Notes on a Burrito Hackathon, Strong Towns TV, Winter Garden

Hello again!

Lots of fun from the field this week.

1) My partner, Ryan, has been quietly building a tool for technically skilled citizens to apply their talents to issues of public value. It's called Citizens Code and this past weekend, it helped host a national hackathon called the Canadian Open Data Experience (or #CODE2015). Ryan organized a regional hub for the hackathon out of our shared studio downtown and I ended up joining in. Fire evacuation withstanding, it was a wonderful time.

Across Canada, teams were given 48 hrs to make use of public data sets in order to create a tool or solution in the space of: a) youth employment; b) business opportunities; or c) healthy living.

Our Team Page. Click to enlarge.

First, we created a team with two of Ryan's colleagues. We are all car-less so at first our focus was around walk/bike data and healthy living, but then somehow we ended up talking about burritos. Our city is bursting with potential for better lunch options downtown. At the same time, a good burrito is nowhere to be found. This vexing non-problem is typical of hackathons, but with 48 hrs, we did our best to whip it into something useful.

We designed Find the Gap, a tool to make it easier for first-time business owners and new Canadians to spot opportunities to create a business in their city. 

Our unfinished and broken web-app from the hackathon

Our unfinished and broken web-app from the hackathon

Essentially, we used census demographic data and Yelp data to draw comparisons between cities and estimate which kind of businesses are over- or undersupplied in a potential entrepreneur's hometown. It's market threshold analysis on the cheap. The app doesn't really work because we never actually finished the user interface... But it's a fun concept that would be interesting to complete at some point. We also allow comparisons to the hippest big cities to gather how much your downtown business mix differs from someplace as diverse/posh/hip as Montreal or Toronto. 

Overall, a productive and exhausting weekend.

2) A few Field Notes back I mentioned being a guest on a local tv show. Well, it aired and is now available on Youtube. Dennis, who hosts the show is going for the Charlie Rose effect of long form discussion in an non-distracting setting. I had a great time experiencing a real vintage tv studio with proper recording equipment. This is throwback tv and we really get into it, including my attempt to share bits of Chuck and Joe Minicozzi's wisdom. Hope I did ok!

3) Finally, Dennis and his partner Betsy decided to pick up the spray chalk gauntlet themselves this past week. I love to see ideas take on new life :)

GRACEN JOHNSON is a communications designer living in The Maritimes. While she finished her MPhil in Planning, Growth, and Regeneration in 2013, she has never stopped studying the city. Gracen thinks of her day-to-day as participatory action research, diving into the question of how Strong Citizenship can transform a city. She wears many hats trying to crack that nut herself, including as the designer and coordinator of an accelerator for small businesses that build community. She also freelances around the vision of "Projects for Places we Love" and has a video blog called Another Place for Me.