Helpful Hackers

When the average person pictures a hacker they usually think of a shadowy figure behind a computer, stealing people’s personal information. A new breed of hacker is emerging however, who works with city officials to track information like where to get a free flu shot or real time subway delays. These hackers code apps, which are designed to make the city operate more efficiently and addresses the community’s needs.
Code for America brings hackers together with data that needs to be looked at. It’s described as being “a yearlong commitment, almost like Peace Corps for geeks” by Christopher Whitaker, the head of Chicago’s Code for America team. They sort through large amounts of public data in order to shape it into something useful.
One way Chicago is using this is with its new bike sharing system, Divvy, by creating maps that show stations with unused bikes. This data could then be used to see which routes are most popular or find broken bikes, and just generally improve service. Chicago also has an app, which allows people to type in their address during flu season, and find a clinic nearest to them to get a flu shot.

New York launched a free program called Embark last year, which maps subway locations in real time and can plan a route for you. This makes travelling by public transit much more convenient, as many people in Chicago know. Chicago has CTA tracker and transit chatter – both of these apps track trains and buses in real time, and transit chatter even allows you to chat with your fellow commuters.
This kind of information really has endless possibilities, from tracking public transit, to finding a flu shot, to a free bike program. This data can be used to better understand how our cities work and hopefully make our cities more efficient. For more information please visit

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