If you’re a Bostonian, you or someone you know has probably applied for a city permit, and it’s likely the process wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. From entertainment licenses for big events like TechJam and TUGG’s Tech Gives Back after-party, to residential permits for small renovations: businesses, contractors, and individuals apply for city permits all the time. That means, according to the city, nearly 100,000 permit applications cross their desks every year. Meanwhile, Boston’s booming tech ecosystem, brimming with innovative talent and creative ideas, has remained an untapped problem-solving resource—until now.
Mayor Marty Walsh announced in mid July that his administration is taking initiatives to bring Boston’s permitting process into the 21st century. The Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) is joining forces with the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) to host a two-day HubHacks Permitting Challenge. The plan is to unveil a new API, and invite the city’s tech community to create custom applications that’ll feed directly into the existing permitting system, (hopefully) drastically improving the overall user experience.
Aside from the standard-issue event details, we still had a few questions about the mayor’s mission, city government’s relationship to Boston residents, and how tech companies and innovative solutions might shape the city’s future. Matthew Mayrl, Deputy CIO for the City of Boston, met with us to chat all things Hubhacks.
TUGG: Mayor Walsh seems strongly committed to integrating Boston’s growing tech community with the city’s civic system. Up until now, the two worlds have remained quite separate. What inspired Mayor Walsh’s commitment to bringing them together?
MAYRL: Part of Mayor Walsh's early commitment is improving the overall experience for citizens when interacting with the City. Whether it is a City Hall greeter meeting people as the enter, or easy to access information on the City's website, the goal is to make sure that every possible channel is accessible, approachable and friendly. When it comes to the more technical side of things, given the nature of innovation in the city, it makes sense to work with any potential partner who can improve that experience.
TUGG: What are DoIT and MONUM planning/envisioning for the City of Boston and her citizens in the short term? Long term?
MAYRL: Next month's HubHacks Hackathon is the right step forward as we start looking at the near future for technology in Boston. Our long term plans are to continue [involving technology] in other areas that we hope citizens care about. We're starting by asking tech talent to evaluate our Permitting API, but we hope to see that expand and organically grow to include things that Bostonians come to on their own. With these types of programs, we are playing our part in the growing culture of Boston's tech and innovation economy for years to come.
TUGG: What obstacles have stood in the way of city operations in the past? How do you see technology, innovation, and creativity solving those problems?
MAYRL: Perhaps the biggest problem has been making core government software engaging for citizens to work with. Like many other cities, we find ourselves working with big enterprise systems that were built with specific purposes in mind. But, partly due to lack of other options and partly due to inertia, we continue to use these types of programs out of the box. The opportunity, and perhaps the most promising part of HubHacks, is that we're answering software and infrastructure questions that are unique to Boston. Hopefully coming together on partnerships will make the permitting process clearer, more transparent and perhaps even enjoyable.