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Councilman Wants Citizens To 'Hack The Highlands'

S. Brandon Coan
S. Brandon Coan

UPDATE: This event has been postponed because of the weather. Councilman Brandon Coan said he would announce a rescheduled date soon.

Louisville makes a lot of government data available online, and one councilman wants to use it to improve his district.

Brandon Coan, who represents neighborhoods including the Highlands and Germantown, will host a public hackathon Saturday at Bellarmine University. Volunteers from the Civic Data Alliance will be there to help Coan and constituent attendees answer questions about their neighborhood through the use of Louisville's Open Data Portal.

Coan said the Alliance's data experts can help address issues he outlined in his strategic plan when he took office last year.

"One of the things that they’re going to help me do this weekend is take a look at the network of trash cans on the street and try to help us figure out how to optimize that system," Coan said.

He would like to see more organization in the placement of public trash cans in District 8, with the hope of encouraging more cleanliness in the area.

Coan said attendees can also bring their own questions to the session. He is hopeful that help from the Alliance will allow him to make positive changes in District 8 using data.

"We might not solve every problem that I have in mind but we might come up with some new ones," Coan said. "Whatever we get out of it is such a value add, it’s such a win for me as a city council person because I don’t have access to those kinds of resources."

Although Louisville publishes nearly 200 datasets on its open data portal, the information they contain is at the city level — not specific to neighborhoods or districts. Coan said that makes it difficult for residents to find the most relevant details about where they live.

He said he is unsatisfied with the usability of the data available online as well as Louisville Metro's websites. The online experience is inferior to, say, the level of information and communication that comes with popular online pizza ordering trackers, he said.

"It’s interesting because the city gets all sorts of high marks for how good our online services are," Coan said. "The digital technology is not good enough so I'm interested in that area just as a consumer of these services myself."

For his part, Coan said he is trying to provide resources and education for his constituents through a dedicated section on his website where he shares curated data and documents.

Data experts stress the need for cities to release raw, unfiltered data that can be manipulated, rather than documents or charts. That's because any representation of data necessarily involves some interpretation by the party creating it.

"I don’t have any agenda other than to be as transparent and educational in my use of these data and documents as possible," Coan said. "I really want to try to empower people to understand how government works so they can put their own concerns and problems into context and maybe try to think about some solutions to their own problems."

"Hack the Highlands" is believed to be the first neighborhood-specific hackathon held in Louisville. The free event is open to the public and will run from 9 to 5 a.m. on Saturday. Nearly two dozen people had registered for the event as of Friday morning.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.