• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
4m 5s

Code for Anchorage merges community and technology

By Hope Miller 12:28 PM December 18, 2014

On a slushy December night in Anchorage, a group of tech-oriented types gathered at The Boardroom downtown, a meeting spot for independent professionals and small companies.

Seated around a conference table, they munched on pizza and sipped from cans of beer as one by one, they rattled off a few facts about themselves and touched on projects they’re interested in or have worked on. Then, they broke off into smaller groups and the noise level escalated with excited chatter.

This is Code for Anchorage, a community-minded bunch looking to improve the municipality through technology accessible to the general public.

Sometimes they collaborate and sometimes they work alone, but projects members have done include a mapping application that tracks your location in Kincaid Park to a Twitter bot that churns out info on adoptable pets in the muni.


Designed for smartphones, Find Yourself in Kincaid Park was released this month and can pinpoint your location in the 1,400-acre area. It provides information on the types of trails within the park and works even if you don’t have a cellphone signal, said developer Mike Brook. Users can also plant “flags” at specific points to remember a spot.

Brook, who moved to Anchorage with his wife from California about four months ago, found himself wanting to stay on familiar routes when at the park in an attempt to not get lost. He found he wasn’t the only one doing that.

“The more I’ve asked people, the more I’ve realized a lot of people were having the same experience I was having, which was that they’re almost overwhelmed by kind of the breadth of the park, and so what they’re doing is taking a conservative path around the park, taking all right-hand turns or something,” Brook said.

Other projects don’t require a smartphone. Based on an already existing project, Brendan Babb — co-captain of Code for Anchorage — set up an app in Alaska that retrieves people’s food stamp or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) balances. All a SNAP recipient has to do is send a text with their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card number and their balance is texted to them within one to two minutes.

“I like these apps because they don’t change the government side,” said Babb, who is a data scientist for the Alaska Center for Energy and Power. “It just calls the phone number, navigates the phone tree, types in the 16-digit number, listens to the robot reading your balance, transcribes it and then texts in back to you.”

It comes in English and Spanish, but Babb wants the app to be available in Tagalog and Yupik — the second-most commonly spoken language in Alaska. According to Mary Sullivan with the Food Bank of Alaska, about 91,000 Alaskans received SNAP benefits in the 2013 federal fiscal year.

The early December meeting was Meg Backus’ first appearance at Code for Anchorage, which is part of Code for America. She recently moved to the area from Chattanooga, Tenn., and works in the IT department at the Anchorage Public Library. Despite having only been in Anchorage for a few days, she came to the meet-up with ideas and a palpable desire to involve the community in technological advances.

“The future really needs to be built by everybody or it’s not going to work for everybody,” Backus said. “So, I really like some of these projects that are coming out of a group like this that cares about equality.”

Babb says that sentiment embodies the spirit of Code for Anchorage, which was founded in the summer of 2013.

“We’re kind of young, so we’re taking stuff from other cities and deploying it here [where it] makes sense, but ideally, you want to find out what your community wants,” said Babb, citing the Kincaid app as an example of a community-driven innovation.

Getting those ideas is easier when a diverse crowd weighs in, Babb says, adding that you don’t have to be tech-savvy to come to Code for Anchorage.

“I think everyone has at least five ideas on how they could make Anchorage a better city,” he said.

Latest Stories

  • News

    Coast Guard: Kodiak missile test could occur as early as next week

    by Associated Press on Jul 22, 14:15

    KODIAK, Alaska (AP) – The U.S. Coast Guard says a launch from the Kodiak Island rocket launch complex in Alaska will occur as soon as next week. The Kodiak Daily Mirror reports a U.S. Coast Guard notice released Wednesday states the launch is scheduled to occur at the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska between 7 p.m. on […]

  • Son charged in death of father whose body was left on couch for weeks

    by CBS/AP on Jul 22, 14:12

    FRACKVILLE, Pa. — A man has been charged with killing his father, who authorities say was shot to death and his body then left on a couch in his home for weeks. Tyler Swantek, 24, faces charges in Schuylkill County including criminal homicide, first- and third-degree murder, aggravated assault and abuse of a corpse in the […]

  • News

    Search suspended for man overboard from skiff in Prince William Sound

    by Chris Klint on Jul 22, 13:21

    The U.S. Coast Guard spent much of Friday looking for a man who fell overboard from a skiff on the west side of Prince William Sound, but was unable to locate any sign of him. Coast Guard Petty Officer Jon-Paul Rios said that the man went overboard at about 2 a.m. Friday from a commercial […]

  • News

    Alaska’s acting US attorney nominated to formally fill post

    by Associated Press on Jul 22, 11:57

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – A veteran federal prosecutor was nominated Friday by President Donald Trump to be the next U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska. Trump nominated Bryan Schroder for the post. Schroder has been the acting head of the Alaska district since Karen Loeffler and 45 other U.S. attorneys appointed by former President […]

  • Trump says military ‘bigger, better, stronger’ at USS Gerald R. Ford commissioning

    by CBS News on Jul 22, 10:32

    President Trump officially commissioned the U.S. Navy’s newest and largest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, in Norfolk, Virginia, on Saturday, applauding the military’s strength. “When it comes to battle, we don’t want a fair fight. We demand victory and we will have total victory, believe me,” Mr. Trump said of the powerful aircraft […]

  • Minneapolis police chief resigns in wake of Justine Damond shooting

    by CBS News on Jul 22, 10:29

    Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau resigned Friday amid criticism of her response to a string of high-profile police shootings. Harteau’s resignation came at the request of Mayor Betsy Hodges, who has publicly clashed with the police chief. Hodges said in a statement Friday that she had lost confidence in Harteau. “As far as we have […]

  • Elim man accused of propositioning local girl, 14, for sex online

    by KTVA Web Staff on Jul 22, 9:52

    Alaska State Troopers say an Elim man is behind bars, after he allegedly propositioned a local girl online in the Northwest Alaska village for “sexual favors.” Herbert Barr Sr., 50, was charged with online enticement of a minor and distribution of child pornography, according to an online dispatch, after Nome troopers were told Monday that […]

  • Driver charged with murdering 2 women in 2016 Petersburg van crash

    by Chris Klint on Jul 22, 8:19

    The driver in a van crash that killed two young Petersburg women last summer, bringing the Southeast Alaska town’s Fourth of July celebrations to a jarring halt, has been charged with murder in the wreck. William “Chris” Allen, 24, was taken into custody in Fairbanks on a $50,000 arrest warrant shortly before 5 p.m. Friday, […]