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Is Your Voice Missing in the Tech Talk Conversation?

Like a lot of us, I frequently find myself feeling unnecessarily distanced from the tech world. New advancements can feel like they're moving faster than I can get a real handle on them. Classes and courses seem like they require a set of skills that I don't necessarily have. Again and again, tech designated spaces appear to be filled with well-connected startup entrepreneurs and coders who—though brimming with bright ideas—have what can sometimes seem like very little interest in making tech relatable to citizens in ever-diversifying neighborhoods.

What makes me different from some folks is that I haven't let these challenges keep me from believing that technology is a tool for creating radical change in our everyday lives—and I don't believe that you should either.

I see our differences and difficulties not as barriers but, rather, teachable moments wherein we all have much to learn. In today's urban environments, between transportation and housing demands, food and produce needs, education and civic development growth opportunities, each and every one of us has a wealth of knowledge to share—starting with our needs. For me, Hack City—a Cleanweb hackathon focusing on solving Bay Area urban citizens' transportation, energy, and resource pain points—has served as a microcosmic classroom for just this type of education.

This past weekend (September 20-22, 2013), Hack City brought together a diverse set of executives, entrepreneurs, technologists, investors, policy experts, and everyday people to learn from one another and solve real problems impacting citizens across race, gender, class, and more. Presented by Salesforce, and in partnership with Code for America, Karma Wi-fi, Impact HUB Oakland, Neighborland, Caravan Studios, Architecture for Humanity San Francisco and more, participants endeavored to demonstrate our ability to leverage data we have about our behavior in buildings in order to increase efficiency, and ultimately cut costs.

Participants were able to make use of input data provided by the White House DOE's Buildings Performance Databasea project built in partnership with Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, enabling any user to:

... compare performance trends among similar buildings to identify and prioritize cost-saving energy efficiency improvements and assess the range of likely savings from these improvements.


In addition, the weekend also featured the Hack City Data Jam, a six-hour freestyle brainstorm including representatives from Architecture for Humanity, both the City of San Francisco's Disaster Management office and Planning Department, an active duty Army serviceman, and a variety of local stakeholders, addressing the newly passed Soft Story Ordinance in San Francisco (SSO). The mandate, signed into law by Mayor Ed Lee in April of this year, requires roughly 4,300 building owners to undergo evaluation by a licensed engineer or architect in order to assess whether their properties are susceptible to soft story failure.

With a lot of listening, and even more learning, and an intentional cross-pollination of "techies" and community members, we came away from the weekend-long event with participants forming a resilient city challenge committee, dedicated to continuing work on prepping the Bay Area for potential community-wide disasters. On top of that, we also built some really cool apps.

Not entirely convinced that an app can really change the way you live or impact your sustainable efforts? Check out our first-prize winner (who also won for best reuse of existing code): EnviraAudit, a mobile application for Environmental Auditors to track the energy use intensity (EUI) for their buildings, as well as predict the effects of various retrofits. Second prize went to Retrofitta (also awarded most creative app), a crowd-funding platform for energy-efficient retrofits. It actually analyzes ROI for potential investors.

Aside from cool technology, what I saw emerge from Hack City was new and game-changing conversation and knowledge. I believe that this can continue with everyday people, like you and I, feeling empowered to both make our voices heard and believe that technology can meet all of our needs. After all, shouldn't "tech talk" include those it intends to serve?

If you'd like more info on apps and Hack City 2013 or to get involved and talk about how to leverage technology in your city, contact me at hello[at]KrysFreeman[dot]com.

Image courtesy of Krys Freeman

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