open data

4th Annual City of Houston Hackathon Roundup

On the weekend of May 13-15, a crowd of local data nerds, coders, hackers, and generally civic minded residents gathered together at the Houston Technology Center to build cool things, share ideas, and above all, eat free food at the 4th Annual City of Houston Hackathon.

This 4th iteration of what is becoming a must attend event, featured over 200 attendees that worked diligently over the course of 24 hours fueled on coffee, civic responsibility and the aforementioned free food to build 15 very impressive applications.

You can read more about the four finalists by following the links below. Each winner will have the chance to present their project to Mayor Sylvester Turner.

  • Johns Beware - A project dedicated to ending sex trafficking by reducing demand, supporting law enforcement, and creating awareness.
  • District Finder API - This API allows other applications to find all sorts of political districts for a provided latitude and longitude.
  • Invoice Dashboard - Imagine you’re a vendor doing business with an organization that is based only in one city but has 22 AP groups.
  • Task Bounty - Service marketplace to empower and employ local citizens to address local municipal issues.

A huge thank you to all the sponsors and everyone that came to support the event at the Houston Technology Center! You can get the full list of shout-outs over on Sketch City's blog.

More information can be found about all of the projects at: http://2016houstonhackathon.devpost.com/submissions

If you are interested in getting involved with Civic Technology or attending future hack nights, please reach out to our partners in these efforts: Sketch City.

Kurt leads improvement projects, performs ad-hoc data analysis, and provides high-level strategic insight for the division. Kurt received his Master of Public Administration and his Bachelor of Arts from Oklahoma State University. Prior to joining the City, Kurt managed analytics for Waste Management’s Energy Services customer segment, delivering insights into customer profitability, pricing strategy, service delivery optimization, and mergers and acquisitions strategy. Kurt has been at the City previously and was one of the inaugural members of the Performance Improvement Division. Kurt is Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certified and has led various projects throughout the city. In his free time, he likes to play basketball, ping pong and board games and enjoys trying new restaurants with his wife, Brittany.

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Budget Bootcamp and Open Data Updated for FY2017 Proposed Budget

This week marks the release of Mayor Turner’s proposed Annual Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2017. To assist end-users in their analysis of the proposed budget, the City provides detailed budgetary information in our online Budget Bootcamp tool at http://performance.houstontx.gov/budgetbootcamp and also on the interim Open Data Portal at http://data.ohouston.org/dataset/city-of-houston-fiscal-year-adopted-operating-budgets. Both of these resources have been updated to include information for this upcoming year's proposed budget. The official proposed budget and past adopted budgets can also be found online at http://houstontx.gov/budget/.

Frank C. Bracco is a Senior Staff Analyst for the City of Houston Finance Department and is a member of the Performance Improvement Division. Frank holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics from the University of Florida and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

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City of Houston's First Ever Open Challenge

The City of Houston’s first ever Open Challenge was launched on October 1st, 2015. Former Mayor Annise Parker and Former Mayor Pro-Tem Ed Gonzalez asked the civic tech community to help the city identify solutions to three challenges. Instead of 24 hours, which is how long we give citizen technologists at our annual Hackathon, participants had 2 months.

The first challenge was around deed restrictions. Deed restrictions are maintained by Harris County and the only data that the City can provide is a listing of potential deed restriction violations that have been reported to the City. Keeping these restraints in mind this challenge was open ended. The City asked participants to study deed restrictions and create a plan to manage the information. How should it be communicated to the public? Is there a “best-practice” in deed restrictions in another city?

The second challenge dealt with public meeting notifications. From city council sessions to neighborhood association meetings, Houstonians should easily be able to find the public meetings that are important to them. The challenge was to create a customizable notification system.

The third challenge concerns City Council Records. Ever Wednesday, City Council meets to discuss policy and authorize spending. The minutes are reproduced online, but they are not easily reportable. The challenge is to create a scraper that categorizes data in a useful and meaningful way.

The results of the Open Challenge are in! After two months of working on the challenges and a grueling week of assessment from judges, the winners of the first ever City of Houston Open Challenge were announced on Dec. 10th at the Open Houston Meetup. We want to congratulate:

Deed Restriction Challenge Winner – We received two very different submissions for this challenge. We received a thorough study of deed restrictions from one group and a proposed structure for deed restriction from another group. We think both submissions have benefits and have decided to split the prize. Thanks Rachel Green, Rebecca Rodriguez and Kyle Shelton for your hard work!

Public Meeting Notification Challenge Winner – Congre.us. Congre.us created a fully functional public calendar that includes meetups, events and council sessions. Thank you Patrick Eleden for your hard work!

