Callowhill: Philly Data Camp Designs and Develops

Peter Fecteau, organizer of Philly Data Camp, explains how volunteers offer various ideas and then collaborate throughout the day to develop and design several new applications.

If the folks at Code for America have their way, Philadelphia might become one of the first cities with a citizenry that participates in City Council legislation in the form of a customizable e-mail, subscription-based game with achievements and higher levels of participation at the core of its design.

That is just one of the projects that came from this past Friday’s Philly Data Camp, a one-day hackathon co-hosted by Code for America’s seven Philadelphia fellows and Callowhill-based Geographic Information Systems (GIS) firm, Azavea Inc.

Some 25 volunteers showed up to Azavea’s office, located at 340 N. 12th  St., on Friday afternoon to devote their time and skills to the development of applications based around civic and geospatial data sets that can help Philadelphia citizens.

“We’ve got people from all walks,” said Pete Fecteau, 27, one of Code for America’s Philadelphia fellows and organizer of the event. “Developers, designers, researchers and people who don’t even know why they’re here. But they want to be here.”

Peter Fecteau, organizer of Philly Data Camp, explained how volunteers offer various ideas and then collaborate throughout the day to develop and design several new applications.

Broken up into four teams, the volunteers were given the latter half of the day to brainstorm and develop demos of their directives.

Despite the time limitations, the teams were able to develop four applications based on various civic data sets.

One team developed an application that provides a static map of job opportunities in southeastern Pennsylvania. Designed in the form of a heat map, the future application will provide users with dynamically regenerated representations of the area’s job market based on quarterly reports.

Another group compiled data on Philadelphia libraries and developed an application that, through the use of a text or instant message, presents users with the locations of libraries up to one mile from their given location. Easily applicable to other data sets such as locations of police stations and polling places, the program is meant to free up the city’s 311 service and help people who have cell phones but limited or no Internet access.

“A single call to 311 costs the city $3.30,” explained Fecteau. “We’re helping to free up money and agents in the city.”

A third team developed City Council Legislation Digest, the aforementioned application that aims to add a gaming element to Philadelphia City Council legislation awareness. The service is designed to email subscribers with notifications about relevant bills and propositions moving through the city government and is targeted at concerned citizens and politicians.

Scheduled for a reveal in mid-march, the fourth and final application is, in Fecteau’s words, “top secret,” and deals with city transportation data.

The ultimate goal of all this development is to provide Philadelphians with effective, innovative tools that contextualize formerly obscure city data in useful ways. Not bad for a day’s work.


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