HopHacks participants will pursue solutions for cities

At biannual hackathon, many will develop apps aimed at improving urban living

Students sit with laptops on their desks

Image caption: Students in the Hodson auditorium watch presentations by their fellow hackers

Credit: Shiv Gandhi / Homewood Photography

Shani McPherson
Office phone
(510) 393-7159

More than 300 undergraduate and graduate students from across the country will gather at Johns Hopkins University this weekend for HopHacks, a biannual hackathon event that challenges students to work intensively on a technology- or software-based design.

Held every fall and spring on the university's Homewood campus, this year's HopHacks features a new design track: the Civic Hack challenges participants to develop apps aimed at improving urban living.

"Baltimore is a city of millennials, and we're fortunate to benefit from their energy, enthusiasm, and innovative approach to identifying solutions that make city living better."
Catherine E. Pugh
Mayor, Baltimore City

Sponsored by the Maryland Institute College of Art and the Baltimore City IT Department, the Civic Hack will use Lutèce, an open-source platform created by the City of Paris. The platform is free for cities to use and boasts 400 out-of-the-box modules designed specifically for city government needs, including a participatory budget, reporting platforms, and website design. Experts from the City of Paris' IT department will lead a workshop on how to use the open-source platform immediately following the HopHacks kickoff on Friday evening. These specialists will be on hand throughout the 36-hour hackathon to offer technical support.

For inspiration, community liaisons from the Baltimore City Council have compiled a list of real-world, high-priority community issues that need solving, and hackers will have access to city data.

"Baltimore is a city of millennials, and we're fortunate to benefit from their energy, enthusiasm, and innovative approach to identifying solutions that make city living better," said Catherine E. Pugh, mayor of Baltimore City. "Smart city government means depending on smart individuals who offer approaches that might not have been considered. I'm eager for the good ideas and insights that students here in our community will generate, and those from across the country, and welcome the best ideas that will support our efforts to move our city forward."

Baltimore City officials—alongside those from MICA, local community organizations, and the City of Paris—will judge the Civic Hack competition. The winning team will receive in-kind prizes valued at $1,000, as well as opportunities to collaborate with the BCIT public sector to prototype their products. Students who don't participate in the Civic Hack competition are also eligible to win a $1,024 grand prize, a $512 second place prize, and a $256 third place prize.

Though hackers are free to work on any application throughout the weekend, student organizers anticipate significant interest in this new challenge. Andrew Wong, a HopHacks student organizer, said he's excited about what's possible when university students partner with their communities.

"HopHacks and Hopkins students are part of a unique intersection between a university environment and the Baltimore community," he said. "As part of both communities, we are enthusiastic about pushing students to use the skills they learn here and elsewhere to give back to our city. The Civic Hack theme, coupled with the versatile platform Lutèce offers, provides an opportunity for our participants to contribute meaningful work to our city that continues past the duration of the hackathon, and be inspired by seeing first-hand how impactful their work can be."