There’s a fat gray cat at Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA) that’s been my friend for the past two days. She kept me (and 50 other people) company over the weekend during the Hacks/Hackers meetup, Great Urban Hack: The Tenderloin. Hacks/Hackers is a project funded by the Knight News Challenge that brings together journalists and techies to create new media projects and models. Over the weekend, the assignment was to divide into teams and create a new site, service, or medium to serve the Tenderloin community. On Sunday, teams presented their creations, which included:

  • Tenderlearn: a text-based service to connect Tenderloin locals who wanted to volunteer services or skills (e.g. teaching Farsi, cooking lessons) with those interested in learning.
  • Neighborizer: a system that would verify where people live by mail, and then if they live in your building or nearby you can be connected to them to get info.
  • TenderVille: a game that simulates what would happen if you opened a grocery store at Eddy and Taylor. You can choose options like accepting food stamps, making deliveries, etc, and the game shows how much money you’d make and where else people go to buy groceries.
  • We All Need: Tenderloin residents storytelling through audio recordings of on-the-street interviews.
  • TenderMaps: My team, on which I was the only “hack”, created a system that consolidates and compares maps of the Tenderloin hand-drawn by residents. We printed out 11″x17″ maps and walked around the neighborhood, asking people to draw on them with red Sharpie pens. We asked them to draw three different things: places in the Loin they love, the streets they walk on a daily basis, and where they feel their community lives.

Consolidated map of several peoples' fave Loin places

For the most part, people got the idea and got into drawing on the maps. But I found that the few people who only worked in the hotels, like the African valet-parkers at the Hilton, didn’t hang out in the hood much. They drove to work and then left. When asked for a favorite place in the Loin, the valet parker only offered the Starbucks down the street. Other residents were more enthusiastic, like the guy renting cars at the O’Farrell Garage. He said he loves the neighborhood, and he likes living further down Jones Street, where people don’t pretend they live in Nob Hill as they did when he lived at Sutter and Jones.

After collecting maps from people, we scanned them and then the programming wizards on my team somehow made them into a website. I have no idea how they made this happen, other than it involved Python. I don’t know if we’ll continue to add maps to the site, but it was a fun weekend and it was good to walk around and talk to people in the neighborhood about their favorite places. Of course, you guys can also let us know in the comments about your favorite places.

I hope that at least one project that came out of the weekend will materialize into a useful application for locals, whether it’s the mail-verified social networking of Neighborizer, or the on-the-street stories of WeAllNeed.