Open Gov Hack Nights Chicago: Working on Civic Projects

“Doesn’t he look like Don Draper?”

“Yes, he does,” I replied.

And Your Name Is:

It’s six o’clock and while most of us are preparing dinner or finishing the last bit of work for the day, we are already eating and eager to start a new project. While we politely cut our Lou Malnati’s pizza (or not), there’s an uproar of conversations—all dimmed when the group leaders, Derek Eder and Christoper Whitaker approach the projector.

I’m in a room full of…well we shall see, shall we? Eder says we all have to say “hi”. So, like in middle school when you would go around the room, we all introduced ourselves—from the ambitious environmentalist concerned about recycling programs in residential buildings, the students learning to code, project managers, software developers, representation from the Mayor’s office, and the list goes on of brilliant, data-driven minds.

Opening Presentations: 1871

Open Gov Hack Night is an opportunity for coders, designers, strategists and anyone interested in civic projects and data to use their talents to solve issues through technology.

To start off the night, representation from the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, including Paras Desai and Daniel Riff presented on tracking data and improving communication between six community service centers. You can view the full presentation here. One component they addressed was figuring out how to take fragmented data from different platforms and pull it to one platform.

Data: Oh, The Things You Can Collect:

Next were a few mini-presentations highlighting civic projects. One was Crime and Punishment presented by Whitaker. Another, by Tom Schenk, Chief of Analytics for the City of Chicago, who showed data collected from city water sensors that track the water temperature at various beaches. Here are the results. They have been tracking since Memorial Day this year. Eder also showed us data about a New York City’s taxi driver including routes and money made. To visualize the day in the life of a taxi driver, click here.

Civic Projects:

After the main presentation, everyone breaks off into groups according to areas of interest. Groups included: New Coders, Hack Night 101/Orientation, Education, City Data, Transportation and Environment.

I joined the environmental group. While we were all passionate about varied issues like water purity, we settled on bringing awareness to recycling programs in five or more multi-unit residential buildings in Chicago. Currently working in property management, this piqued my interest. Plus, one of my best friends from high school implemented a student-led recycling program at our school that I was proud to be apart of. We started with one question:

Who does not have recycling in their building?

All eight of our hands went up. One person said he had recycling in his building, but it was grossly inadequate. Bins were always overflowing. The group surmised that landlord’s don’t care about providing this service because of the expense, while the tenants don’t know that the law states landlords have to provide recycling to 5 or more multi-unit residential apartments. We decided to develop an app that would create awareness to residents about the lack of recycling in buildings. At the moment, we are still coming up with an ultimate goal for our application.

All in all, it feels good to take action about civic problems rather than simply talking about it.

Every Tuesday night, Open Gov Hack Night meets to work on issues in Chicago. The event is always free, just bring your passion and mind (and maybe your laptop).


Event Location: Merchandise Mart, 1871 (222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza, 12th Floor, Chicago, IL)

Event Host: 1871, Open Gov Hack Night

Event Date and Time: Every Tuesday, 6-10 pm*

Discovered Through: Eventbrite

Bonus: Insight

*This post re-caps Tuesday, July 15, 2014 meeting.

Amanda Whitfield
Amanda Whitfield

Amanda Whitfield is a writer and speaker and a relationship builder. She believes that meeting people in person is important. After attending numerous fashion, startup, and creative events, she founded Windy City Cosmo is 2015 to help people make connections in the city as they build their businesses, start and end relationships and see and be seen. Over the past three years, the entrepreneurs she’s interviewed have become the most successful in Chicago and Windy City Cosmo won an award in 2017 for her work for female entrepreneurs.

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