Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
Need ideas for how to better your neighborhood? We've got 'em right here.
Because we know you’re probably not getting much done at the office today anyway ahead of the long weekend, we’d like to introduce you to Blockee, a delightfully time-sucking web app that helps you pimp your street with “civic bling” – or, at least, begin to imagine what that might look like.
Fellows at Code for America have created the game (using the playful equivalent of what Google employees call "20 percent time"). The app pulls in images of your block from Google Street View, then arms you with twinkling icons to reimagine these familiar spaces, with more trees or bike lanes or public benches.
"I wanted them to be really recognizable," says Code for America fellow Tamara Shopsin of the suggested street improvements she’s included in the app. She developed it with fellow fellows Jesse Bounds, Nick Doiron, and Serena Wales. "I wanted them to be something that people could really achieve, like a bike rack – that seems very achievable. Or maybe things that are more whimsical, like a birdhouse, that you can do really easily to better your street."
Code for America hopes, in other words, that you’ll get a kick out of playing with the app, but that the game might also lead to actual civic improvements. The idea originally grew out of more serious discussions in Macon, Georgia (a CfA host city this year) about how to engage citizens in bettering their own blocks. After all, why can’t your street get that new bike rack?
"If people could actually do that," Shopsin says, "that would be amazing."
You can also upload your own images into the game, as Shopsin has done with this now-bedazzled view of the White House:
She imagines that the tool might also be tweaked in the future and put to use for planning and zoning purposes, or for filing 3-1-1 tickets. If you can pick out a spot on your block that’s best suited for a new street light, why not also use the tool to pinpoint for city officials your street's latest pothole or graffiti outbreak? (We would love, by the way, to see what a graffiti icon would look like in Blockee.)
In the meantime, Code for America is still taking ideas for more bling to include (recycling bins? covered bus stops? community gardens?). As with most games, it’s possible to be, well, good at this one. Take some inspiration from this guy, Kevin Roden, who actually took the time to master linear perspective:
We’re also offering a couple examples of our own to get you started. Below is some new and improved street landscaping for Washington’s Lincoln Memorial:
We felt bad for Tampa, which has been picked on a lot this week. So we decked out the city with a bunch of new playgrounds and food trucks.
And here’s a before and after scene from New York’s Times Square.
Share your own links below.