The Great Urban Hack

Thursday, November 04, 2010

John Keefe, WNYC's senior executive producer for news, talks about this weekend's Great Urban Hack, an event to promote the intersection of journalism and technology. The over-night, open-source "hackathon" is being co-sponsored by WNYC. 

Ever think "they should figure out a way to..."? Here's your chance. Tell us what you'd want a bunch of tech nerds to work on to help you be more efficient, more informed and more engaged in New York City Life. Leave your comment below!


John Keefe

Comments [24]

Frank from Bayside

The Central Park Conservancy already has a digital record of every tree in the park, but it is not available to the visitor. I would like an app that allows me to identify any tree in the park, and links with a common tree identification site for further info about the tree. We druids need support!

Nov. 05 2010 09:48 AM
Levi Wallach from Reston, VA

Sorry that this isn't a suggestion for an actual app, but I did want to voice my concern that the guests/Brian mentioned mainly iPhone/iPad apps. Guess what, not everyone has these devices. There are tons of people with Blackberries, Android devices, Palm Pre's, Windows Mobile (I think Brian at least used to have a Windows Mobile phone), etc. Please don't assume everyone has an iPhone or iPad. Any app should be something that is accessible to all platforms, or at the very least has open API's that will allow programmers on other platforms to hook into it - it would also be great to be open source so that it can be ported easily. Thanks for letting me voice this.

Nov. 05 2010 06:34 AM
russ fortier from Connecticut

I would like a political map which has "issues" pages. Clicking/tapping on the issue/title would show how members of the US House of Representatives voted on that issue, by changes in color; clicking on the color( district/ state) would show the Representative/Senator and his/her vote as well as other relevant info. Woulod love to see it act as a live "votecast" as well.

Nov. 04 2010 08:48 PM
Bill from Hempstead

1) I would like better traffic controls as part of an intelligent grid. The time I waste at traffic lights and obeying absurd or outdated traffic control devices is depressing. and it seems like something could be devolped that would increase quality of life and "wall-plug" efficiency everyone a "win-win-win-win...."

2) I think we could increase the political sensitivity and reduce useless political inertia. If politically relavant or important online documents had underlayers of statistics which could summarrize important points.
For example, how well do readers understand the content? : Let consumers of the document take a quiz at the end to test how well the reader understands what the author is asserting. This quiz result can give the consumer of this document a higher weighting in terms of the quality his or her opinion of "truthyness".
Let the parts of content be rated for percieved "truthyness"
Let parts of content be rated on a scale of preference ( Love, Like, Neutral, Don't Like, Hate) ... this would give instantaneous exit poling after exposure to political ideas/memes.
The automated, nonsectarian and anonymous collection and publishing of this type of information should vastly increase the resolution of the feedback system we need for management and equitable control of forces within our society.

Nov. 04 2010 01:40 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I'd like to second the suggestions from C Bloch on election info, John from Manhattan on a lost & found map, & Tina on thrown-out reusable items. My own suggestion is a bit humbler than Tina's: an app that tells you the closest site to recycle a given type of item. I keep finding stacks of leftover copies of the free daily papers that were thrown out in street wastebaskets (which is illegal) when the delivery driver put the new edition in the box. It's too much to haul around or take home, but if I could find out that there's a public recycling bin nearby, I could take it there & get rid of it quickly. Same goes for plastic bags blowing around on the street, etc., which have to been taken to different locations.

Nov. 04 2010 01:05 PM
Debbie from NYC

Is there an app that tells you about off-off-Broadway shows? I would recommend referencing what does as far as telling you what's playing, where, and whether it's recommended, maybe coordinating with them to see if they'd be interested in an app.

(full disclosure: I write for

Nov. 04 2010 12:11 PM
Michael from Manhattan

I agree with Justin. 311 desperately needs a way to submit reports online. Did you know it takes at least 10 minutes to report an open hydrant? It's ridiculous that they make it so difficult to perform a public service.

Nov. 04 2010 12:09 PM
John A.

