Takeaways from Seattle's "A City for All" Hackathon

A hacker talking with an elderly community member. Copyright Michael B. Maine

A hacker talking with an elderly community member. Copyright Michael B. Maine

On Saturday September 23, as a part of National Day of Civic Hacking, cities all across the country came together to devise solutions for their communities’ toughest challenges. “A City For All” was the theme of the hackathon hosted by the City of Seattle in partnership with the AARP’s Washington chapter and Sound Generations.

The hackers gathered at City Hall and split up into nine different teams, each creating a different tool. “The City of Seattle is asking local techies, urban designers and planners to come together to think about how we can make our community more age-friendly through the use of data,” said AARP Washington Community Outreach Director Amanda Frame.

Here are some of our key takeaways from the City for All Ages Hackathon:

Transportation assistance is essential to well-being.

While all of the projects tackled different problems, transportation continued to come up as a central concern for seniors. Sometimes the hardest part for seniors is finding a ride.  To solve this problem, a team called “Speedy Wheels” created a tool that allows seniors to request rides from several different services with a click of a button—as opposed to calling each different service.

In addition to requesting transportation, many of the tools also focused on the comfort and experience of taking and waiting for public transportation. One team focused on making a tool to search amenities including benches and roofing for bus stops. Considering that one of Seattle’s bus stops was just awarded the “Sorriest bus stops in America,” the city needs this information documented and easy to search more than ever.

Seniors face isolation—so tools can help promote emotional well-being.

We brought the hackers snacks! Copyright Michael B. Maine

We brought the hackers snacks! Copyright Michael B. Maine

The importance of feeling connected to peers and to the environment was also a central focus of the hackathon. For instance, the tool that won Best Overall Innovation was “Pandora for Streets/Smellevation,” which focused on providing seniors the option to take the most enjoyable route somewhere as opposed to just the quickest. By crowdsourcing, the app showed which streets were the most pleasant to walk–taking into account experiences such as smells, sidewalk features like fountains, and any steep hills that might make a walk more arduous.

“Reflect and Connect” was a tool also focused on well-being. The feelings and wishes seniors write out are read by the software which then generates related activities nearby and groups they can attend. This information provides seniors an opportunity to both reflect and connect—which are vital to a person’s well-being. Hackathon participant Yes Segura speaks to the social isolation he sees among the older community and how to help break the cycle. “I really think that we as millennials just need to say hi,” he said. “It all starts with just a hello.”  

To empower seniors, apps need to bridge the “digital divide.”

“I think outside of hackathons we really need to start addressing the question of digital divide and understanding where those resources are,” said hackathon participant Yes Segura. Baby boomers are often overwhelmed by technology today as they didn’t grow up with it. With this in mind, many of the teams focused on keeping their tools simple and intuitive.

For example, the teams made commands more polite. For instance one team decided to write “can you please select your age?” rather than the more commonly used “select your age” for a dropdown.

A couple of recommendations for age-friendly apps:

  • Larger font sizes—adjustable based on preference

  • High-contrast fonts

  • Multiple language for our diverse population

  • Polite language to be respectful to strangers


LiveStories was proud to be involved in the City for All Ages Hackathon. Request a demo today to learn how we can help your organization explore civic data and come up with innovative solutions for your community.