Penn Hackathon Team Writes Sustainability App

March 20, 2013

Sometimes it's all fun and games for hackers, developing new software to provide information or entertainment. But at the seventh PennApps  -  held January 18 - 20 - one Penn team worked in support of Greenworks Philadelphia, the Mayor's plan to make Philadelphia the number one green city in America. In the category of Top Civic or Social Improvement Apps, the Penn team of Joel Goldman and Amber Lowey developed the Social Development & Urban Sustainability app and received $500 and a scheduled meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Nutter.  The Penn team shared this prize with the developers of SmoothRide - an app that helps cyclists find smooth and easy bike routes around Philly.

Goldman is a senior who in May will be the first graduate of the new Networked and Social Systems Engineering Program, and will be interning this summer at Microsoft. Ms. Lowey will graduate in May with a degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and aspires to a job in the environmental sector. Both of these students have had an interest in environmentalism during his or her years at Penn, participating with Penn Green, PEG, Eco-Reps, the UPenn Outdoors Club, and Green Acorn. Translating sustainability into software came easily; the goal of their app was to help the city become a better place by recommending the best locations for things like trees, bike racks, and city parks. Mr. Goldman said that the targeted users of the app would be "the city representatives who make these decisions. A park in one place may have a much greater positive impact than a park somewhere else and we wanted to highlight and quantify that.

The Social Development & Urban Sustainability app analyzes data to produce heat-maps color-coding the best locations to plant trees (red being the best, and green being not as vital). The heat-map incorporates approximately 700 thousand data points from over the last six years.

The January 2013 PennApps is reported to have been the largest student-organized hackathon to date worldwide. More than 450 students from universities across the United States, Switzerland, Canada and Germany competed for cash prizes during the 40-hour app building session.

These two Penn hackers invite questions to and


The 2014 Power Down Challenge resulted in a combined savings of over 35,000 kWh across campus –enough to power 3.3 homes’ electricity for one year.

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