Hack to End Homelessness: Organizing Tech Workers for Social Good

Volunteers begin working at Hack to End Homelessness.

Several months ago I wrote about why tech workers should care about housing issues. I argued that the tech industry can’t help but alter the character of the city, and that gives those of us in the industry an obligation to engage constructively in urban issues, especially around housing. Since then I co-organized an event, called Hack to End Homelessness, that showcases one way that the tech industry can have a positive impact on the city.

The centerpiece of Hack to End Homelessness was a weekend-long “hackathon”, a popular concept from the tech industry where participants come together in teams to rapidly build technology around some theme. For Hack to End Homelessness we partnered with a dozen non-profits working in homeless services and advocacy to design meaningful projects that volunteers could accomplish over a weekend.

Volunteers begin working at Hack to End Homelessness.

Volunteers begin working at Hack to End Homelessness. Photo by Sol Villarreal.

This model of collaboration was new to most of the non-profits, but by the end of the process the enthusiasm from both the non-profits and the volunteers was overwhelming. Over the course of the weekend 40 volunteers completed nine different projects. One group created an iPhone app to be used by Union Gospel Mission volunteers to survey and respond to the needs of people living on the streets. Another started a Twitter-like peer-to-peer support network that works on low-end mobile phones. A third built maps of housing expenditures, to be used for advocacy in the state legislature. A full list of projects, all of which directly addressed the needs of a non-profit, is available on our website.

Graham Pruss and Jeff Lilley demo their app for surveying the needs of people living on the streets.

Graham Pruss and Jeff Lilley demo their app for surveying the needs of people living on the streets. Photo by Dawn Stenberg.

My takeaway from this past weekend is that there’s a huge need for technology in the non-profit space and an untapped supply of interested tech workers. All that’s needed is to provide a bridge between the two communities. If you’re a non-profit looking for tech help, or a technologist looking to get involved, there are a few of local organizations you can look to, including Seattle Works, 501 Commons, Seattle GiveCamp and Seattle Tech4Good. And, of course, check back soon at hacktoendhomelessness.com for news on what we’re doing next around homelessness and other issues.

Sunday Video: 25th and Union Parklet


An adorable video about the Central District community coming together to build their parklet. We hope to see this become a success.


What We’re Reading: Hop On the Rollercoaster!


Rider Alert


The development keeps coming: It looks like Pioneer Square, Downtown, and even Downtown Kent (my hometown) will get some big projects soon. That empty parking next Pioneer Square? Consider it gone. We expect a classic brick building to grace the space instead. Rainier Square (part of the University Tracts) might just get a 50-story boot-like skyscraper. Guys, it comes with eco terraces!

North Rainier rezone: The rezone process for North Rainier has taken quite a few years, but this week the Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability listened to tons of comments on the rezone. It looks like the full Council could vote on the rezone later this month.

Take a ride on the rollercoaster: Earlier this week, Mayor Murray asked supporters of I-118 to drop their support, and some followed up within hours to do just that. Murray said that he was devising a plan to save the buses, but that it wasn’t Ben’s I-118. Some folks were rightly pretty pissed. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday got really, really weird–with Murray even dubbing Ben as the city’s “Transit Czar“. But then, last night we learned that Murray changed his tune by backing a Seattle-only measure, details we’ll find more about on Tuesday. Stay tuned.

Slip ‘n’ slide: Move King County Now may have joked about slip ‘n’ slides, but this English city got serious and put one together for fun. Maybe it isn’t such a bad idea.

Share the road: It was a busy week in cycling. On Wednesay, the Broadway Bikeway opened for cyclists. They Mayor announced that protected bike lanes would finally be coming to 2nd Avenue in Downtown, just before the launch of Pronto! in September. Which leads us to our next point: Pronto! On Tuesday, the sponsor (Alaska Airlines) and the brand for Seattle’s bike share system were revealed. Pronto! has a number of local community meetings coming up, so keep an eye out for those. Norway is running some clever ads to tell drivers to share the road. And, just in case you wondering: Idaho is apparently over 30 years ahead of us when it comes to cycling laws. It’s much safer for cyclist to treat stops signs as yields and read lights as stop signs.

Crosslake rail: Parson Brinckerhoff gives us an interesting rundown of the technical work that it will take to get light rail across Lake Washington. And Sound Transit is close to making a $43M deal with the University Washington for its light rail tunnels under the campus. It turns out those trains can be pretty disruptive when it comes to electromagnetism, and that’s not good for electron microscopes.

