Unblight Unconference: housing advocates and civic hackers convene to tackle blight and property data

Unblight Signage
Unblight Unconference in Macon, GA

Last week, Sunlighters and close to 100 housing advocates and practitioners gathered in Macon, GA for the first ever Unblight Unconference. While the unconference format was a bit unconventional for Middle Georgia, the issue of blight has been plaguing the community for over a decade. The Unblight Unconference, co-hosted by the Center for Collaborative Journalism and the Sunlight Foundation with generous support by the Knight Foundation, galvanized policy makers, technologists and organizers from across the country to more deeply explore the challenges pertaining to vacant and blighted properties while exchanging ideas and developing solutions.

In particular, Unblight attendees heard from Lauren Hood, Community Engagement Manager at Loveland Technologies about the successful blight mapping project in Detroit.

Photo of Unblight Unconference attendees
Passing of the “This Land is Your Land” sign.

Other speakers included Harold Tessendorf and Sundra Woodford from Habitat Macon, Andrew Haeg from Groundsource, Shea Frederick from Baltimore Vacants, Tamara Manik-Perlman from CityVoice, Ben Green & Matt Conway from Data Science for Social Good, Paula Segal from 596 Acres and Matt Hampel from LocalData. Mayor Robert Reichert from Macon-Bibb County gave the keynote on Friday and outlined local government efforts to deal with blight.

While participants got a chance to listen to efforts locally and nationwide, a hallmark of an unconference are the attendee generated sessions and Unblight was no exception. During the two day conference, there were twelve sessions that explored topics such as:

(Click through each link to see the hackpads and notes for each session- you can see all the sessions and the schedules here).

The Unblight Unconference also provided an opportunity for the open data community who were not able to attend the conference to participate by submitting their own technology or housing data project to a project carousel. We hope the catalog will not only serve as inspiration but also provide the much needed knowledge sharing of various efforts and initiatives across the country for housing advocates and practitioners.

Blight is not limited regionally or determined by socioeconomic status and can plague cities big and small. Often times the first step in combating blight is to determine where blight is, either by aggregating government provided data or crowdmapping initiatives (and more often times, both!). By learning from each other and engaging with all the stakeholders in the community, we can un-blight communities and revitalize not just neighborhoods but the people living in them as well.

Missed the Unblight Unconference and want to follow along on social media? Check out this Storify.

Sunlighters with the Unbight sign
Special thanks to the Sunlighters who came to #unblightunconf!