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Seattle Looks to Tech to Make Life Better for Aging Citizens

City officials will work with the Age-Friendly Seattle Initiative to create a hackathon with a specific focus for technologists to address.

To make life easier for citizens who face challenges connected to aging and accessibility, Seattle is turning to civic tech.

The city will host a hackathon dubbed A City for All, which begins Sept. 22 and spans three days. The event will include technologists, of course, as well as input from national accessibility experts and the release of new data sets that provide insights into how Seattle supports residents as they age.

The event is the work of the Age-Friendly Seattle Initiative, part of a city council resolution passed earlier this year, a resolution that included funding for a civic tech event, said Candace Faber, civic technology advocate for Seattle. Participants will have the chance to win $10,000 in prize money as part of this hackathon.

While it’s impossible to predict what sort of projects will take shape at an event like a hackathon, which is by nature open-ended, Faber said the city’s hope is that by honing the focus and creating a nuanced area for the technologists to work in will make it easier for them to create actionable projects.

“It’s no different than any other creative project,” Faber said. “If there’s no prompt, it can be really difficult to come up with ideas. Even if there is a prompt, but no data or expertise in the room, we often get people coming up with ideas that would work in some theoretical universe, but not in the actual world.”

As an example of some work that may be done at the event, Faber pointed to the organizers collaborating with the city’s asset management division, which oversees the sidewalks. Sidewalk conditions are one facet of a city that many overlook but can have a major impact on quality of life for aging residents and those with disabilities. With this in mind, that asset management agency will be contributing info, with an eye toward a proposed project that would crowdsource info about sidewalk inconsistencies between the info the agency keeps and the conditions in the real world.

To participate, interested technologists are asked to register online in advance. Organizers have also posted some potentially useful information about the focus of the event online for perusal.  

Seattle has a history of participating in highly-focused hackathons. In 2015, the city hosted Hack the Commute, which saw its tech community working with sponsors such as the University of Washington to improve mobility issues. That event led to the creation of Seattle’s Access Map. In 2016, Seattle collaborated with private companies, such as AT&T, to host a hackathon that led to the creation of an app called Seattle Trails, which showed users all of the active hiking trails in the area. That app is currently available for download.

The idea with focused and themed hackathons is to take Seattle’s wealth of tech talent and get them all together with data and national experts to guide them toward solving civic challenges in ways that will improve the everyday lives of residents.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.