Bad tea leaves: Conservatives are still steaming over Agenda 21 in many states, despite the fact that the United Nations document is a set of non-binding principles for establishing sustainable development policies.

The maps are back: Curious about biking, walking, and transit use in the Puget Sound? Take a peek at this impressive set of Census information over the past 20 years. D.C. is making us look bad, they’ve got 250 miles of BRT and rail planned. And finally, watch London grow from Roman times to now.

After the Storm


Picture 2


You know how the 44 generally is around midday. Scattered students, errand runners, the occasional Ballard drunk and myself drifting back and forth on Market Street. Today’s Monday, and things have been mellow even for the start of the week, which is traditionally the quiet time for both traffic and customers. I’m passing the time pleasantly enough, but I feel a gauzy haze in between myself and my surroundings. Am I really here? The students tend not to go in for the whole community-building interaction thing. Maybe they just need an example. I continue my hellos and thank-yous as we wind down 45th, pushing further into afternoon.

All is quiet. That is, until a man appears at the Health Sciences Building stop on campus. He’s no student, though he does have a backpack, which he hurls bodily onto the bus prior to his making an entrance; the heavy black pack lands at my feet with a thud and he laboriously begins his trek up the four stairs. The Breda is only existing model in our fleet with four stairs, which sometimes throws blind passengers for a loop- all other coaches in the fleet have either three steps, or none.

My response to the backpack chucking is to ask him how he’s doing.

“Hel-lo! How’re you?”
“It’s Friday!” he barks, his voice inflected with the gravel and sandy grit of past decades. He is tall and lanky, perhaps sixty, the white-blond hair on his arms standing out against skin tanned and burnt like red leather. Jean jacket, worn, blue jeans and boots (but no horse or motorcycle!).
“It is indeed!” I reply. “We made it!”

He works his way down the aisle and stakes out a window seat, settling in for what will likely be a long, slow ride. He knows what he’s in for. We’re just getting into the part of the afternoon where traffic begins to multiply. West of Wallingford, the 44 is a breeze, with enough dedicated lanes and queue jumps to make it feel like a Sound Transit route. Getting to that stretch, however, is the challenge. The short section from 15th and 43rd to the other side of I-5 (three-fourths of a mile) can take up to thirty minutes. Forty-fifth Street spills over with cars interested in I-5, Roosevelt, and more, and the light cycles just don’t allow for the high volumes. There’s nothing to do but throw your hands up and enjoy it all. Regulars know how it is.

I’m surprised then, wondering how today, at the height of rush hour, we manage to get through in no time at all; in just twelve minutes or so we’re in Wallingford, pulling into Meridian and Burke.

In the crowded silence I hear him bellow out, “holy crap, we made it to Wallingford in three minutes!”
“I know, I can’t believe it!” I holler back. By three, of course, he means twelve; but it’s not about specifics. He sums up the 44’s traffic patterns and their effects in less technical terms. Clamoring with joyous abandon in a spirit the students nearby no doubt share, he roars: “we should all be CONSTIPATED back here!”

“It’s amazing!” I respond. “I must be doin’ something wrong!”
“On a Friday, too. How do you do it?”
“It’s like magic, only happens once in a lifetime!”
“S’posed to be constipated,” I hear him muttering. Hesitant smiles light up in my mirror, faces stretching the underused muscle of convivial strangerhood. Shifts in behavior, ways of seeing, arriving at the light comfort of being yourself- these begin as kernels of thoughts, haltingly planted in the loose soil of a passing moment. Change happens slowly in the mainstream, but it does happen.

Ready, Set, BUILD!! (collectively!)


Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a series on Baugruppen, private owners collaboratively building affordable multifamily projects. You can see part 2 here.Vaubanallee transit boulevard

Pictured about is Vauban, Freiburg, a district of baugruppen; photo courtesy of Payton Chung.

‘Where no satisfactory, affordable property is available, independent citizens are taking matters into their own hands and founding building cooperatives, which now play a forward-looking role in modern housing’ – detail [konzept: gemeinsam wohnen]

I’ve done a lot of sleuthing/stalking/translating of baugruppen (lit: building groups) since I blogged about them over 2 years ago. My interest/obsession/adoration for this type of urban innovation has only grown (and exponentially, at that). Some of those tasty morsels are occasionally posted on my twitter feed (@bruteforceblog). After a lengthy series of tweets on the merits of baugruppen, Alex Steffen thought it would be worthwhile to present 10 of the best baugruppen/baugemeinschaften I’d come across to date. I’ve instead collated a number of strong concepts I like about baugruppen/baugemeinschaften (many previously discussed, and not exclusive to BGs), which will be interlaced with demonstrative examples and links galore.

