What’s New in Civic Tech: Civic Technologists Work to Educate, Mobilize Voters

Plus, CityLab hosts largest-ever gathering of local gov CIOs; Brooklyn, N.Y., welcomes new hub for VR and AR tech; and Louisville, Ky., publishes new Bird Scooter data.

by / November 1, 2018

As the midterm elections approach, civic technologists across the country are working to create apps that support democracy.

There are a couple of different categories these apps fall into, with some aiming to educate voters and others striving to get them the vital information they need in order to know where, when and how to vote.

In Fort Bend, Texas, a civic technologist has created an educational app after becoming frustrated earlier in the year when he tried to vote in a primary and struggled to decipher where to go. The technologist, whose name is Eddie Sajjad, started working to design a free app called VotCen, with the functionality to teach users about polling locations as well as about the candidates running in local races. This is one of several voter outreach apps created by Texans this election cycle.

Meanwhile, another civic technologist in Los Angeles County has created an app called My Polling Place, which helps registered voters find polling places. It also sends them reminders to vote. That app was built by Chris Voronin, who despite being essentially a world away from Sajjad of Fort Bend, reported the same struggle to figure out where polling places are, according to news reports out of Los Angeles.

So yeah, citizens take note: midterm elections are this Tuesday, and if you don’t know where your local polling place is located (which is maybe not that unusual), there might be an app available to help you find it.

CityLab hosts largest-ever local government CIO gathering

More than 60 local government CIOs from across the country attended the CityLab summit earlier this week in Detroit, accounting for what some estimate is the largest-ever gathering of folks who hold that title.

CityLab, which was founded in 2013, is a global summit that aims to tackle pressing urban issues. This year’s event featured a range of speakers, some of which included attendees with ties to Detroit and others of which are active in the local government innovation space. Prominent speakers included Mary Barra, chair and CEO of Detroit-based General Motors; Hannah Beachler, a production designer for Black Panther; Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies; David Bradley, chair of Atlantic Media; and Kersti Kaljulaid, the president of Estonia, among others.

The event ran through Tuesday and included a number of panels as well as some rewards. What was perhaps most notable — aside from the potentially record-setting number of local gov CIOs — was the announcement of the nine cities that won the 2018 Bloomberg Philanthropies U.S. Mayors Challenge.  

In addition, Bloomberg Cities identified several attendees to watch as key innovators in the space moving forward, the list of which can be found here.

New York City’s Brooklyn Welcomes New Hub for VR and AR Tech

Brooklyn, N.Y., is now home to a new city-funded, multi-university center for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) research, training, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the new facility will ultimately feature over 16,500 square feet of co-working labs, classrooms, studios and more. Officials with the city noted in a press release that this is the first city-funded center of its kind in the country, saying it would be critical to the local government’s push to establish itself as a global leader in the emerging technology fields and ultimately creating new jobs.

Last week, the city also hosted an event to show off the new facilities, with over two dozen demonstrations of the sort of VR/AR, spatial computing and other interactive technology the center is designed to grow. The project was made possible with contributions from private companies such as Viacom and the New York Times, as well as from key academic partners such as New York University, the City University of New York, The New School and Columbia University.

More information about the lab and event is available here.

Louisville, Ky., Publishes New Bird Scooter Data

Louisville, Ky., like so many cities across the country, has a scooter vehicle rental program through which visitors and residents in their downtown area can rent quick and temporary transportation.

Now, Louisville has published data on its open data portal related to its scooter program’s origin and destination information, aggregated by neighborhood. This open data collaboration between the city and the Bird scooter program is being billed as the first time a municipal government has published such data on an open portal.

In an announcement about the publication, the city noted that “this data is currently for the Interim Operating Agreement only, and does include potential equitable scooter distributions and other requirements specified in our forthcoming final operating agreement. Louisville is still discussing with Bird how to add a more detailed level of data in the future.”

The data, the city also notes, is aggregated in order to ensure the privacy of individual riders. The Bird scooter program first launched in Louisville in early August, and in the first 32 days, the 100 scooters allowed under the temporary agreement had 3,994 unique riders for a total of 9,876 rides, which went an average distance of 1.87 miles at an average speed of 6.97 miles per hour.

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.