Rotterdam Park Hackathon

Last weekend, I had the chance to join a Park Hackathon organised by my colleagues at TU Delft (OpenData Lab Rotterdam) as part of the CAPSS EU project Open4Citizens.
The participants came from different backgrounds: civic activists, public administration, communities around Rotterdam and researchers.

Four parks, all part of the envisaged Groene Connectie (the Green Connection) were targeted:


Before the hackathon, I had a bit of time to explore two of the parks. While Park 1943 is a “normal” park in an area with schools and apartment blocks, Dakpark is not your usual park. The municipality and the citizens had very different ideas about how to regenerate an area that was falling into dereliction: while the municipality wanted a long row of shops, the locals wanted a park. In order to reach a compromise, the park was built on top of the shops: that’s where the name- roof park – comes from.








The hackathon was meant to reveal what kind of data could be accessed, collected, shared, reused in order to respond to current needs and allow the collaboration to improve.

We started with presentations of  the parks  and their current problems on Friday afternoon. As most of the talks were in Dutch, I had to guess, look at slides and Google a lot to make sense of what was going on. When groups with mixed expertise formed, I joined the group working on the Dakpark. People were very nice to me and I finally got a summary of the previous discussions in English, but then people shifted naturally back to Dutch. Once tuned in, I realised I understood a lot more. For people who don’t use English frequently, switching can prove difficult.

After the end of the project that involved building the shops and the park, the municipality is claiming that from now on, it is the responsibility of the citizens/volunteer to maintain it and does not see supporting them as a priority. And although a lot can be done with volunteer work, infrastructural elements and other logistic issues are not so easy to deal with without any support whatsoever!

The details of what happened and what was discussed were thoroughly documented by the project team. What I want to share here are just my thoughts on this type of events. I am a big fan of barcamps, design jams, hackathons and so on, because they give you the chance to meet new people and learn new things outside of our academic environment. Most of the time, people choose to go to such events rather than feel obliged to attend.

But other than the fun and the networking, what is the value of such events?
In this case, the researchers committed to this type of work sessions as part of their project. They organised and documented everything, played the hosts, kept the time and so on.

IMG_20161105_122252 IMG_20161105_122301
Many of the attendees already knew each other, but it was also an opportunity, especially for the people talking on behalf of the organisations involved in park maintenance,

to tap into new types of expertise and get others to work on their problems for free.
An important finding was how efficient data is when you need to persuade someone, and how relatively easy it is to contribute to  open data repositories. Networking appeared as a natural solution for finding what kind of data exists out there in the open and how it can be made sense of.

It was interesting to watch people working in the public administration how they listened to problems – many times outside the remit of their own departments, and how knowing the administration inside-out, they were able to suggest creative solutions. Also, I noticed how their know-how was simply bursting out in response to the problems formulated – some things appeared as obvious to them, but they weren’t at all obvious for their group counterparts.

IMG_20161105_122314Over the two days, the possible solutions continued to change and evolve: what seemed a brilliant idea on day 1 was then rejected and reconsidered on the second day.

As an outsider, I wasn’t aware of the local war stories that people kept on mentioning, so I had to ask to find out the MacDonalds saga. For locals, it was impossible to imagine that someone wouldn’t be familiar with it! There was also the language barrier, which I haven’t encountered in a good while (not since I was working with Folkuniversitetet in Sweden many moons ago), but I was able to get the general gist. When I felt totally lost, I waited for the right moment to sneak in a question or to offer an idea in English.

There’s a special sort of energy at such events. I feel really involved and my neurons fire. I can’t speak about a hackathon addiction – like this young lady -but I never had a bad experience with a hackathon. There’s always stuff to do, interesting people to listen to, and some ideas that give you a sense of achievement.



In my case, this was simply field work. I was interested to see co-design at work in a different environment than cultural heritage. I looked for the pitfalls. As an outsider, it was easier to ask myself: “Who’s in control? Who benefits?”, keeping the work of Vines and his colleagues at the back of my head.

And parks, after all, are closely related to topics I relate to: sustainability, communities, DIY, growing and sharing food, planting fruit trees in cities and so on.

I am really grateful to Ingrid Mulder for embedding me in her team and giving me the opportunity to participate in this event while on sabbatical at TU Delft!

November 07 2016 04:45 pm | sabbatical

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