The City of Maple Ridge is making information available to the public through its open government portal. (Contributed)

Online code-a-thon to inspire innovation

Maple Ridge app contest running until March 26

This is the third installment in a series on innovation and emerging cities.

Techies who can create what city hall considers a “cool new app” could win themselves a share of $1,200 in prizes.

The City of Maple Ridge and ESRI Canada, a geographic information systems company, are hosting an online code-a-thon that is running from March 2 to 26.

The prizes will be awarded for apps, tools, and storyboards that use the city’s open data portal.

On March 2, the city held a launch celebration event for its online code-a-thon and the open government portal. The portal was created to engage citizens and is designed to increase access to information, city hall’s transparency and government accountability.

Karen Stewart is with Esri Canada, the city’s partner with the code-a-thon, as well as all the city’s GIS systems. She explained Esri has a hub program for smart communities, which was developed so cities can collaborate internally among their own departments, among stakeholders, then communicate with the public.

“It’s very new, and the City of Maple Ridge is the first municipality in Canada that is going to be using this technology for real, with the public,” she said.

“What we’re doing is packaging up tools and applications and collaboration methods, to focus on an initiative, which would be a policy goal in the community,” said Stewart.

“In the case of the code-a-thon, it’s for economic development. But as an example, a community could focus on addressing an opioid epidemic, vector-born diseases or Vision Zero [no traffic fatalities], and we’ve pulled together a bunch of apps that fit together to help solve that problem,” she added.

“You want to inform the public, you want to be able to interact with the public or engage with them, you want to monitor your progress, adn then you want to start all over, so you can focus on another initiative.”

Maple Ridge is hoping to get some high quality apps out of its code-a-thon.

“The unique and interesting thing about this code-a-thon is it’s not just the usual hack-a-thon where you bring people together in a room for a weekend and have them build random apps using your data,” said Stewart.

Maple Ridge is unique in having a four-week online code-a-thon.

“The students can work on their apps for four weeks, instead of trying to brainstorm and get it done in two days,” she said.

Students can log into the city website, access all the city data, and can use the Esri technology to build the apps.

Bruce Livingstone, the city business retention and expansion officer, said post-secondary students at SFU, BCIT, UBC and other such institutions have been given some themes for the apps – promote health and wellness through recreation, increase government efficiency and transparency, expand and support the local economy through tourism, environmental protection, citizen engagement and voter turnout, and promoting public safety.

“These are some ideas, and they have the data to do it,” said Stewart.

“Esri also augments their data with some demographic data through a partner of our’s called Environics Analytics, and also Stats Canada.”

David Cooke, the city manager of business solutions, said he is hoping to see good diversity in the apps.

He said the purpose of the code-a-thon is “to raise awareness, and also to stimulate and encourage competition and innovation, and to cultivate some skills in the local community.”

For the students, they will often use the apps they develop to demonstrate their expertise when they apply for future employment.

The top prize will be $300, and Livingstone said all the students will also benefit from some free prizes known as “random acts of pizza” throughout the competition.

Students can sign up using Facebook or Google.

The city says beginners are welcome, but you should have some understanding of what a code-a-thon is, how to access and use open date, and how to build an application. The deadline is midnight on March 26.

For more information, see http://economic-development-mapleridge.hub.arcgis.com/

Josef Hans Lara, chair of the economic development committee, represented those volunteers at the March 2 launch event. His committee has been working for the past year on the new Innovation in Emerging Cities initiative.

He said there are a lot of people who work in technology in Maple Ridge, and creating a strong tech industry is the goal.

“It’s actually transforming every single business and industry. So when we mean innovation, it’s broader than what people may think.”

He sees Maple Ridge as a place where there are young families and young professionals, who bring with them a spirit of entrepreneurship. His committee tries to support them with initiatives like changes to the home-based business bylaw, and he believes there will be many of these businesses come to light in the future.

“I think we’re going to discover there are a lot of entrepreneurs working in their own kitchens in Maple Ridge.”

Originally from Spain, he has lived in Montreal and Edmonton, but was attracted to Maple Ridge by lower house prices, proximity to Vancouver, the outdoor recreation opportunities and the school system.

Hans Lara works as a consultant for technology companies, and started to volunteer with the city.

“My first interest was helping the city to increase their expansion of fibre, so we could have more broadband width and communications, to attract more industry, and establish companies …”

He feels good progress is being made.

“The last two years, especially, have been very crucial in the committee work,” he said, adding that the code-a-thon is just the first of more coming events designed to inspire innovation.

• Maple Ridge is hosting an Innovation and Emerging Cities forum on April 4 at The ACT, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The forum is meant to be a catalyst to foster an innovative and creative culture for industry, government and education. It will feature keynote presentations from Steve Dotto on “How technology is changing everything” and Dr. Salvador Ferreras on what businesses need to do to prepare for “Industry 4.0.”

Panel discussions featuring leaders from industry, post-secondary education, First Nations and government will follow up keynote presentations.

The forum will also include a trade show, as well as the code-athon, involving students tasked with development apps for the city’s new open government portal (https://www.mapleridge.ca/1813/Open-Government-Portal).

A new website, innovate.mapleridge.ca, has been set up by the city to promote the free event, and on which participants can register.

 

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