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Visualizing Neighborhoods: A Hackathon for Good

Visualizing Neighborhoods Logo

The Visualizing Neighborhoods hackathon happened on Saturday, May 25, 2013 at the Minneapolis Central Library.

Take a look at photos from the day.

A great group of technologists, neighborhood leaders, designers, analysts, program/project designers and others came for the day and worked on projects ranging from visualizing bus routes in relationship to population density, to imagining a visualization that shows job growth on the Central Corridor... from communication tools to link teachers and parents, to mapping crime in relationship to a variety of environmental factors... from looking at voting patterns between presidential election years, to an activity and route-focused map for connecting youth and adults to urban green space "destinations".  More people dropped by throughout the day, or attended the afternoon Think Tank to learn more about hackathons, data visualizations, and to create pitches.  A full list of projects can be found here and here (with links), and additional resources are here.  

Thanks to everyone who attended and brought their ideas and energy!

Visualizing Neighborhoods photo

About  |  Schedule  |  Pre-Event Brainstorming Get-Togethers  |  Projects and Data  |  Hosts  |  FAQs 


about visualizing neighborhoods

May will bring two great conferences—Neighborhoods, USA and FOSS4G-NA (the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial North America)—to downtown Minneapolis. To build on this energy, the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs and Open Twin Cities, along with organizers from both of these conferences, are hosting a hackathon!

Visualizing Neighborhoods is a day-long event to bring together neighborhood leaders, technologists, data visualizers, designers, artists, scientists, civil servants, and anyone else interested in exploring how data can be used for research, analysis, mapping, outreach, engagement, and communication in our neighborhoods. The goals are to start conversations, build community, experiment, and prototype projects for neighborhoods.  

And for those that may not have the time to be at the event all day, we will be creating spaces so groups can consult with each other. Are you a neighborhood organizer who needs some tips on technologies to help communicate with your neighborhood better?  Are you a developer who has the coding chops but not quite sure what problem to solve?  Are you a storyteller, but just not sure where a good dataset is?

Food and beverages will be provided to all registered attendees.

To register, visit visualizingneighborhoods.eventbrite.com

Download the Visualizing Neighborhoods flier

Questions? Contact the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs:  

  Jeff Matson - 612-625-0081, jmatson (at) umn.edu

  Kristen Murray - 612-625-7560, murr0134 (at) umn.edu

Sponsors include:  


9-9:30 - Check-in and coffee

9:30-11:00 - Welcome, project pitches, form teams

11:00 - 4:30 - Build

4:00-4:30 - Q&A with Otto Doll (CIO, City of Minneapolis) and Geoff Maas (Coordinator, MetroGIS)

4:30 - 5:30 - Showcase

1 - 3:30 - Drop-in Think Tank:  Don't have time to attend the whole event or just curious?  Drop by to learn more about data visualizing, see examples, and talk about ideas. The Think Tank will also provide opportunities to work with other attendees on creating pitches and project proposals for future hackathons (hypothetical or actual!).

About  |  Schedule  |  Pre-Event Brainstorming Get-Togethers  |  Projects and Data  |  Hosts  |  FAQs 

Pre-Event Brainstorming Get-Togethers

CURA will be hosting several informal gatherings before the hackathon.  These sessions are opportunities to learn more about the event and see examples of projects from around the country.  We’ll also leave plenty of time to talk about your ideas and needs, and we’ll help you develop a pitch to share during the event.
Join us:
  • Saturday, April 13, 9-10:30 am: coffee and pastries at Black Bear Crossing (in Como Park in St. Paul - map)
  • Friday, April 26, noon-1:30 pm: pizza lunch at CURA (on UMN's West Bank campus - map)
  • Wednesday, May 1, 4-6 pm: happy hour at Republic (at Seven Corners in Minneapolis - map)

Thanks to everyone who came out!  Between all of the session, a great list of ideas and possible pitches were generated...

About  |  Schedule  |  Pre-Event Brainstorming Get-Togethers  |  Projects and Data  |  Hosts  |  FAQs 

Projects and Data

A collection of datasets will be available for attendees to use at the hackathon.  Many of these datasets are currently available to download; some are being made available for the hackathon.  Check out a list of data.  You are also welcome to bring your own data... more details about bringing your own datasets is available in the FAQ.

