First, a Better Block. Now, a Better App? An Effort to Open Source the City of Dallas.

Take a moment and peruse the apps listed at CivicApps, a competition launched by the city of Portland last year for which cash prizes were handed out in such categories as Most Useful, Best Use of Data and Most Original. Portland's hardly the only city using apps to make city l-i-v-i-n better. New York has its $20,000 BigApps competition, San Francisco has its DataSF up and runningish, and back in November Fast Company had a rather lengthy piece about how civic-minded techies in D.C. are using Civic Commons to "share technology for the common good," whether that means cooking up a better way to report problems to 311 or collate crime data.

And so, once more, we turn to Jason Roberts, the builder of Better Blocks who now wants to create apps for Dallas using city data. He's not going it alone: To better understand the ramifications of Better Block, he rounded up Ean and Erik Schuessler of Brainfood, who began tinkering with Dallas Area Rapid Transit's almost 2-year-old "Where's My Bus?®" app "to create a readout of existing bus locations, time of arrival, and final destination information for a single bus stop at Edgefield and Davis," Roberts writes today on BetterBlock.org.

That, he says, is but the beginning of the beginning of the beginning: On January 19 at Eno's, the threesome will host what they're calling "BlockCamp -- Beer, Pizza, and Open Government," during which they will kick off efforts to "develop, deploy and use software systems that raise awareness, track and manage issues around the safety and economics activity of blighted or vacant corridors to support the mission of creating 'Complete Streets'."

Roberts and I traded a few e-mails on the subject last week, during which he wrote about the genesis and intentions of the project. An excerpt from one such missive:

The BlockCamp project [will bring] a bunch of our tech friends together to start creating apps using city data. it's something that is being done in other major cities, but we haven't seen a major push here (which is odd given the size of our tech community). It's part of the Open Government movement and something that I think could really take off here. Ultimately, I want to try and show how we can begin tabulating and documenting the before/during/after elements of the Better Block projects so we can have strong data that tells us what truly is working and what is not. I also want to be able to show how the community can interact with the projects and give feedback or analyze the results of the projects. ...

It's got a lot of potential given that we can start publishing everything from DART GPS data, election data, property, traffic, water tables, etc. and allow for local developers to create mash-ups, iphone apps, etc., that can give everyone smarter data to interact with.

More forthcoming.

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