Summer of Smart

Second Summer of Smart hackathon tackles buildings, transportation and sustainability

GAFFTA Chairman Peter Hirshberg and Mayoral Candidate and San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu chat with the team. The team, including MIT SENSEable Cities Lab research associate Christine Outram, created an app that will allow tenants to compare commercial spaces on energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste disposal, the walkability, bikability or proximity to public transit and occupant ratings using data from LEEDS certification, Energy Star, and Public Open Spaces

GAFFTA Chairman Peter Hirshberg and Mayoral Candidate and San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu chat with the team. The team, including MIT SENSEable Cities Lab research associate Christine Outram, created an app that will allow tenants to compare commercial spaces on energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste disposal, the walkability, bikability or proximity to public transit and occupant ratings using data from LEEDS certification, Energy Star, and Public Open Spaces

Building data. It’s a small thing, but what if the buildings where we live, work and play were able to show us how they work? How much energy they use, what their carbon footprint is, how they compare to the building next door? Building data. It’s also a huge thing, a salvo in the data revolution that rages across the U.S. and brings the hope of transparent, agile and accountable government.

San Francisco has always been a proving ground for small ideas that blow up to impact the American landscape in ways no one could have predicted, from the hippies in the 1960s to the tech boom that is still ongoing. The current movement is challenging coders, data artists, designers and makers to find, create and illuminate available data to build apps, widgets and games to make the city better — to use civic hackathons to create experiments that have the potential to change the face of city government.

This puzzle is the basis of the Gray Area Foundation For the Arts (GAFFTA)’s Summer of Smart program, a three-month experiment in urban innovation that is bringing together developers, designers, city officials, urbanists, journalists, community members, and more to see what happens when you give ordinary citizens the tools to create change. GAFFTA, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that funds and creates experiments that build social consciousness through digital culture, along with the San Francisco Department of Technology, has created a living laboratory for a new model for how citizens and government can work directly together to address urban issues. It’s called Democracy 3.0, and it’s not limited to the West Coast anymore.

GAFFTA’s second urban hackathon was held over the weekend of July 22 to 24, and focused on sustainability, transportation, and energy.

One eye-opener for the 100 passionate citizen who showed up on Friday night was that the transportation sector is awash in data, (though it’s often not being used correctly or at all by the actual transportation agencies) while building data is such a morass of different formats and metrics that it’s impossible to work with.

“The reason we are talking about transportation and buildings is that the two of them account for a huge percentage of our country’s energy bill,” said Peter Hirshberg, chairman of GAFFTA. “In a city, buildings consume 40 percent of our energy bill, and about 30 percent of that could be saved if we knew what was going on. The problem is that we’re a little bit data blind. There’s just not that much information about buildings.”

In order to focus energy and attention on that problem, GAFFTA brought in experts to talk to the hackers about transportation, energy efficiency and city government.

Di-Ann Eisnor, a GAFFTA board member and executive at WAZE told the group about the how crowd-sourced traffic data is providing far more real time information about what’s happening on our roads than was ever available from government, sensors, or helicopter traffic services. “When you turn gathering traffic data into a game, and thousands of smart phone users play along, you are able to see what’s going on and manage traffic as never before,” Eisnor said. In keeping with the art spirit of things, she showed GAFFTA created visualizations of LA traffic data from the recent Carmageddon weekend.

Brandon Tinianov, CTO of Serious Energy spoke of buildings as machines full of data and manageable, but too often lacking the software layer and systems to allow building managers to do anything about it. His firm is a leader in providing industrial solutions to the problems, but he too called for a building data movement — to create awareness, open up more data, and to help cities understand how much better and more efficient buildings could be when attention was focused on working with the right data. “We can map bikes, trash, cars, but we can’t map buildings,” he said. “No one in this room knows what this building consumes or if it’s efficient.”

By Sunday evening, the seven teams had created projects that, in some ways, used available data to highlight what was missing. One team used available data to create a widget that will allow tenants of commercial buildings to compare sustainability factors such as energy use, waste generated and water consumed. Another group used data supplied by Muni to build an app that would allow line supervisors to use the same information that riders have to make on-the-fly decisions about trains and buses. Another takes information from building permits available on to create a picture of green building retrofit history in San Francisco. All in all, the teams were about evenly split between transportation and buildings, somewhat surprising given the difference in the amount of data that was out there between the two.

