March 2014 - Parks & Recreation - 18

Front Page

Helpful Hacks
Baltimore's Hack the Parks initiative encourages
crowdsourced solutions to park challenges
By Danielle Taylor

T

he notion of " civic hacking " is a relatively new concept, but it's becoming a buzzword in municipal circles nationwide. The term refers
to the growing trend of city planners who turn to local citizens for help
in responding to local issues, in hopes that a broader group of creative minds
might propose a wider range of innovative solutions. Cities like Philadelphia,
Chicago and San Francisco have used civic hackers to improve communications between citizens and city hall, develop an app to reconnect towed cars
with their owners, and make city legislation simple and conveniently accessible
for citizens to navigate. Even the White House has jumped on the bandwagon,
promoting the National Day of Civic Hacking in June 2013.
In Baltimore, the city's Department of Recreation and
Parks paired up with gb.tc, an
organization of local innovation, tech and entrepreneurial
experts, to encourage citizens
to come up with ways to improve their public spaces.
gb.tc, which derives its name
from its forerunner, the Greater Baltimore Technology
Council, works closely with
the Mayor's Office of Information
Technology (MOIT), which provided
$10,000 in funding to support the project. The three groups collaborated to
launch the competition last spring.
" [MOIT CIO] Chris Tonjes was very
interested in engaging with not just the
technology, but the entire Baltimore
community, and 'hacking' Baltimore's
public space seemed like a great way to
bring people together while improving
our city, " says Daniel Atzmon, policy
analyst for the Baltimore MOIT.
About 20 project proposals came
in during the entry period, and representatives from the three groups
chose six pilot projects to fund and
support over the summer.

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Parks & Recreation

The first project, dubbed Mycosolve, planned to enhance park soil,
reduce erosion and prevent pollution from runoff by seeding native
mushroom species in compromised
areas. The second project aimed to
improve logistics for the park system's maintenance crews via a Mobile Maintenance Request System
smartphone app. " Leakin Park Invasive Vine Control " was the third
project selected, and it included
plans to reduce the overgrowth of
vines in this iconic park through
volunteer mobilization and an app
designed to gather crowdsourced
vine mapping. The fourth project,
" Hack the Trash, " intended to ad-

| M A R C H 2 0 1 4 | W W W. N R PA . O R G

dress complaints of missing trash
cans in Patterson Park by turning
donated oil drums into a public
art installation. The fifth project
sought to create a web-based, wiki-style map database of the trees in
the city's parks and ultimately the
greater Baltimore region. Finally,
the sixth project proposed a virtual
tour guide to the city's parks.
Projects were funded at the beginning of the summer, and the creative
teams for each got to work, fine-tuning logistics and putting their plans
into action. By late September, the first
five groups had made significant progress toward their goals and presented
their success to the competition's organizers, including Baltimore Mayor
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (the sixth
project wasn't completed). Each of
these showed measurable results and
areas for future growth, and the parks
department was extremely pleased
with the results and subsequent improvements for their public spaces.
The success of this competition also
encouraged organizers to repeat the
civic hacking model for future innovative solutions to city issues.
" In Baltimore, people really love
their city and want to make it better, "
says Sharon Paley, chief operating officer of gb.tc. " If you give them opportunities to do that, you'll be surprised. "
As of February, Atzmon says,
" All demoed projects are still going
strong! "
Danielle Taylor is the Senior Editor of Parks &
Recreation Magazine (dtaylor@nrpa.org).



March 2014 - Parks & Recreation

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