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The rise of "civic hacking"
People have been claiming to "hack" different parts of our lives for a good part of the past decade. We've got growth hacking, life hacking, food hacking, fitness hacking, and, of course, good old regular hacking. So, when you hear the term "civic hacking" you might be turned off, as I was at first. But dig a little deeper and you'll see that there's much more to "civic hacking" than you'd suspect.
When we started this series we explored how civic technologists are reforming government technology from the inside. Next, we looked at how many of the biggest companies out there are unintentionally becoming part of a civic tech movement that will power our cities in the future. Today, let’s look at what happens when industrious citizens insert themselves into the civic technology cycle with intention from the outset.
Here’s the idealized civic tech ecosystem that we mapped out last week:
We began last week by talking about our visions of smart cities, and how the civic technology movement represents an early first step towards making smart cities a reality. We discussed how this movement is affecting government from within, by encouraging a more agile, responsive approach to citizen services.
Responsive government services are important for cities. Local governments often control the parts of cities that we most associate with building a smarter future. Roads, garbage collection, traffic management, public transit, water delivery, and other basic infrastructure—the meat and potatoes of anyone’s “smart city” dreams—all require government intervention to change and fix.
But governments that wish to adopt agile approaches to these problems face significant hurdles:
We're beginning to realize the future of smarter cities, but what concrete steps are governments, companies, and citizens taking to get there?
As Moore’s Law continues apace, cities will continue to blanket themselves in all sorts of cheap, reliable, and (we hope) meaningful sensors. Sensors generate data, and data will serve as the first of many building blocks to realize the pie-in-the-sky notion of a “smart city.”
People have grasped at what a “smart city” might mean for quite some time. The 1939 New York World’s Fair is a good start. Much of the best science fiction from the 20th century spends a considerable amount of time detailing how the cities of the future will look, alternating between various forms of u- and dystopia. Aldous Huxley, Isaac Asimov, and Robert L. Heinlein all realized that cities reflect their society’s dreams and technological capabilities—and built visions of what those cities might be like.
Until now, those dreams remained just that, but today we're witnessing the first steps in turning fiction to reality. It turns out that those steps are a fry cry from sci-fi glitz—they involve a lot of data and a lot of thinking about process. What we're witnessing now are three different groups coming together to come to bear on those basic building blocks for the cities of our future: citizen activists, enterprising governments, and private companies.