City and coders partnered to launch Pittsburgh trash-day app | Blogh


Thursday, October 1, 2015

City and coders partnered to launch Pittsburgh trash-day app

Posted By on Thu, Oct 1, 2015 at 9:03 AM

Can't remember when recycling day is? There's an app for that. Gone are the days of searching the city's website for the trash-collection schedule. Now, it comes to you.

Thanks to the winners of 2014's annual Steel City Codefest competition, you can now get email and text reminders the evening before your neighborhood's garbage day. (Full disclosure: I've already signed up.)

Users can search their address and zip code at PGH.ST and then enter an email address and phone number. From there, the app automatically remembers a user's address when re-visiting the page, displaying that neighborhood's trash calendar. Email and text alerts are sent out at approximately 6 p.m. 

"My philosophy about PGH.ST, and other things, is that I’m interested in making Pittsburgh a cooler place," says David Walker, an academic-writing consultant, who was a member of the team that created the winning app. Other team members included Ady Ngom, Tricia Handke, Matt Marriotti and Quintin Lovicks.

PGH.ST's interface is visually appealing and user-friendly; it's colored-coded according to the type of trash the city plans to collect from each street that week. Also, there are no Central-Eastern, Northern-Southern maps to navigate, as is the case currently on the city's website.

"The idea of something that can be used by a lot of people, and can improve their daily lives even in a small way, is very appealing, and I also like the fact that it was something I could use myself," Walker says, who codes as a hobby and is interested in pursuing it professionally. "It really is easier to develop something that you’re going to use yourself, because you know exactly how it should work."

The City of Pittsburgh proposed the challenge to the participants of Steel City Codefest, an annual competition that began in 2013, in which teams have 24-hours to develop a useful app. Teams can bring their own ideas or take on a challenge from a local organizations, businesses or government.

"We do heavily push the nonprofit applications because we just found they have a wider diversity of interesting issues to deal with," says Jennifer Wilhelm, of the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority, which coordinates the competition. Google is a founding partner, and the event is sponsored by The Forbes Fund and the BNY Mellon Foundation, among others. Sponsors also offer grants for teams to finalize their projects once the 24-hour competition is finished — which is how Walker and his team finished their app.

The 2015 winner was 412 Food Rescue, which connects restaurants, caterers and large businesses to food banks and other organizations that can utilize unused food that would otherwise go to waste.

"It allows nonprofits to be able to get technology that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. We’re very careful to source challenges that don’t already have obvious solutions," Wilhelm says. "They’re [participants] creating something new that’s filling a void."

Ironically, the end result of Walker and his team's efforts is not exactly what the original challenge from the city entailed: The city wanted an app to alert people, not only about trash and recycling pick-up, but also of when street sweeping would occur in their neighborhoods.

Walker says that "motivated" him "more than trash reminders," but he says the city couldn't give him and his team a database of street-by-street cleaning schedules. He says that some day he hopes he and his team will have a chance to develop that app but that they "can't make any promises."

He says: "I think that would be a really cool if my phone could tell me you better move your car because the street is being swept tomorrow."

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