Now a number of folks have asked if baugruppen are co-housing, which gets a ‘yes, no, sort-of’ response from me. My knowledge of co-housing stems from the Danish model–low-rise housing (e.g. rowhouses) densely organized around common areas and/or a Common House, where group dinners and events occur. For the most part, baugruppen are multi-story, multi-family buildings (think condos) rather than detached or semi-detached housing. There is no requirement for community space or common facilities in baugruppen, though many incorporate them (commonly: gardens, community rooms, roof terraces). However, like co-housing, baugruppen incorporate a participatory planning process. The largest difference is probably that baugruppen are generally funded without developers (self-financed), whereas co-housing communities can be self-financed or developer-financed projects. In the end, mostly semantics, though I tend to think of baugruppen as urban constructs and co-housing as suburban/rural constructs. I’m aware that’s not entirely accurate, but this ain’t your post and my mind’s made up. For more on Danish co-housing history, check out this presentation by Grace Kim (pdf) or cohousing.org.

Baugemeinschaften are for the most part baugruppen–German can be fairly technical, but the terms are roughly equivalent. Utilizing both terms online results in more projects worth researching. For ease of reading, I’ll be using the abbreviation ‘BG‘ for both. In various offline discussions I’ve had over the last few years, I’m more and more convinced that forming a baugruppe would be an excellent way to get affordable, green digs tailored to your lifestyle, especially in cities with high land prices, without massive gentrification. In fact, short of city/state-owned development groups similar to Neue Heimat Tirol, I would venture it’s really the only way. Seattle could certainly benefit from their inclusion (hint, hint: local banks, DPD & City Council!).

Mike Eliason is a certified passivhaus designer, energy geek, and design nerd with an almost fetishistic interest in prefab wood buildings, low-energy architecture, social housing, and all things German. He has lived in Fremont for nearly a decade, and wants Seattle to become a greater version of Freiburg so his wife doesn’t force him to return to live in Vauban. He’s also begun the process of forming a baugruppe.

Riding and Running Heatmap


Strava Global Heatmap

Strava Labs is an online community of athletes that is collecting data about activities one person at a time. You can sign up for free, create a profile and then track your running or riding. Admittedly, that has very little to do with urbanism though. What they’ve done that is interesting, is actually make some of the data available for developers. One of the coolest things they made is a heatmap of where people are running and biking. Here’s the biking map for Seattle:

Strava Global Heatmap-biking

Keep in mind that this is likely mapping recreational rides, which could differ significantly from commuting. Additionally, there is a lot of data at Strava, but the map is for the entire world. It’s hard to say how much data was used for Seattle alone. With that said, there are some interesting observations. For example, why is there so much biking downtown but nearly none in Capitol Hill. If you look at the running map, the results are very different.Strava Global Heatmap-running

It is already a well-known fact that cities track bike and car use with counters. I’m not aware of any effort in Seattle to collect trip data via a smartphone app, but Oregon’s Department of Transportation (ODOT) recently purchased data from Strava and San Francisco collects data from an app called CycleTracks. A lack of data makes it much more difficult to plan for infrastructure. The amount ODOT paid, $20,000, seems pretty small. (And might even be lower if a motivated developer in Seattle built it…anyone?). If there was a custom made app made specifically for Seattle, it could differentiate between recreational and commuter uses as well as collect demographic information to put the data into context.

Any data like this will definitely have limits related to sample size and bias. It’s a well-known fact that commuting by bicycle is really important to lower income individuals, and it is likely a lot of these trips would be missed due to the additional cost of owning a smartphone.

Event Reminder: Ben Ross Presents “Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism”



Cul-de-sac’s literal translation means “bottom of the bag.” Book available for purchase online.

Many of you probably know that we have a weekly Tuesday meeting at Roy Street Coffee & Tea. But this week is different with a much better event in store for you on Wednesday (tomorrow); so consider tonight’s meeting cancelled. As we mentioned last week, Ben Ross will be in town to lead a discussion on urbanism and his book Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism. Even The Stranger thinks you should be excited about this, or else.

