Gangplank moved into the Pioneer Building only a few months ago, but it's already an energetic space. The people are relaxed and open, and thoughts flow easily there. This is the backdrop for the upcoming Code for Tucson event happening on Saturday, July 27 and Sunday, July 28. Code for Tucson is a weekend-long project that will bring citizens and government together in a collaborative environment with the intent to improve the community.
"This is the first time we've done this here," says Dan Stormont, one of the event's organizers. "I hope we can have more events like this in the future."
Stormont usually heads The Pineapple Project, which builds applications to help subsistence farmers in tropical and sub-tropical regions. He was part of the San Francisco Brigade program for Code for America, an organization launched by Jennifer Pahlka in 2012, when he lived in the Bay Area. There are Brigades in cities all over the country, and their goal is to create mobile applications, or 'apps', that help the government do its job.
Pahlka has been featured on TED Talks and Code for America has already made a difference with their apps, like Aunt Bertha (AuntBertha.com) which is a free program that helps citizens find food, health, housing, and employment programs based on their zipcode.
Another project, Textizen (Textizen.com), posts questions in public places, then collects citizen feedback through text message. Several apps have gone viral, spreading their resources around the world. And they were all created through the cooperation of regular citizens. Stormont hopes to bring this productive vibe to Tucson.
You don't have to know how to code to be part of Code for Tucson — anyone who wants to empower themselves and their city with positive change is welcome to the event. Participants will gather at Gangplank's location in downtown's Pioneer building at 9 a.m. on Saturday (Disclosure: Tucson Weekly is an "anchor" participant in Gangplank Tucson.). Project pitches will be announced that morning, and people can either choose to work on one of those ideas, or work on a project they already have in mind. Those with their own projects are encouraged to also assemble their own team.
Then participants will dive in, working together to solve one of the city's problems in the comfort of Gangplank's 'drop-in' space — an area usually reserved for those who want to hang out and work on their own projects. Materials and equipment will be provided by Gangplank, but coders may want to bring their own laptop to ensure that their preferred coding environment is available to them. Participants will work with city-provided data when creating helpful apps, further grounding these projects in the Tucson community. Epic Café is on board to provide lunch to contributors on Saturday, and Gangplank is still looking for other businesses to help sponsor the event.
Stormont looks forward to keeping the momentum going.
"You can't really finish a project in one weekend," he says. "In San Francisco we had civic 'hack' nights, where people continuously worked on projects, and new ones were pitched periodically. I think it would be a great idea for Tucson as well."
Tucsonans could meet regularly to build a community for civic change. And more coding means more progress for Tucson.
Projects can stall once they're handed over to government officials, but Tucson's government is already dedicated to the cause.
"It's difficult to get someone to take ownership of these ideas and take them over," says Stormont. "We're lucky to have Andrew Greenhill on board, and the City's IT Manager has been extremely supportive, attending all of Gangplank's meetings."
Andrew Greenhill is assistant to the city manager for Tucson, and helped establish Code for America. He currently serves on its board of directors, and also started OpenTucson, a non-profit startup with goals similar to those of Code for America. Mayor Jonathan Rothschild lends his support as well.
"Code for Tucson is good for the city and for our developer community, who meet and share ideas that can benefit all Tucsonans," Rothschild says.