City Council Record Challenge Winner – Parabyte. Parabyte created a search function for procurement. It is a fully realized vision with very fast searching capabilities. Thank you Rakshak Talwar, Micah Thomas and Fabian Buentello for your hard work!

Thank you to everyone who participated!

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Enhanced Web Service Offers New Functionality for Active Incidents Web App

This summer, I had the opportunity to meet local developer and .Net extraordinaire David M. Wilson at a Civic Hack Night. David showed several of us a civic innovation project he developed after the first City of Houston Hackathon in 2013. The project is a real-time web app that shows active City of Houston fire incidents based on a test web service available on the Interim Open Data Portal. The web app also provides users the ability to search historical events, including the humorously titled "Dumpster on Fire" incident (which occurs with surprising frequency).

During our conversation, David told us he was still improving the application in his spare time and would be interested in integrating in police active incidents. The City currently has a tabular view of active HPD vehicle incidents available online but the data isn't available for historical analysis nor is it geographic based. We all agreed it would be a great idea to add these HPD incidents to the web service and we went to work trying to find who maintained the test web service. The City of Houston is relatively inexperienced with web services (outside of the built-in functionality ESRI provides for their mapping services), but with a little trial and error our IT team was able to make a quick change to the code. Within a couple minutes of the change, David's application successfully received its first HPD incidents without incident (pun intended).

You can check out David's project at http://dmwilson.info/ and you can find his code on GitHub. The project is a great example of what's possible when local governments make their data freely available as web services, and it also serves as a great instructional tool for other developers looking to integrate active incidents into their apps. If you have feedback on the active incidents web service or suggestions for how the City can better use web services we want to hear from you, so comment below!

Frank C. Bracco is a Senior Staff Analyst for the City of Houston Finance Department and is a member of the Performance Improvement Division. Frank holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics from the University of Florida and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

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An Easy Way to Find Your Council Member

Want an easy way to find your Council Members that doesn’t involve a bunch of clicks, is mobile friendly, and provides the information in an efficient manner? If so, look no further than the City’s newly redesigned Who Is My Council Member webpage. This new web app replaces a SilverLight web app that used to be linked on the page. Let us know what you think about the improved functionality by commenting on this blog post.

You may be asking, why are we blogging about this? The web page is an internal research and development project for the City that uses an open data set’s API end-point and uses some example code various civic innovation projects that were developed at this year's City of Houston Hackathon. All the code for the page is open source and available on Github at http://github.com/frank0051/Houston-Who-Is-My-Council-Member.

Frank C. Bracco is a Senior Staff Analyst for the City of Houston Finance Department and is a member of the Performance Improvement Division. Frank holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics from the University of Florida and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

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Four More Open Datasets Put on Automatic Refresh

Good news from the Open Data front: we’ve automated the refresh cycle on four more open datasets on the City of Houston interim Open Data Portal. The four datasets are related to Administrative and Regulatory Affairs’ Commercial Permitting operations and include data about alcohol permits, game rooms and coin-operated machines, and various other occupational permits. The datasets are refreshed on the first Sunday of each month and are available in Excel 2007/2010 format (XLSX). The datasets each use the same columns and share a common metadata file which allows all four datasets to be combined for a more complete picture of active commercial permits.

You can find the newly automated datasets at:

Let us know what you think by using the "Ideas and Feedback" button on the Open Data Portal.

Frank C. Bracco is a Senior Staff Analyst for the City of Houston Finance Department and is a member of the Performance Improvement Division. Frank holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics from the University of Florida and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

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Hackathon Experiences Across the Spectrum

The City of Houston hosted its third annual citywide Hackathon at the Houston Technology Center last weekend. More than 400 civic-minded technology professionals, students and hobbyists completed 29 projects over the course of the 24-hour event, making this one of the largest and most successful city-sponsored Hackathons in history.There was not only a variety of projects but also people that attended the hackathon so we thought it would be interesting to put all their experiences in a blog post.

Co-Organizer Perspective

They say if you want to be smart, surround yourself with smart people. Nowhere is this truer than at the citywide Hackathon. My favorite part is being able to engage with the brightest minds on ways to improve life in Houston, and then going beyond simply talking about the issues into the realm of doing something about them. Going from room-to-room, I sat with the MyHPD team that was generating an app that could potentially revolutionize the ways citizens interact with police officers – an issue that is on the top of everybody’s mind. I watched in amazement as Micah Stubbs made the City’s organizational chart come to life. I brainstormed ideas with the Campaign Finance team on how to make the flow of political contributions more visible and open to the public. All of the teams I came across were thinking BIG and transforming those ideas into action. That is the power of civic innovation.

