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What’s New in Civic Tech: Can Alaska Help Solve Climate Change?

Plus, U.S. Supreme Court refuses a Trump administration net neutrality request, Chicago makes Array of Things data accessible via API, civic technologists visualize voting data and STiR extends its application deadline.

Bloomberg Philanthropies has chosen Anchorage, Alaska, as a 2018 Public Art Challenge, and the city will now get up to $1 million for a project aimed at finding solutions to climate change.

That project is Anchorage’s Solutions for Energy and Equity through Design (SEED) Lab, and to make it possible the city will partner with the Anchorage Museum to convert what it describes as “a neglected downtown building in the city’s growing design district.” In a press release, stakeholders note that the aim of the SEED lab is to foster collaborations between artists, designers, engineers and others in the community who can help draw attention to climate change and also create solutions. Plans call for projects started in the lab to be prototyped with the aid of deep community engagement.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited Alaska this week to announce the prize with Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

“Alaska is experiencing the impacts of climate change twice as fast as the rest of the country,” Bloomberg said in a press release. “But it’s not too late to make a difference. That’s what the SEED Lab is all about. And by featuring a wide variety of art works about climate change, I hope SEED Lab will inspire ideas for solutions not only in Alaska, but across the world.”

For the Public Art Challenge, Bloomberg Philanthropies invited mayors from U.S. cities with 30,000-plus residents to propose temporary public art projects that address important civic issues while also demonstrating potential for public-private-sector collaboration, creativity and other factors. More than 200 cities applied for the challenge, and other winners will be announced in coming weeks.

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a request by the White House and telecommunications companies to erase a lower court move that upheld the net neutrality rules put in place during the Obama administration.

During Obama’s presidency, net neutrality rules were established with the aim of keeping the Internet free and open for all. Those rules were repealed by a Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission in late 2017. The vote on whether to repeal the rules was 3-2, along party lines. The justices’ refusal of the Trump administration's and others' request to wipe away the lower court decision, however, does not undo the repeal of the policy.

What it does do is leave in place the 2016 U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit’s ruling that set a legal precedent with the potential to help supporters of the repealed net neutrality rules in future legal battles, should the policy again be introduced.

To put it more simply, the Supreme Court was asked by the Trump administration and some telecom companies to void lower court decisions that make it possible to challenge the lack of net neutrality in the future. The court said no, giving proponents of restoring net neutrality that opening moving forward.

Also, this is surely not the last we’ve heard of the fight over net neutrality.

Chicago Makes Array of Things Data Accessible via API

Earlier this year, Chicago released data from its extensive smart cities project, the Array of Things, making the info available via bulk comma separated value (CSV) download on a beta file browser site.

Now, the city has also made the data accessible via application programming interface (API), with a stated goal of “making it easier for developers to start using near-real-time data in applications.” This is a good thing for civic technologists, as the data includes info about climate, air quality and many other environmental measurements collected by hundreds of nodes that have been installed throughout the city. This, simply put, is the sort of info that makes civic tech work possible, and getting it from a major American city with a diverse climate like Chicago’s is a pretty big deal.

This new API and its accompanying documentation allows users to access proven and raw data collected by Chicago’s nodes. According to a blog announcing the new avenue of access, “these measurements include calibrated temperature, humidity, pressure data, as well as raw air quality data, including for various gases and particulate matter, that are still under evaluation. Measurements extracted from image processing, such as pedestrian and vehicle counts, will be available in the future.”

What’s also worth noting for those who are interested is that the bulk downloads provide info in daily, weekly or monthly installments that date back to early 2017. The API data, however, contains only recent data that goes back one week. As a trade-off, data for the API is updated more frequently, typically within five minutes of collection.

Click here for more info about Chicago’s Array of Things.

While the midterm elections have come and gone, civic technologists have created some interesting data visualizations looking at voting data from across the country in new ways. First is an interactive data visualization built using Google search interests to map voting issues by city and state. This map shows significant spikes in the topicality of searches throughout the day in real time. The map can be narrowed by topics such as long wait times, provisional ballots, inactive voter status, voter intimidation and voting machine problems. It also shows the frequency with which these searches were made on Tuesday in real time.

Second is a bit older, but is perhaps still of interest given the major impact the 2016 elections have had on the country. With this map, which was created by the New York Times, you can see how your neighborhood voted in 2016.

STiR Program Extends Deadline

Finally this week, the growing Startup in Residence program has extended its deadline for startup applicants to Nov. 14. STiR seeks to break down barriers between the public and private sectors by facilitating better working relationships between startups with tech skills and government agencies who need tech help to solve problems.

Currently, government agencies across the country have laid out 80 tech-led challenges in 28 jurisdictions. The deadline is being extended for startups who wish to take a shot at collaborating with government on beating these obstacles. The idea, as always, is that in the end governments will get help while startup companies will get invaluable access to a relatively untapped market for their skills.

Click here to learn more or apply for STiR.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.