Sketch City: New Home for Houston’s Civic-Minded Tech Entrepreneurs

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for two years, bouncing from office to office,” Reichman says. “We regularly have 50 people show up each time, and it’s difficult to book a new place every month.”

Despite the reputation of government workers as out-of-touch and unbending bureaucrats, Reichman says the hackathon projects have been warmly embraced by city employees. “There are some really incredibly creative people working for the city who come to these meetups and participate in projects,” he adds.

The hack nights had been funded through an affiliation with the Code for America Brigade program. Now, those local Brigade chapters are being asked to become self-sufficient, Reichman says. Sketch City is a way to keep those hacking projects going.

I first met Reichman in May 2013, shortly after Xconomy founded the Texas bureau, at a city-wide hackathon aimed at using technology to make the city serve its constituents better. Nearly 300 professional and amateur software developers formed 26 teams tackling projects such as apps that would provide a comprehensive list of the city’s bike trails, a better way to seek out and pay for city permits, and an online database for real-time restaurant inspections.

Right now, the hackers are working with the city on two apps—one that would send out calendar alerts when the city has recycling and heavy trash pickup, and another that links residents to Houston Police Department services, such as searching for towed vehicles or combing jail records.

Recently, the group began to hold monthly hackathons featuring a theme. Last week, the hackers focused on transportation issues. “We’re planning a media-hack night in January, sustainability for the next month,” he says. “We have democracy and public health coming up. The goal is to bring it all together at the annual City of Houston Hackathon in May.”

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