An ad-hoc bus service.
...that collects requests-to-go to specific locations.
For large numbers of similar requests, an appropriate sized bus is called, and the requestors are given a pick-up location. The cost of such a bus would be significantly less than a cab.

Nov. 04 2010 12:08 PM
John from Manhattan

A program that will analyze a journal article to identify common words that are most associated with a queried word. Ie, what adjectives are nearest to a subject word?

Nov. 04 2010 12:02 PM
MJ King from NYC

I am a cyclist in NYC for over 25 years. I have seen so many vehicles running red lights and wish it could be captured and reported. If the city wants to generate income they could come up with a better flagging mechanism on streets with traffic lights for those vehicles running lights.

Nov. 04 2010 12:01 PM

Love to see an app called a "Curb Alert" to announce the location and maybe a image of something that is still useful that is being thrown out.

Nov. 04 2010 11:59 AM
Jill from Warren, NJ

I would like one to push and notify where there is a pothole and a grade of one (annoying), 2, requires realignment of my wheeels and 3 requires new wheel or more.

Woould like it for NJ highways too

Nov. 04 2010 11:57 AM
caitlin from brooklyn

Alternate side parking and notifications when you don't need to move your car. And have it locate streets you can park on when you are in a new neighborhood.

Nov. 04 2010 11:56 AM

On a serious note, C Bloch is absolutely correct. User Interfaces in general have s*** the bed within the last couple of years and caused many heartaches. Can we improve these as well as we explore new ideas?

YES on the caller's health insurance suggestion!!

Nov. 04 2010 11:56 AM
Anthony from East Village, NYC


1. How to get more affordable housing for middle class folks in NYC.
2. How to stop foreclosures, or to follow the paper and money trail so we know where the property and money go.
3. How to create jobs for people.
4. How to get health care not run by insurance companies. (monitoring where the monies go.)
5. How to stop (or monitor monies going to) profit oriented private prisons, and the privatizing our military.

Thanks. these would be some great aps! (smile)

Nov. 04 2010 11:55 AM
Tom Hopes from London

There is an amazing app in London for Addison Lee cab company which uses the GPS to send a private car to you wherever you are and give a fare too to your favourite destinations.
I call it my "Magic Carpet" because I can get a car in 5 minutes wherever I am, 24 hours a day.

Nov. 04 2010 11:55 AM
keith from Inwood

Hate to post something other than suggestion, but caller #1 described what google traffic already solves with its highly accurate readings from DOT and crowdsourcing, at least to a degree that noone will beat in 36 hours:)

Nov. 04 2010 11:53 AM
John from Manhattan

Lost & Found,

A database that maps on the City's grid time & place that an item is lost or found.

Nov. 04 2010 11:53 AM

I'd like an app that will aggregate camera feeds from around the city and use facial recognition software to tell me where all the cute boys are at the moment!

Nov. 04 2010 11:53 AM
C Bloch from Astoria

Please - could we have a website (and perhaps push to email or text selections for results) with clear and easy to access election information? Finding out that there are random judges or other offices up for election at the polls is annoying. I want to be an informed voter and I look forward to the NYCCFB Voter Guide each election year, but I would love to have more information about each candidate with links to their websites.
Thank you!

Nov. 04 2010 11:53 AM
shawn from Brooklyn, NY

I want a visual mapping interface to navigate shopping searches on craigslist, freecycling, and the like.

Nov. 04 2010 11:52 AM
Justin from Williamsburg

A mobile app that can suggest to 311 about recommendations or issues that identify that would then be listed online for "like" by other citizens.

This could be potholes or traffic issues or possible park locations etc. Broken sidewalk or litter areas. This would be anonymous but only one like per caller per item.

Nov. 04 2010 11:51 AM
rachel from manhattan

i want a USEFUL app for everything MTA .. there are a few out there that are great for the subways but virtually nothing useable for the buses.

also, a great app for winding your way around central park (and/or various other parks)

Nov. 04 2010 11:51 AM
Jack from Brooklyn

Bus traffic: When will the bus arrive, if it will arrive?

Nov. 04 2010 11:50 AM

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