Projects need a champion to pitch them at the event.  We will have time for 10ish pitches in the morning:  pitches are 3-minute descriptions of the problem, need, or opportunity. Attendees can self-select to work on these projects based on interest.

Have an idea?  What could a group could work on during the hackathon?  Submit it here.  Questions?  Contact Kristen (murr0134 (at) umn.edu) to discuss.

Here are some of the ideas that came out of the pre-event brainstorming sessions. Thanks to everyone who came out!  Watch for some of these to be pitched at the hackathon...

  • a game-like app (maybe integrated with SMS or other tools) that gives points and achievements to youth
    users who participate in outdoor activities or “check-in” at parks and nature
  • mapping and visualizing energy usage and efficiency, for residents and advocates

  • a tool (or set of integrated tools) that lets youth "check in" at outdoor spots around town

  • a neighborhood portal that lets staff and residents look at lots of data in one place

  • a portal that improves access to data in general

  • re-envisioning student report cards so they're better communication tools and easier to understand

  • visualizing school attendance (especially cross-district/cross-city)

  • creating a layered rental info site (integrating "rental review" data with google streetview, code violations, inspections, crime, etc.)

  • mapping crime and block clubs

  • Yelp for neighborhoods

  • communication tools for neighborhood organizers and volunteers to make the most of front-door interactions with residents

  • 3D model of the built environment, using recently collected LiDAR data 

  • mapping tool that provides a directory of health, education, and social service agencies and resources (with details, and transit info) in the NW metro

  • a visualization of "what does 14,000 jobs in the Central Corridor by 2030 look like?"

  • a map that shows access points to bike trails, with destinations you can reach in certain amounts of time

  • a tool for community development corporations that lets you look at lots of different data together (parcel, zoning, land use, vacancy, political boundaries, etc.), and that integrates with calendars and communication tools and offers various levels of privacy

  • integrate some of the data sources that are already out there - Compass Neighborhood Profiles, Compass health data...

  • a visualization of park locations, park resources, and youth

  • a visualization of bus stops: people served, routes, frequency, time to get to destinations, what's around, connecting points...  

About  |  Schedule  |  Pre-Event Brainstorming Get-Togethers  |  Projects and Data  |  Hosts  |  FAQs 


The Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) connects the resources of the University of Minnesota with the interests and needs of urban communities and the region for the benefit of all.

Open Twin Cities is a group for civic hackers, innovative government employees, and concerned citizens for the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul) metro area. Focusing on, but not limited to, creating a better citizen and government collaborative experience in the Twin Cities through technology. Associated with the Code for America Brigade.

Neighborhoods, USA (NUSA) is a national non-profit organization committed to building and strengthening neighborhood organizations. Created in 1975 to share information and experiences toward building stronger communities, NUSA now continues to encourage networking and information sharing to facilitate the development of partnerships between neighborhood organizations, government and the private sector.

Free and Open Source Software for Geospaital, North America (FOSS4G-NA) is a community conference intended for networking and collaboration in the open source geospatial community.

Planning Team Members

About  |  Schedule  |  Pre-Event Brainstorming Get-Togethers  |  Projects and Data  |  Hosts  |  FAQs 

Questions you may be asking

What’s a hackathon?
A hackathon is a get-together, often of software developers, graphic designers and technology folks, but really of anyone interested in collaborating to explore new ideas.  Sometimes they last a day, sometimes overnight, two days, or even a week.  During a hackathon, you might find small teams of people designing and testing a possible solution, talking about different ways to solve a problem, creating a proposal for a new tool, or developing relationships with current or potential collaborators.  Often the goal is to produce something useable or a proposal for a future project however building community through conversation and collaboration are worthwhile goals of a hackathon.   
What happens there?
Typically, hackathons have three phases:  Pitching, Building, and Sharing.  During the pitching phase, people will share problems or projects that could be worked on over the course of the day.  Teams form around these projects, based on what people are interested in working on and what knowledge and skills they bring.  The bulk of the day is spent building, when teams break off and work on projects.  Hackathons conclude with a period of sharing what was created, tried and learned.