“This weekend was particularly interesting, because after searching for data, it became very clear that the transportation sector is way ahead of the energy sector, and part of this is demonstrating useful applications for the energy data: something I believe the weekend achieved,” said Christine Outram, research associate at the MIT SENSEable City lab. Outram and her team created, a site that will allow tenants to compare commercial spaces on energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste disposal, the walkability, bikability or proximity to public transit and occupant ratings using data from LEEDS certification, Energy Star, and Public Open Spaces. “The story of data needs to be told, because data provides value and insight. We have seen this happen in the transportation sector, where mobile applications and data analysis have resulted in a more convenient, efficient, and flexible transit system that doesn’t require the roll-out of additional infrastructure or vehicles. This is not enough though, we must continue to tell the story of data so that other sectors begin to understand the value proposition.”

Building data, on the other hand, is a confusing mess of formats, standards and metrics. In February, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee signed the Existing Commercial Building Energy Performance Ordinance, which requires owners of commercial buildings to determine how much energy a building uses and make that data available, but it doesn’t apply universally until 2013. Even the data that is currently available isn’t always in the same formats, a problem tackled by the North American Energy Standards Board (NAESB) and the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in their PAP10 project to create a data standard for energy usage.

“Government data is critical for the public in terms of transparency and accountability,” said Jay Nath, director of innovation at the San Francisco department of technology. While the projects that came from the weekend were all very good, Nath thinks they could have been even better if the data was there. “Data is the raw material for much of the work that happens at hackathons. Our goal as government is to increase access to data that is consistent with our privacy and security policies. Events like this can spur demand for data that can raise awareness within government.”

The other focus of the weekend, transportation, had almost the complete opposite problem: the groups were swimming in data, but the public transit agencies in the city don’t have access to it, or don’t actually use it. Emily Drennen, a current intern with Muni, decided to use the weekend to fix Muni: “You know, a small, manageable project.” Her idea was originally to find a way to allow train operators and line supervisors to access the same information that riders have, on, and use that data to make on-the-fly decisions to solve bunched up buses or clogged muni trains. But when they went down and actually talked to some of the Muni employees, it turned out that supervisors often didn’t even know when there was a problem, much less have the ability to solve it on the fly. “The people who are in charge are basically on their radios going ‘Roger roger’ and trying to get the information across,” said Matt Kroneberger, a Berkeley graduate student.

The Summer of Smart hackathons have drawn the attention of people across the city, from mayoral candidates to tech superstars and San Francisco-based corporations. Candidates Phil Ting, Joanna Rees and David Chiu stopped by the GAFFTA headquarters and all said that they want the innovative spirit of the hackathons to live on in their administrations, which is exactly what Hirshberg hoped would happen when he came up with the idea.

“The insight for summer of smart, for me, began when GAFFTA Executive Director Josette Melchor and I were talking to supervisors and mayoral candidates about open data and visualization and they looked at us and said, ‘well we’ve heard about that, but how does gov 2.0 help make a better city, make people be more healthy, solve social problems or make the trains run on time? What does it do for our voters?’,” Hirshberg said. “I realized that it was a classic case of us geeks being excited about something and the business users not having any idea what we’re talking about. This is a classic problem in technology marketing So I was really interested in making the people who are running for office clients for real live projects. If they said ‘these are the priorities,’ that would turn the geeks into people who actually understood what the real business use was. By making it a part of the campaign process, we’d create a lot of awareness. We’d be a laboratory for ideas that candidates might want to adopt – ideas worth stealing.” Candidate Phil Ting echoed this when he said, “When you are in a campaign, you are constantly looking to push the envelope and challenge yourself as well as the city and you’re looking for innovative ideas. In a campaign, it’s like policy entrepreneurship. Candidates, especially those of us who are running for offices we haven’t held, we’re looking to identify issues that we can champion and that we can work on and I think that’s happening a lot in this campaign.”

While that sounds idyllic, you might be forgiven if your experiences with city government have made you a bit cynical. However, in this case it’s actually working. Remember that Muni app, created in a weekend by seven regular citizens? On Sunday evening, the groups presented their apps to an audience including Melanie Nutter, Director of the San Francisco Department of Environment. When the conversation turned to the potential to offend a city IT staffer, Hirshberg turned to Nutter and asked, “You work for the city, are we in trouble yet?” Nutter’s response? “I’m part of the [Muni] strategic planning team and I think this is a great thing.”

