Friday, February 20, 2015

City of Holyoke Featured in Global Urban Datafest: Smart Cities Challenge

On Saturday February 21, technologists, business strategists, policy analysts and designers will converge at Harvard Business School to invent and pitch ideas for challenges faced by two Massachusetts cities: Holyoke and Somerville. The event, the Global Urban Datafest: Smart Cities Challenge, is one of twenty simultaneous competitions in cities around the world. Unlike a traditional hackathon, where students rapidly code new apps and websites, this event aims to leverage the diversity in expertise across graduate schools in Boston.

Working with representatives from the Harvard Business School and Kennedy School, staff from the Office of Planning and Economic Development identified this approach and use of technology as a way to aide in solving these challenges faced by pedestrians traveling in downtown Holyoke.

“Every winter, municipalities across the Commonwealth face unique difficulties that arise from increased snow accumulation and limited resources available to address these challenges,” Mayor Alex Morse said. “Our office is regularly contacted by the public to remove snow from sidewalks outside of vacant buildings, which create difficulties for pedestrians and puts pressure on limited city resources. While we continue to address code enforcement concerns, we’re also excited to see how technology and innovation can be used to solve these problems and ultimately enhance the quality of life in Holyoke.”

“The results of this hackathon will complement ongoing efforts that aim to improve the pedestrian experience in Holyoke, like the Complete Streets ordinance, public infrastructure upgrades and the support of new private investment and destinations in the most walkable neighborhoods of the City” said Marcos Marrero, Director of Planning & Economic Development. “The technology to help address these problems exists, we just have to think creatively to see how it could work for Holyoke.”

By using technical solutions in a way that improves services for citizens but is also cost-effective for governments, teams of students and community members will be asked to combine tools like design thinking and rapid prototyping to create concepts with strong value propositions for both cities and citizens. At the end of the day-long event, participants will present their recommendations to a panel of city representatives and other experts. The winners will receive ongoing support and mentorship to implement their ideas, as well as move on to become finalists in the global competition.

For more information about the Smart Cities Challenge, including registration and event details, please visit the event page at

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