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What Makes Philadelphia One of the Most Active Civic Hacking Communities in the Country

March 28, 2014 Category: MethodUncategorized

TEDxPhiladelphia5_01Part 3 in our series with TEDxPhiladelphia explores the many ways the region is leading the way in civic hacking and open data projects.

Hacking and hackers have a bad reputation as people who break into computer security systems and steal information–but today, hacking is more and more frequently referred to as taking something that already exists and turning it into something else. This could be turning an old RC vehicle into something new (such as robot) – like some of the members of Hive76 did – or using open data provided by the City of Philadelphia to create a Crime Map for the Philadelphia Police.

Philadelphia has one of the most active civic hacking communities in the country, according to Mark Headd, chief data officer for the City of Philadelphia. Civic hackers take data that has been made public and use it to create web applications to help improve the city. The City of Philadelphia is one of the only cities with a formal open data policy.

And it’s becoming even more open: as reported by IT World, Philadelphia is now allowing the public to vote on what data sets it will release next on Trello and suggest new data sets to release on Open Data Philly, the city’s third party-managed data portal.

Read more to find out about how civic hacking in the city provides more tech opportunities for women, provides readily available crime information, improves public transportation and promotes STEM education in Philadelphia schools.

From our Partners

Photo via Flickr user Michal Ochman

Photo via Flickr user Michal Ochman


Open Trip Planner, which the Code for Philly brigade contributed to, turns open data about public transportation routes, bike routes, and more into a multi-modal transportation planner. It also calculates travel time, road type/safety, and elevation when planning trips. The app is still in development for Philadelphia.

Another Interesting development by Code for Philly members is the Bike Route Tracker app which voluntarily tracks cyclists travel route preferences and data in order for planners in the City of Philadelphia and Delaware Valley to build better bike routes. A beta version of the app is now available.


To see an example of open data usage currently in action, visit the Philly Police Department’s newly re-designed webpage. The Philadelphia Police Department is currently using a web app called PHL Crime Mapper created by Dave Walk on their Crime Maps and Stats page. Walk designed the app by using data provided by the Philadelphia Police Department. Visitors can find out statistics for different types of crime by selecting the neighborhood they want more information about.


Women make up only two percent of the hackers using open source data, according to Girl Develop It Philadelphia 733964_495827963811822_2087012071_n-399x400Founder Yasmine Mustafa.

Girl Develop It Philly is looking to change that and get more women involved in both civic hacking and coding in general. They held an event in collaboration with Code for Philly, the local civic hacking brigade in January, 2014. They held another class on open data that was taught by Mark Headd himself.


GreenSTEM Network is an urban sensor network developed by a group of Philly civic hackers in collaboration with the Philadelphia Water Department. The sensors collect data from the urban environment (such as sunlight levels and soil moisture) that can be used by city government officials to make better infrastructure and environmental policy decisions.

However, the primary goal of the GreenSTEM Network is to promote STEM education in Philadelphia schools through opportunities for data analysis and critical thinking of the data collected by the sensors. The GreenSTEM team currently have two kits in place at Nebinger Elementary and Greenfield Elementary, with a plan to distribute 10 more kits by Earth day.

CORRECTION: A prior version of this article said that Open Trip Planner was developed by Code for Philly. In fact, Code for Philly only contributed to the program. They maintain a local instance of it and have incorporated regional transit data.


Girl Develop It Philly

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