SF developers, journalists, civic activists kick off second Summer of Smart hackathon

Summer of Smart

It’s 9:15 on Friday night, and there are about 100 people milling around the GAAFTA headquarters. Wandering around, you hear one group talking about using current and historical MUNI data to, in the words of GAFFTA’s co-founder and Chairman Peter Hirshberg, “make the bus chase you, rather than you chase the bus.”

Another group is creating an app that works with the Mayor’s office of Housing and Redevelopment to show available apartments and co-working spaces in realtime. A third group wants to crowdsource available sustainability data to compare buildings in the city.

GAFFTA’s second Summer of Smart hackathon is off and running, and it’s bringing together architects, building engineers, journalists, Android developers – pretty much anyone you can imagine who might be interested in making their city a better, more responsive and more innovative place to live.

The first SoS, held the weekend of June 24th, focused on community development and public art. Of the seven projects that hackers put together over the roughly 24-hour hackathon, about half are still being worked on a month later, a much higher percentage than most hackathons have, says GAFFTA research director Jake Levitas.

What makes SoS different? It’s by design, says Hirshberg. “We picked areas that matter to the city,” he said, “Where you would naturally get geeks and activists who cared so they would stick around and become part of the dialogue. Some hackathons are more commercial, sometimes you’ll have one that’s around social media data and everyone shows up to show off the API from their startup. But this one is pulling people from the community, and so you get this really interesting group of people who really care about this type of data who have more of a diverse background, and are interested in producing results at urban scale.”

The final SoS hackathon, focusing on public health, food and nutrition, will be held the weekend of August 19th. The best projects from the three weekends will be presented to city officials and mayoral candidates at the Commonwealth Club on October 6th.

GovFresh guide to SFOpen 2011

SFOpen 2011

SFOpen 2011 brings together the 2011 San Francisco Mayoral candidates for a discussion on open government, civic engagement, technology and innovation. Participating candidates include Michela Alioto-Pier, John Avalos, David Chiu, Bevan Dufty, Tony Hall, Dennis Herrera, Joanna Rees, Phil Ting and Leland Yee and will be moderated by Mitch Kapor. The event will be held June 16 at Automattic (registration). SFOpen 2011 serves as the kick-off for San Francisco’s Summer of Smart, “a four-month experiment in urban innovation and open government.”

Submit your questions

Candidates will be asked selected questions crowdsourced from the community.


SFOpen 2011 will be livestreamed June 16, 5:45 – 7:30 p.m.:

Twitter hashtags


San Francisco Open Government Pledge

Prior to SFOpen 2011, candidates were asked to commit to a San Francisco Open Government Pledge and the following did:

  • Joanna Rees
  • Phil Ting
  • Dennis Herrera
  • Leland Yee
  • David Chiu
  • Bevan Dufty
  • Michela Alioto-Pier
  • John Avalos

Candidate Tony Hall did not commit to the pledge, but offered this statement in place of:

“While I don’t sign others’ pledges (only my own), I absolutely agree with the spirit of the language and just wish it were tougher on corruption. I hope you will note my reasons for my decision.”


San Francisco Mayoral Candidate Commitment to Open Government

Open government is the movement to improve government by making government more transparent, participatory, collaborative, accountable, efficient, and effective. Open government will help build the public’s trust and satisfaction in government, will improve government’s delivery of services, and will create new opportunities for innovation.

I, _______________________, commit to support the following principles of open government:

Transparency: To increase accountability, promote informed public participation, and create economic development opportunities, the city shall expand access to information
Participation: To create more informed and effective policies, the city shall enhance and expand opportunities for the public to participate throughout decision-making processes.
Collaboration: To more effectively fulfill its obligations to citizens, the city will enhance and expand its practices of cooperation among city departments, other governmental agencies, the public, and non-profit and private.

With the rise of new technologies and an increasingly connected population, a growing pressure has been placed on government leaders and government entities to adopt these open government principles. I will take steps to ensure San Francisco meets these demands and supports citizens’ needs.

By supporting open government efforts, San Francisco will build on and enhance opportunities for citizens to inform government; will further develop the city’s transparency and accountability; and develop a platform to support innovation.

Furthermore, I will support developing a legal framework to support open government, and I will ensure open government efforts are appropriately funded and managed, which will help build a culture of open government.

San Francisco is already a leader in supporting innovation through sharing government data and is a leader in the open government movement.

I will ensure the city and all of its departments continue in this direction to create the model of local open government.

I commit to working with city officials and the public to ensure open government and innovation continue to grow in San Francisco.


