housing.

In just a few short hours, many groups and projects emerged. We not only have a group building a dashboard to track blighted properties, but we also we have a group committed to a tool to identify and prioritize areas for development — to help revitalize those very properties. We also have another group creating a program to donate vacant homes to young workers who commit to improving and staying in them as neighborhood stabilization. Together, these projects — and a many others — signal the capacity for our friends and neighbors to use technology to address some of the those meaningful problems.

As someone who has helped plan hundreds of civic “hacking” events, what struck me most was the engagement from the local government. Not only did almost 20 city staff members — ranging from the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) and the St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC) to the Information Technology Services Agency — attend, share their insights, and work hand-in-hand with participants, Mayor Krewson joined for both the kickoff and the majority of the day. Their participation both improved the outcomes and also encouraged the developers that their products would be actually used by the city to make an impact.

You can see the relevance for this event in its feature in our local news.

As anyone involved in these kinds of events knows, the hackathon was just the start. While great strides were made, much more is left to do. That’s why we continue the work, monthly at our hack nights, where we build not only products but the community.

Something special is happening here in St. Louis. Having working in civic technology across the country, I can attest to that. I invite you all to join us as we find out just what that is, together.