7 Brilliantly Simple Technology Ideas To Improve Cities–Time To Get Hacking

From a snow plow tracker to paying traffic tickets from your phone, here are some simple ideas that could help us live better–with the help of the devices we all carry around.

You want good civic tech ideas? The people have good civic tech ideas.


Code for America and Mindmixer have been running Ideation Nation–an online brainstorm to find tech fixes for cities–since the beginning of the month. People have posted 300 ideas so far.

“We’re going to make the [best] 25 available to Code for America’s 3,000 volunteer designers and hackers,” says Nick Bowden, Mindmixer’s CEO. “They want to build stuff for communities.” You can submit your own idea till October 31. The overall winner gets prize money, and support to develop the idea.

Below are some of Bowden’s favorites so far.


Mobile Payments For Minor Infractions

Bowden recently went out of state for a family reunion, and got a speeding ticket. It turned into a hassle to pay it when he got home. Paying on the spot with a mobile payment system (like Square) would be simpler for everybody. “By allowing the option of immediate payment of the fine, it should significantly increase the amount of money actually received from violations and reduce the amount of effort that needs to go into collecting unpaid violations,” says the submission.

Customizable Mobile App

Cities could look a little better viewed through our smartphone screens. “There are 18,000 cities and very few of them have good mobile [sites],” says Bowden. This mobile app would be customizable, so cities wouldn’t need to hire in contractor staff and have a procurement process. They could fill in information about, say, transit, events, accommodation, restaurants, maps, themselves. “It’s a platform that they can use to quickly repurpose,” Bowden says.

Find The Safest Routes For Running And Riding

User-generated maps of safe running and cycling routes could encourage more people to get active.


A Clearing-House For Leftover Food

The city could easily set up an online clearinghouse for food that’s about to be wasted (like this). Individuals and businesses would post what they have available and food nonprofits would pick the items up. A mapping app would track the location of all the food.

Verified-voter polling app

An online system enabling verified citizens to vote on “issues before government,” says the submission. “Provide this in a secure manner that government officials could then view and know what their constituents think on the matter.”

Real-Time Snow Plow Mapping

“We’re in the Midwest, so snow is a big issue for us,” says Bowden. “This would give us the ability to see when the streets are going to be plowed–a real-time snow plow locator. In Omaha, we don’t have that at the moment.” More here.


Phone-Charging Street Furniture

Phone-charging street furniture–like this project in Serbia–would encourage people to spend time in parks, and help out people who go somewhere and run out of phone juice. “Let people get a quick charge on their smartphone so they can continue to see the city without getting lost,” says the submission.


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.


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