Ben Ross writes for Greater Greater Washington, which covers urban topics for the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. His talk will take place at The Elliott Bay Book Company beginning at 7pm. Feel free to drop by earlier though as many of us will be hanging out in advance. Afterward, we’ll have a follow-up happy hour and time for folks to mingle. So a bit about the event:

Co-presented with FRIENDS OF TRANSIT. Transit advocate Ben Ross has been the leader of the largest grass roots mass transit advocacy organization in the U.S. (Maryland’s Action Committee) for fifteen years. Ross travels to Seattle today to speak about his book, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism (Oxford University Press). Arguing that sprawl is much more than bad architecture and sloppy planning, he identifies smart growth, sustainability, transportation, and affordable housing as interrelated. The two keys to creating better places to live are expansion of rail transit and a more genuinely democratic oversight of land use.

If you need a reminder, be sure to add it to your e-calendar. We hope to see you tomorrow!

The Elliott Bay Book Company
Wednesday, 7 May
1521 10th Ave, Seattle
The event is free and open to the public

Pronto! Emerald City Cycle Share Revealed

Pronto Cycle Share
Model of the new Pronto! bike, courtesy of Pronto! Emerald City Cycle Share.

We’ve been anticipating the launch for the Puget Sound Bike Share (PSBS) for quite some time now, and we still have a while to go yet. But, yesterday we learned some great news from PSBS: the new name of the bike share system and the official sponsor. So, we’d like to welcome you to Pronto! Emerald City Cycle Share presented by Alaska Airlines. Yeah, that’s a mouth full, so we’ll just go with Pronto!. In a few short months, we will be seeing green and blue bikes with flashy Alaska Airlines fenders peddling around town.

Alaska Airlines’ contribution to the program isn’t chump change. Over five years, the city’s flagship airline will contribute $2.5M to help fund the bikes. But it isn’t just Alaska that has stepped up to get this bike share off the ground. Many other companies in the Puget Sound have put their money where their people are. We think this bodes well for future efforts to expand the program beyond the Phase I launch area.

Phase I is scheduled for a September launch, just in time for back-to-school. The initial system will rollout 500 bikes and 50 docking stations across Downtown, Capitol Hill, First Hill, South Lake Union, Seattle Center, Eastlake, and the University District. Last month, we wrote about how you could get involved in picking docking station locations. You still have an opportunity to do this by dropping pins or +1ing the suggestions of others for docking station locations in a simple-to-use crowdsourcing map.

The basics

Capitol Bikeshare MapThe new Pronto! website gives plenty of answers to basic questions about the program. In brief, this is what we think you should know:

Cost and time. The program will have three ways in which you can rent the bikes: a 24-hour day pass for $8, 3-day pass for $16, and annual membership for $85. All three pass types come with unlimited 30-minute bike usage. Riders are encouraged to make short bike trips and drop off their bike at a convenient docking station near their destination within this 30-minute usage period. Once you drop off a bike, you can always pick up another if your journey requires it. However, if a rider chooses to exceed 30 minutes of “free” ride time, the rider will be subject to additional fees based upon time (that fee schedule has yet to be released).

Docking. Docking is usually a cinch. Pickup and return of bikes is fairly simply, but depends upon whether you hold a 1-day/3-day pass or membership. Pass holders manage their checkouts of bikes at the docking station kiosk while members have a handy dandy key fob. Occasionally, docking stations may be full, which can be frustrating when you want to return a bike. Luckily, Pronto! will give you a 15-minute time credit if you request it at the kiosk of the full docking station. You can then ride to the nearest one with available docking ports.

Safety. Helmets are required safety gear for cyclists within the corporate limits of Seattle. Pronto! offers rental helmets at docking stations for $2 per use. That seems pretty steep if you’re riding a lot, so it may be wise to bring your own or invest in one! (Or you could always be a rebel, but we’re not recommending that…) In the event of a serious accident, the Seattle Police Department will return the bike on your behalf (because we know you were so concerned about that).

Technology. Yes, there will be an app for that! Cities all over the world have real-time apps that let you know where the closest bike is, how many bikes are available, and where you can return a bike; Pronto! will be no different. We hope to see an app similar to the one from the Capitol Bikeshare (as pictured above), which has some cool features like predictive bike supply and trends at individual docking stations. We’re also certain that there will be a web-based version to help you make your pickups and drop-offs seamless.

If you’re interested in getting updates on the rollout and future registration, be sure to get on the Pronto! e-mail list. As things move along, we’ll also keep you posted. Happy Bike Month!

Urbanist Advertising Partner: Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente

Urbanist Advertising Partner: Bike Works

Bike Works