Mitchell KaporSFOpen 2011 will be moderated by Mitch Kapor. Kapor is a pioneer of the personal computing revolution and has been at the forefront of information technology for 30 years as an entrepreneur, software designer, angel investor, and activist. He is widely known as founder of Lotus Development Corporation and the designer of Lotus 1-2-3, the “killer application” which made the personal computer ubiquitous in the business world in the 1980s. Other organizations in which Mr. Kapor has played an important role include UUNET (founding investor), the first successful independent commercial Internet Service Provider; the Electronic Frontier Foundation (co-founder), which protects freedom and privacy on the Internet; Real Networks (founding investor), which pioneered the use of streaming media over the Internet; the Mozilla Foundation (founding Chair), maker of the open source web browser Firefox; and Linden Research (founding investor, Board Chair), the creator of the first successful open virtual world, Second Life.


David Chiu

David Chiu“For open government to mature, San Francisco needs a mayor who speaks the language of the tech community and believes deeply that technology can engage a sometimes disconnected public – and make government work better in lean budget times. As the former founder of a small technology company, I am uniquely suited to be a mayor who makes San Francisco the undisputed leader on open government.”

GovFreshTV interview

Connect with Chiu

Bevan Dufty

Bevan Dufty“More than ever, trust in government is built upon openness, transparency and accountability. As Director of Neighborhood Services and Supervisor, I have honored that trust. You have my pledge to be the most open, transparent and accessible mayor in our city’s history.”

GovFreshTV interview

Connect with Dufty

Tony Hall

Tony Hall“We must take on the powerful special interests that have undue influence at City Hall. The best way is to have an open and transparent government that is unafraid of scrutiny, because it is always striving to serve its people. All city departments must have sunshine policies and public input.”

GovFreshTV interview

Connect with Hall

Dennis Herrera

Dennis Herrera“Open Government – transparency, participation and collaboration – is essential to San Francisco’s success as a modern city. Transparency ensures honesty and trust in our system of governance; participation recognizes the essential nature of our democracy and incredible creative input of our residents; and collaboration means effective governance – sharing resources, ideas and best practices with federal, state and other local agencies and the private sector to ensure San Francisco is a city that works.”

GovFreshTV interview

Connect with Herrera

Joanna Rees

Joanna Rees“An effective government must clearly communicate its goals and actions. I support an open and transparent government that gives people with good ideas the tools they need to actively participate in the dialogue and move our city forward. I will create an environment at City Hall that requires transparency and encourages innovation and new ideas.”

GovFreshTV interview

Connect with Rees

Phil Ting

Phil Ting“Better policy is too important to leave to politicians alone. True Gov 2.0 must go beyond press releases and change how we elect leaders and how we hold them accountable. That’s what Phil Ting’s is all about ­– unlocking the power of User Generated Government to change how we campaign and how we govern.”

GovFreshTV interview

Connect with Ting

Leland Yee

Leland Yee“Dubbed “Senator Sunshine” by California Aware, Senator Yee is a staunch advocate for government transparency. His legislation includes; the Higher Education Accountability Act , whistleblower and student speech protections; requirements for UC and CSU auxiliaries/foundations to adhere to the public records act; open court filings, and strengthening of the Brown Act. He has been awarded the Freedom of Information Award from the California Newspaper Publishers Association, Beacon Award by the First Amendment Coalition, Freedom of Information Award by the Northern California Society of Professional Journalists, Sunshine Award by the San Diego Society of Professional Journalists.”

GovFreshTV interview

Connect with Yee

John Avalos

John Avalos“Government only works when the people it is designed to serve not only have faith in it, but are moved to participate in it. As Mayor of San Francisco, I will ensure that the city deeply embraces and vigorously enforces open government, anti-corruption, and ethics laws. At its best, government both speaks and listens to its people. Technology, including open source technology, allows us to leverage new forms of communication in exciting new ways and can expand the conversation to include all San Franciscans. It is the responsibility of government, and also of open government activists, to continue the work of bridging the digital divide and ensure that new technologies are accessible to all of our communities. By doing this we can ensure that government affairs include the input of the people and that all San Franciscans are empowered to engage one another and those who are tasked with governing our city.”

Connect with Avalos

Michela Alioto-Pier

Michela Alioto-Pier“I believe in Open Government, not just for Supervisor’s meetings and public records, but in Open Government that harnesses the new ideas and creative energy of citizens to solve problems. The more information we can make available, the more San Franciscans can participate and help find solutions those in government haven’t yet found.”

Connect with Alioto-Pier





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For questions, contact:

  • Brian Purchia (202.253.4330)
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