From the Good Ideas File: High Tech for Smaller Cities

As part of my gig with EngagingCities,  where I serve as the Managing Editor, I get to read tons of interesting blog posts, articles and the like, and share them with our 21,000+ readers worldwide.  We focus on sharing the things that they won’t find in mainstream press — civil servant bloggers, small foundations’ research, other people doing interesting things around technology, planning, and how people interact with their communities.


When I posted this article last week, it was after having read and loved Abhi Nehmani’s original post on Medium.  When did a follow up on it, I knew this was something I wanted to make sure our readers saw.  And I wanted to make sure you all saw it, too.

You may not view yourself as tech-savvy, and you may have no idea what Abhi’s talking about when he references Code for America or OpenStack or node.js.  Or maybe you do.  Either is OK.  The point that I think is most important for you in here is twofold:


1) A lot of you are struggling with slashed budgets, shrinking staff, increasing demands and an overwhelming sense that the current center cannot hold.  But there are internet-based technologies that can greatly ease the burden.

2) Old-timers like me usually assume that any kind of technology-based solution has to be built from the bottom up by mystical jibberish-speaking consultants, and we all know plenty of stories where those turned into fiascoes — or at least cost a ton of grief at some point down the road.  The surprise twist here is that we have this universe called Open Source now, which is kind of like a giant shared pile of Legos, except that the Legos are sections of code designed to do one thing or another, and a reasonably knowledgeable coder can jump in to the pile, grab the bits that they want to try out, drop them into the thing that they are building and then try a different Lego if that first one didn’t quite fit right.  It massively lowers the entry to building a web site or app, because the coder isn’t building it from scratch.  Oh, and the Legos self-regenerate, since the coder is really just cutting and pasting from a web site.  Every analogy breaks down somewhere, right?

3) A lot of the tools that Abhi describes have been already built somewhere else, and are already available or mostly available in that Giant Lego Pile on the Web.  So chances are someone can build your city one or more of those tools for a fraction of what you might have assumed, given the Old Timer Assumption. I know you probably can’t do that.  But I bet you have someone around who can.  Is there a high school kid who needs a project?  A nearby technical college?  Someone’s kid who moved out of town but might still want to give back (or earn some cash?)  Of course not every young person knows how to code.  But they might, or they might know someone who does.  And who wants a challenge on something that matters.  You’d be amazed at the passion that coders can bring to a project that they see will allow them to use their skills to make a real difference for people.  It’s a whole new type of volunteering, but it’s every bit as energized as any event committee you’ve ever chaired.

OK, that’s threefold.  Whatever.


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