Last Saturday was the beginning of a new collaboration between the City of Oakland and its citizens. Some 70 Oakland volunteers gathered with 20 city staff at Oakland’s Popuphood HQ  in the shadow of City Hall. Working together, they produced a new, searchable community resource website. Find the beta version of Oakland Answers here.

Out of 226 questions submitted, over 160 were answered. City staff are still going over the content and vetting it, but the web site is expected to go official in the second half of June.

One of the funkiest questions asked: who do you call for a dead animal on the sidewalk?  And that was answered, too.

Steve Spiker, one of the event organizers, kicked off the event by explaining how the term ‘Hacking” was first used during World War II by mechanics that had to improvise parts to keep war planes flying. The idea of ‘civic hacking’ refers to current efforts to fix problems with local government by providing alternatives based on interactive mobile and web technologies that allow almost anyone to participate. “So what hacking is really about is making something amazing from things that maybe weren’t meant to be used in that way …. and it can be as simple as what we’re doing here today, said Spiker. “Civic Hacking is not about fixing aircraft, its about fixing our cities. So today we’re are all being civic hackers together.”

Cyd Harrell from Code for America spoke on the importance of design in involving people. She explained that although she was a San Francisco resident, she was happy to be working in Oakland on the project.

Last year, Harrell worked with Code for America fellows in Hawaii to produce a similar web site, Honolulu Answers. Harrell explained that  the interactive design of Honolulu Answers was “a real important transformation, not so much as a technology,  but as in the citizen’s experience….” Volunteer Heather Linn.

Volunteer Anna Linn attended from the beginning and liked the way the event was run. “This gave people a way to create content without and rules or parameters, so it was really what people were interested in. What I love about Oakland is that the community is all walks fo life, all types of people. And its a lot sunnier than San Francisco.”

She had one unfinished question at the Write-athon: ‘How many fairies are there in Fairyland?’ She said with a wink, “I looked and looked, but I couldn’t find an answer or figure it out.”

In a summary of ReWrite Oakland, Spiker told Oakland Local: “We set out to create a one day project for our city, but during the day we realized we’d created something much bigger than that- we built a wiki for our city that people can contribute to and maintain themselves. Next time you learn something useful that was hard to find… you can simply share it with us all. ”

Later, in a posting about the day at his blog, Spiker wrote: “The best result from today is the fact that we built something as a city together- city staff helping, contributing and writing content alongside librarians, tech developers, designers, retirees and advocates. This is what we’re working towards at OpenOakland- a city that slowly becomes more open to collaboration, open to deeper engagement and open to new ways of building and acquiring technology.”

View a full slideshow of photos  from ReWrite Oakland HERE.  All photos by Howard Dyckoff.

 Volunteers working on ReWrite Oakland at PopUpHood on Broadway.

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