When troves of information are opened to programmers, problems get solved.
By order of the White House, June 1 marks the first National Day of Civic Hacking. Cities across the country will invite programmers to rally together and improve local government one line of code at a time.
In New York, more than 80 teams have signed up for NYC Big Apps, a competition in which people hunt for digital solutions to the city's problems. Projects range from the serious (software that compiles crime, garbage, and other city statistics to create a quality-of-life index) to the amusing (a game in which players race to claim territory in the city by snapping photos of billboards with their cellphones – if an ad isn't in New York's official database, the billboard is flagged as likely being illegal).
Many of these projects would be impossible without a recent shift in American cities. Mayors in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere have opened up a fire hose of data about their cities. This flood of information has allowed city workers to stay on top of problems – some of which they never knew existed – and has helped launch new businesses within the city limits.