Recap: Code for Boston’s Spring Demo Night

 |   Kristen Weber, Code for Boston

Code for Boston

Last Tuesday, May 3rd, Microsoft NERD played host to Code for Boston’s Spring Demo Night. Code for Boston, a local volunteer civic technology group, provided an opportunity for project teams to demo the projects and applications they’ve been working on throughout the winter. Code for Boston holds weekly hack nights at the Cambridge Innovation Center where teams collaborate, iterate, and work on projects involving the creative use of technology to solve community needs. On Tuesday, eight teams presented their work to a packed house of technologists, community members, government partners, and interested citizens. Projects ranged in topics from education, to family resources, to transit with the cities of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville well represented.

“This is a really great Demo Night for us,” said Becky Donner, Code for Boston’s Fundraising and Events Lead. “Microsoft is such a great partner for us and we love showing off the work our volunteers have been doing. I’m excited to see how the community reacts to our projects.”

Kicking off the demos was FindIt Cambridge, a website allowing Cambridge residents to easily find resources for families and children. The project began as a Code for Boston volunteer effort over a year ago and has since been built out to solicit bids from local companies. An initiative by the Cambridge Kids’ Council, FindIt Cambridge has partnered with Terravoz, a local technology consultancy to make the site accessible to everyone.

A project begun during the historic winter of 2015, Snow Ranger was originally designed as an app to help low-mobility citizens navigate unplowed or icy sidewalks and roads. Since then, the app has pivoted – and been renamed ByPath – and in addition to snow and ice, the app considers potholes, rough pavement, broken sidewalks, or any other mobility challenges for local residents.

During CodeAcross 2015, the City of Somerville began a project which became known as Cornerwise, a platform that allows residents to see, at-a-glance, any capital building projects going on in their neighborhood or town. Cornerwise allows users to discover interesting projects and see what the city is planning near them.

Rounding out the first half of presentations was the team working on Student Insights, a method for teachers and administrators to track student progress in the Somerville school system. Student Insights began as the project of the 2015 Code for America Fellowship Team in Somerville and has since been adopted by the Code for Boston volunteer community as one of our most complex projects. With the goal of giving educators a more holistic view of students and the ability to curb at-risk behavior before it begins, Student Insights is also one of Code for Boston’s most important projects.

After a quick break and networking opportunity, we began our second half of presentations with Bikeways 4 Everybody, a project that crowd-sources public input on ideal locations for fully protected bike routes. In collaboration with the Boston Cyclist’s Union, the application has already received more than 500 public submissions.

The City of Cambridge is also taking advantage of local tech talent with the work of the EnerSave team. Cambridge is competing for the Georgetown Energy Prize, a $5 million prize to the city that lowers its energy usage the most over a period of three years. Team EnerSave has created a dashboard that allows Cambridge residents to compare their energy bills to that of their neighbors, receive energy saving tips, and help contribute to lowering Cambridge’s energy usage.

The demos concluded with two projects focusing on that old favorite of Boston technologists, the MBTA. The first project, MBTA Tardy, begun at CodeAcross this past March at the Roxbury Innovation Center and was created in conjunction with Andrew Seeder of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. In the Boston Public School system, students who rack up enough tardies may need to attend summer school. Often these tardies are unavoidable due to public transit delays. MBTA Tardy is a method by which students can track their transit and prove which tardies were due to transit delays, thus preventing punitive measures against students and providing incentive to attend school.

Finally, volunteers presented mbta.fyi, a web application using the MBTA’s real-time GPS information to give the most accurate bus and subway predictions available. The app also allows for route control and presents alternate options for more efficient transit choices.

In total, the eight projects presented at Demo Night provided a good sample of the kind of projects to which Code for Boston volunteers dedicate their time and talents. “It’s great for us to present a Demo Night every so often,” said Isaac Chansky, a member of Code for Boston’s leadership team. “We want to show the community the kinds of things we’re doing and we want their feedback. This is a good way to demonstrate what we’ve been up to.”

“It’s always great to have people ask, ‘Can I use this right now?’” added Harlan Weber, Code for Boston’s lead organizer. “That shows that the work we’re doing is useful and is having an impact.”

Code for Boston’s next big event will be the yearly National Day of Civic Hacking, held this year on June 4-5 at NERD. Collaborating with MassIT (the Commonwealth’s IT department), and GovNextMA, this year’s event will feature a CommonCamp unconference on Saturday and a technology-focused HackLab on Sunday. Visit this link for more information or to RSVP.

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