Urban Tensions Hackathon

Northeastern's College of Arts, Media and Design held "Urban Tensions," a hackathon for using urban data to tell stories of cities and conflict, on Saturday. Participants explored datasets from housing and school performance to violent crime.


  1. We began the day with a series of lightning talks. Ben Green of Boston’s Open Data Project talked about Analyze Boston, which just launched on Thursday. Christine Dixon, deputy director of Project Hope in the Dudley Street area, described how her organization collected data on housing court cases over a number of years. Wenfei Xu, a research associate at MIT’s Civic Data Design Lab, talked about small and big data in the context of China's "ghost cities."
  2. From there, the hacking began. I joined a team with some journalists I know — Elle Williams, Paxtyn Merten and Rowena Lindsay. Elle had the idea for a text-based game in which users would play a character who just lost their job and have to make choices to avoid eviction.
  3. Elle did most of the development using Twine, while Paxtyn researched information and media for the game itself. Rowena and I were largely responsible for research on housing and Massachusetts law. I also met Joseph Cusack, who developed the characters in our game. Zhengyan Yu, another Northeastern student, helped Paxtyn research and develop the game. Macy Quinn-Sears, a remarkably ambitious high school student who was visiting Northeastern, helped me in my research.
  4. We had pizza in there somewhere.
  5. All teams presented their work at the end of the day. Some participants focused on research, while others showed maps and visualizations.