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Urban sustainability Apps competition seeks hidden gems

Tue, Nov 12, 2013

Englewood PhoneCan that smartphone in your pocket actually help make Chicago a better place to live? From Rogers Park to Roseland, Englewood to Edgewater, more and more people are using mobile apps to connect with friends, to navigate the city, to manage their work, and to have fun.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) is taking mobile apps a step further than restaurants and travel instructions with its Urban Sustainability Apps Competition. This contest will team community activists with computer programmers, mobile application developers, designers, coders and others to create apps that make neighborhoods greener, more affordable and more livable for more people.

Community activists do not have to be tech-savvy to volunteer but they should be creative, they should know their neighborhoods inside-out and they should be willing to work as part of a team to help the computer programmers with new designs, CNT officials said. The 35-year-old Chicago-based nonprofit organization is also seeking developers, designers, coders and programmers who want to do good for Chicago’s neighborhoods.

The kinds of data in the apps will depend on the community members who show up at the work sessions October 8 and 15 at the 1871 Tech incubator in the Merchandise Mart, said Edward Oser, CNT economic development specialist. “It could be how many jobs there are in an eight-block radius, or ‘my favorite school,’ or what exists in my community that allows me to walk to the dentist or to get a gallon of milk.”

While smart phones have enabled people to access Facebook, to get around or to do personal business such as banking, most apps have not been focused on the community, Oser said. “We want to get a space to imagine apps that close that gap.”

The idea of the competition is to help communities attain the benefits of modern technological innovation. “To have that happen, you have to have people talking together from the community and the technology [sector]. We’re trying to open the door to allow those conversations to happen, trying to set up an opportunity for people to come and have those conversations and start working.”

CNT officials have already gotten response from students and community leaders in Englewood, Little Village, Woodlawn, Albany Park, Humboldt Park and Bronzeville, Oser said.

The community people will bring their knowledge to the tech-savvy app developers during the October 8 and 15 sessions and on October 18-20. During that weekend, teams can use the 1871 space as late as midnight as they crunch their applications in preparation for judging at 2 p.m. Sunday.

One judging criteria will be the amount of collaboration between community leaders and coders. Another factor will be the creation of “green villages,” Oser said, “trying to figure out how to live in your community as much as you can so you don’t have to drive 45 minutes to get a piece of your household needs, what you can do to live in your area in a walkable way. I am hoping there will be a broad spectrum of mobile apps that make life cheaper, make neighborhoods easier to get around, help local economic development and help make the local environment a little bit cleaner, to help people get better access to healthy food, to education, to jobs.”

In addition to prizes, the winner will be invited to present at CNT’s 35th anniversary celebration October 24; the event will provide visibility and some prizes such as tech consultations that could extend the app. Other participants, however, will still have a product that they can develop, CNT officials said.

For more information and to RSVP, please go to http://www.cnt.org/events/reinventing-chicago-2013-urban-sustainability-apps-competition/ or contact Edward Oser at eoser@cnt.org with questions.

Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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