As priorities change at the national level, it’s nice to live in a state with a strong municipal level of government — especially if sustainability is important to you.
Whether you care about clean water, land use, climate change, health or social equity, New Jersey’s 565 municipalities are working on the front lines with their communities to find solutions. Some 79 percent of New Jersey’s municipalities are participating in the Sustainable Jersey program.
Sustainable Jersey conducted a needs assessment and learned that towns wanted help improving their communications and engagement with local residents.
After all, an engaged citizenry working to implement sustainable practices is as necessary to a thriving community as a willing governing body. One way that Sustainable Jersey has set out to build capacity is by encouraging the use of innovative government technology tools. The challenge was to find a way to capitalize on the interest of municipalities while addressing their lack of staff and financial resources.
Working with a group of ten partners, Sustainable Jersey launched, Coding for Community, New Jersey’s first civic tech competition to match New Jersey’s talented technology community and these sustainability-minded municipalities for the development of solutions to sustainability and public engagement issues at the local level. With over 50 municipal needs submitted in the competition, more than 30 teams began developing solutions to address these local issues using technology.
Indraneel Purohit partnered with Haddonfield Borough on a solution called the Data Visualization Dashboard. Representing Team Dashability, Purohit said, “The Coding for Communities contest was an interesting way to partner with municipalities. We learned from the experience and created something that will enable municipalities to share their progress in the Sustainable Jersey program.”
Sustainable Jersey is excited to share the results of the Coding for Community competition.
Here are the team solutions submitted for the competition after the two-month development period (videos are available here):
- Encore Dev Labs (Competition Winner): Waste of Energy addresses a chronic overheating problem in the South Orange and Maplewood School District by collecting temperature data within classrooms and providing teachers with a way to report overheating by creating trigger alerts that are sent to school administrators, enabling them to take action and save energy. The Township of Maplewood received $2,000 for partnering and supporting the winning team.
- Team Dashability (Runner Up): Data Visualization Dashboard allows green teams to share their progress in the Sustainable Jersey certification process through easy to understand visualizations and ways to circulate them out through social media. Haddonfield Borough received $1,000 for partnering and supporting this second-place team.
- Boy Scout Troop 58 (Honorable Mention for Innovation): My Town Hall creates a program for Amazon Alexa to answer common questions about the municipality that citizens could use, while reducing the work load on Highland Park’s municipal staff.
- Hansen Unlimited (Honorable Mention for Presentation): Street Lamp Detection is a wireless network of street lamp sensors for the City of Perth Amboy to help the city detect outages and improve public safety.
- Bike View (Honorable Mention for the Creative Use of Data): Bike View provides a way to map and create visualizations of current bike accident and crash data in Princeton. It is currently being used by the Princeton Bicycle Committee and the Princeton Planning Department. The data will inform the Master Plan process and Access Princeton will integrate the crash data into their 311 system.
- City Bot (Finalist): CityBot is a way for citizens to ask specific questions about their municipality via Facebook Messenger.
- Jersey Boys (Finalist): Jersey Boys is an educational and reporting tool to ease the negative impacts of Jersey City’s combined sewer overflow flooding.
- Maniaco Software (Finalist): City Stories is a platform that allows a community to share its assets through creative digital story telling.
- PUMA (Finalist): Tree Log is a new version of an interactive tree inventory mobile app developed for the City of Camden.
- RADicals (Finalist): Alexandria Online Public Records & Forms developed a way for the Alexandria Township clerk to digitize certain municipal forms and make them interactive on the website.
- Trenton Business Portal (Finalist): Trenton Business Hub is an online hub that connects to the City of Trenton’s website to give investors and entrepreneurs a place to get the essential information needed to set up a business within the city.
- Turing Lovelace Hackers (Finalist): Vacant Lots is an online tool for citizens to express interest in the City of Newark’s municipal properties for sale.
- UrbanGrit (Finalist): App East Orange! is an online hub to support initiatives by the East Orange Green Team, including an online market place for local businesses, planning department documents, green team progress reports and more.
- Encore Dev Labs: Sustainable Outdoor Maintenance Jobs was created to support Maplewood Township’s overall goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing the use of leaf blowers. This platform connects volunteers with jobs needing to be done.
- Arts in the Park: Arts in the Park helps Highland Park support local artists beyond their physical art festivals by creating a virtual marketplace for local art goods
Sustainable Jersey is partnering on this project with the City of Jersey City, the City of Newark, Code for Trenton, Code for Jersey City, Code for Princeton, OpenGov, the New Jersey Innovation Institute, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Sustainable Princeton, New Brunswick Office of Innovation and HackerNest. The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Knight Foundation are project funders. AT&T provided $10,000 to Sustainable Jersey to use for prize money.
We believe there is merit to the old adage that “an informed citizenry is an engaged one.”
Our goal is to provide government leaders with new tools to help them strengthen or create the infrastructure to support citizen engagement.
The Coding for Community challenge was a promising first step; we look forward to continuing this work of creating a network between technologists and local governments. Already, the Maplewood Green Team has created a stand-alone technology committee to adopt and grow the solutions from this contest and several towns have expressed interest in bringing a number of these solutions to their community.
Lauren Skowronski is Director for Community Engagement at Sustainable Jersey.