published Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Chattanooga’s trove of city government data to be pried

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    Jenny Park, Green Trips Coordinator in the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency
    Photo by John Rawlston.
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There’s a gold mine of data hidden within city government computers, and Tim Moreland wants to tap into it.

Moreland is a Chattanooga planner, working with treasure troves of public information every day. Friday afternoon, he gathered a group of local geeks under the name Open Chattanooga and started finding ways to use that info for the public good.

“We’re opening up the data itself,” he said. “We’re trying to use Open Chattanooga as a platform for citizen engagement.”

He and about 15 volunteer programmers, developers and city officials spent Friday at a daylong “hack-a-thon,” where the group tried to build an application from the ground up.

They nearly finished an online application where users could map routes for traveling by a combination of foot, bike and public transit. Users can adjust routes by level of safety, ease of travel and speed.

“It’s huge for employment opportunities for people who don’t live on a bus line,” said Jenny Park, who heads multimodal transport programs for Outdoor Chattanooga. “A big barrier in Chattanooga is just knowing what your options are and what’s feasible for you.”

Park hopes the application will be finished by today and accessible online by May. After finishing the project, the only challenge is finding an organization to put it online, ideally an organization such as CARTA or the River City Co.

Tiffanie Robinson, a program manager with River City, said her organization has been wanting an application like this to help with downtown parking and transportation since Google released a similar mapping application for other cities around the world. Robinson was excited for Open Chattanooga’s application because it seems to go beyond the basic services Google could offer if it came to the area.

“It would be something we would be excited to see happen for the city, especially downtown,” she said. “We want to be a facilitator.”

Open Chattanooga is still in the early stages of forming as a volunteer organization. Moreland hopes to get more projects like this up and running, eventually partnering with the city and other tech organizations to get even more creative with public information. He figures at the very least, he can help the city government become more efficient with the way it handles data access and application creation.

“It’s hard for internal employees, forget about the general public,” he said. “Open Chattanooga can be the city’s beta test.”

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