I had the pleasure of attending the UnWIREd conference in Baltimore this past weekend, and got a chance to watch people that love their city engage in a productive dialog about how to make it better.
I have lots of friends in Baltimore, and attending civicly-focused events there is always fun because of the passion and dedication of people in the community. I estimate that I knew more than half of the attendees at the event from previous hackathons and similar events.
I attended the event mainly to serve my own purposes – I’ll soon be taking a new position with the City of Philadelphia, and I wanted to get a sense from those attending UnWIREd of how they see open data from their city being a key ingredient in building solutions to urban problems.
The cities of Baltimore and Philadelphia share a lot in common, and face many of the same challenges. There is much that these cities can learn from each other as officials and activists in both places work on solutions to the problems facing their communities.
One gratifying takeaway for me came from a discussion with newly appointed Baltimore CIO, Chris Tonjes. Chris reiterated his interest in a civic application first developed at a Philadelphia hackathon. He and I have chatted before about it on Twitter, and the developer is a former Code for America fellow from Philadelphia.
It’s hugely satisfying to see the products of Philadelphia hacking events develop into reusable solutions that bring value to other cities. It brought to mind the influence that Baltimore has had on the civic hacking landscape in Philadelphia – for example, a hugely successful education hackathon in Baltimore last year influenced the development of a similarly themed event in Philly several months later.
This osmosis of ideas and solutions between cities is important – it highlights the shared stake that cities have in finding innovative answers to vexing urban problems. The best allies cities have in identifying solutions to the problems they face are other cities.
Going to be interesting to watch this trend develop and spread from the Mid-Atlantic to other places.