Gary is turning to the public for help in sifting through data to help improve the city.
Today, from 2:30 to 4 p.m., the city is hosting the first Gary Hack Night in Room 1156 at the Indiana University Northwest Dunes Professional Building. The event is free to the public.
The idea is to bring together local data users, technology developers, community-based organizations and residents to find the best way to use open government data.
"We're trying to get everyone together and ask what does the community want to do with this information," said Richard Leverett, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson's interim chief of staff.
"These hack nights are ways to start a conversation about open data for people to use. It could range from potholes to business licenses," Leverett said.
Gary is increasingly becoming a data-driven city. With the assistance of college students, the city has been accumulating data on the city's housing stock, especially vacant buildings. The database will allow residents to learn the status of vacant homes in their neighborhood.
Another program uses the city's new 311 reporting system, in which residents use the Gary311 smartphone app, the 311 responder website or call (219) 881-1311 to report graffiti, burned property, abandoned houses, flooding, excessive noise, loose trash and more. The app uses the phone's GPS location, asks for a short description and allows the user to take a photo as well.
Other data will come from the city's demolition and code enforcement records, redevelopment surveys, the Lake County assessor's office and the U.S. Census.
Today's Gary Hack Night begins the process of discussing how to use this data to improve the quality of life and make government more efficient.
"There's a ton of stuff out there, and we need to look at what questions we can answer with open data," Leverett said.
That's a smart approach, because encouraging the public to analyze the data — which is public information, after all — can result in solutions the city's staff might not be able to develop on their own.
It also builds respect for the government, which is a key benefit that must not be overlooked.