The Same Hymnal

Voices are stronger in unison.

by André Natta

Three years ago I had the opportunity to participate in the first ever CityCamp in Chicago. The digital initiative is based on the OpenGov movement suggesting that data needs to be available to the general public in a way that lets everyone “sing from the same hymnal” when talking about issues of importance. The results of these efforts also generate extremely powerful tools that help people know more about where they live. Tools like SeeClickFix ( are still being used in ever more interpretive ways.

Marcus Dillavou has come to symbolize just how powerful these initiatives can become. I’ve come across several projects in recent months focused on improving the quality of life for Birmingham’s digital natives and they all seem to have his fingerprints on them. He tackles these digital efforts as a hobby (his day job is as founder and lead engineer for a local tech startup, VIPAAR). His passion is infectious when you encounter his work via his website (

Two of Dillavou’s projects stand out to me because they still provide an opportunity for you to help build on them and perhaps catch his drive for change. Click Your ’Hood was originally developed by the Code for America development team in Louisville, KY as a way for residents to become better acquainted with local neighborhoods. Using the map from Birmingham you can choose to identify 20 neighborhoods at random or attempt to identify the 87 currently included—thanks in part to some extensive research by Dillavou to find the data necessary to build out the various layers. There are still 12 neighborhoods that need to be added, but it does provide a powerful educational tool. See

The BJCTA has long had plans to submit data so it can be included in Google Maps since its website was redesigned three years ago, but it has not been a priority. Dillavou decided to take up the challenge of building a mobile app that would help those wanting to use the bus to get around. The result of his efforts is an app available for both Android and iOS devices and a website ( leveraging open-source software in order to allow folks sitting at a desktop to find new ways to get around while also beginning to realize which parts of town need more transit access. He built out a BJCTA Stop Cataloguer ( so that others could help him identify and plot existing bus stop locations throughout the MAX network. More than 1,300 stops have already been tagged, with the help of four others folks (though Dillavou’s done most of the plotting himself).

I’d love to see people help expand on Dillavou’s efforts. I’d also love to see the proverbial light bulbs going off when folks realize what can happen for metro Birmingham when you’re finally singing from the same hymnal. That’s when the revival would really start.

3 Responses to “The Same Hymnal”

  1. Thanks for the mention in your article. I hope more and more people in our community realize we all have the tools to improve our city. If everyone just picked a small project they could help out with, we could really transform our city for the better!

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