Veteran Project Winner Experience

The City of Houston Hackathon is one of the premier events of the year for me. As both a resident of Houston and a City of Houston employee whose job revolves around improving our operations, being able leverage the collective brain power of hundreds of energized and talented Houstonians to analyze and improve City data and services is an experience unlike any other. This year’s Hackathon highlighted for me how important it is for optimized City operations. Why? Citizens are demanding more and more mobile applications – as evident in this year’s projects – that provide on-demand services and data. To meet these expectations, our operations have to be up to the challenge of providing responsive service that meets the mark each time; this means reducing wait time, eliminating error rates, and reducing wasted effort in processes. I look forward to seeing how this year’s crop of Hackathon projects push us as an organization to improve and offer even better services to the citizens of Houston.

Newbie Experience

As a newbie Hackathoner I was truly happy to participate in the city's hackathon. It was an exhilarating experience to see how everybody came together and contributed to improve our city one small piece at a time. I am going to actively work to increase hackathon awareness throughout the city.

Hackathon Project Creator Experience

Come ready with a scope. It doesn’t have to be super detailed but at least come with some thoughts and goals outlined of what you want to accomplish. Be ready to pitch this idea in a short elevator-pitch-style that will make participants want to join your project. Keep your scope/goals attainable for the hackathon, meaning you can deliver something in 24 hours, and also leave your project scope scalable too so that it can be adopted by and integrated easily into a new business -- or in our case -- city department or project. 

If you missed the hackathon, have no fear. There is a monthly hack night on July 7th at 6PM at the Houston Technology Center. Come join the fun! More details about hack night can be found at http://www.meetup.com/open-houston.

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Houston Hackathon Idea Series: Crisis Mapping

Crisis mapping has really gained momentum in the last five years as a tool to help people find, use, and share important information when residents need it most. Crisis-mapping uses data from e-mail, text messages, and social media to plot events on an interactive map in real time. It is clear to see the usefulness of this kind of technology. The Office of Emergency Management is asking for help with a regional crisis map. Managing the different resources used during a crisis for a city as big as Houston has its challenges, let alone the entire region. Let’s see if it can be made a little easier. You can find the details of this challenge and all the challenges at www.houstonhackathon.com.

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Houston Hackathon Idea Series: Restaurant inspection data

As the City of Houston prepares for the 3rd Annual Houston Hackathon, we will be highlighting a variety of potential projects that you can work on. This week we are highlighting a project around restaurant inspections.

Houston is a food city. We’ve been called the most dynamic food city in the U.S. by Departures magazine. There are so many restaurant choices that choosing where to eat can feel overwhelming. You could pick a restaurant based on reviews or recommendations by friends, but how do you know if the restaurant is clean and up to health inspection standards?

Currently, the interface to look-up restaurant inspection violations looks like this: http://houston.tx.gegov.com/media/search.cfm. We think it could be a lot better...

What if there was a map that showed all open restaurant inspection violations? What if there was a rating system developed and restaurant inspection scores were posted on Yelp? What if you scraped Twitter for potential incidents of food poisoning and gave it to the heath department? Food safety is an important and overlooked topic in public health. With your help, we can improve the public's ability to sort out the clean and dirty restaurants.

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Houston Hackathon Project Winner Debuts: Nuisance Tracker

The winning project of the 2nd Annual Houston Hackathon will make its debut on the City’s webpage this week. Nuisance Tracker is a map that allows all citizens to view open code enforcement violations—such as, graffiti, weeded lots, junk motor vehicles, and many more—throughout the City of Houston. The map is searchable by: specific addresses, 311 Service Requests, HCAD properties, Council Districts, or by simply zooming into violations as you normally would on a Google map. When you zoom in on a violation address the map provides you with a status of the violation and the City's actions to resolve.

Check out the project on the “My City Maps” webpage, starting March 19th:Nuisance Tracker Map

Since its inception, the Houston Hackathon has generated strong turnout from the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) community. Following the completion of each Hackathon, City employees work tirelessly to implement the winning projects and live up to Mayor Annise Parker’s earlier promise when she said, “We want to use the applications and insights that are created at the Hackathon as soon as possible.” The next Houston Hackathon will be held on May 16-17, 2015 at the Houston Technology Center, help spread the word.

Paul Fagin is a Staff Analyst for the City of Houston Finance Department and is a member of the Performance Improvement Division. Paul received his Master of Public Administration from Texas A&M University and his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin.

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