Hackers use their skills to make Chicago more `user-friendly` - Chicago News and Weather | FOX 32 News

Hackers use their skills to make Chicago more `user-friendly`

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Usually when you think about computer hackers, you think of people doing something illegal with your bank account, but now, a group of people are redefining the term by using their technology skills to develop useful websites that will benefit people living or visiting Chicago.

It's called "civic hacking" and the city is partnering with private groups and volunteers to try and make life better in Chicago. It's part of the Smart Chicago Collaborative that has already developed more than 50 apps all aimed at solving city problems, while fostering open government.

All the information used in the apps comes from public city data bases. It's a trend that more and more cities across the country are doing, but Chicago is among the leaders.

If you've ever had your car towed and wondered where it was taken, you are not alone. Who can forget the frustration shared by hundreds of people after the blizzard of 2011 when their vehicles were towed and it took days for some people to find them?

Wasmycartowed.com wasn't available then or it might have alleviated a lot of angst. Now, using city data, the website allows you to find your towed car simply by putting in the license plate.

It's an app developed by volunteers working at hack nights sponsored by Open City Apps in cooperation with the Smart Chicago Collaborative.

"We have web developers, designers, data analysts and community organizers that come together to come together to talk about civic issues and how we can use our technology skills to solve those problems," Smart Chicago Collaborative's Christopher Whitaker explains.

One of the projects some hack night teams are working on is an open trip planner app similar to Google maps, but one that making using the new Divvy Bikes a lot easier by incorporating info about bike stations.

"So it can give you walking directions to that particular spot, and then it can also give you biking directions from one station to another, so it's all, sort of encompassing in one spot," Derek Eder of Open City Apps says.

Other available apps include chicagocouncilmatic.org which allows people to track legislation by subject or by alderman.

There's another to help find flu shot locations, and one to track complaints about food poisoning on Twitter.

"So if you go to Twitter and complain about food poisoning we have a listener for that, some software that listens for that and we tweet back at you including people from the Chicago Department of Public Health," Executive Director Daniel O'Neil says.

That app would provide info to the Health Department so it could send an inspector to the restaurant in question.

If want to volunteer to be a part of focus groups to test out possible apps being developed, click here.

To see all the available Civic Data Apps, click here.

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