Who can participate?  What if I don’t have technical skills?
Anyone!  If you bring a technical skill set, that’s great, but not necessary.   Many skill sets and perspectives are needed.  Do you know an issue or problem well?  Can you represent the perspective of a user or an audience?  This is expertise that’s needed during a hackathon, too.  Whether you’re a software developer, staff member at a community organization, graphic designer, web developer, neighborhood activist,  information designer, artist, mapmaker, or interested citizen, you’ll have a role to play.

Why are you hosting this?
CURA and Open Twin Cities, along with organizers from the Neighborhoods USA (NUSA) and the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G) conferences, are hosting this hackathon to get people together to talk about how data and data visualization can help neighborhoods address issues they face. In particular, we hope the event will:

  • connect technolgy developers and designers, neighborhood organizers and activists, and place-based organizations working to support strong Twin Cities neighborhoods
  • explore the impact of more accessible public data in the Twin Cities
  • build community around these projects and possibilities

What is data visualization?
Data visualization is simply finding ways to make information easier to understand and use.  Data visualizations can include maps, infographics, diagrams, charts, graphs, cartoons, images and more; they can be made to be interactive on a computer or mobile device, designed for print, or made with physical objects.  Looking at data in tables or lists can be overwhelming, but data visualization can help tell a story, answer questions, or find resources in a clearer, more effective, or more useful way.
Why should I attend Visualizing Neighborhoods?  What should I expect to get out of it?
A primary goal of Visualizing Neighborhoods is to bring together people with a variety of perspectives who are interested in tools and resources that support Twin Cities neighborhoods.  The day will be full of collaboration, conversation, and exploration of how technology, design and data can help neighborhoods.  We hope everyone will leave the event with some new ideas and new connections to draw on in the future.
Do I have to prepare anything or bring anything?
Bring your energy, an open mind and if you have it, a laptop (helpful but not required).
Do I need to have a team?
Nope.  You can come alone or with friends/colleagues.  The first part of the day will be dedicated to sharing problems and project ideas, and forming teams around these ideas.
What data will be available?
We are working on compiling a set of data to share during the event, drawing primarily on publicly available data.  Watch for more information about available data sets in March and April.
Can I bring my own data?
Data will be a very important part of this event.  Some of the projects may be solely working towards making data more open and accessible.  You are encouraged to bring your own data, but if you focus on the following before the event, you will see that attendees will be more excited about your data and can more easily use your data in their projects.  You are not required to follow all these guidelines, but they will be make working with the data easier at this event and for anyone else in the future.

  • Is the data license-free and publicly available?  Ensure there are no license, trademark, copyright, patent, or other restrictions on the data.  Things like non-disclosure agreements will slow down access as well as stifle innovation.
  • Does your data discriminate who has access to it?  Things like registration requirements, membership-only access, and application-only access means that certain people cannot access the data.
  • Is the data complete?  This means that the data accurately reflects the subject completely and contains what data is collected.
  • Is the data easily accessible/downloadable?  Can you give someone a URL to the data?
  • Is the data up to date?  Utilizing old data can be helpful but timely data will provide more practical analysis and visualization.
  • Is the data in a friendly format?  Specifically can it be easily read my computers?  Formats like CSV, JSON, XML are all machine-readable formats.  PDF is one of the worst formats to use for analysis and will greatly decrease use of the data.
  • Do you provide an API?  Having an API (Application Programming Interface) for your data will be one of the most helpful ways to get data accessible to developers.

Parking, transit, biking, food, prizes
The Minneapolis Central Library is at 300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 55401 (map). Getting there is easy - light rail, buses, and underground parking are all options. The entrance to Underground parking is on 4th St. For transit info, go to http://metrotransit.org/. Bike banks and lockers are located on 4th Street.
Lunch, beverages and snacks will be provided to registered participants. There will be prizes! More info coming soon...

Have more questions?
Contact the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs:  

  Jeff Matson - 612-625-0081, jmatson (at) umn.edu

Kristen Murray - 612-625-7560, murr0134 (at) umn.edu

About  |  Schedule  |  Pre-Event Brainstorming Get-Togethers  |  Projects and Data  |  Hosts  |  FAQs