How bikers and artists create community with LocalWiki

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If you're a civic hacker then you know nothing brings developers together like the shared experience of solving a hard problem. But for you, "solving problems" is probably almost synonymous with "writing code." What's not always clear is how people who aren't developers can work with Brigades to solve pressing civic issues.

One of the great things about the project I work on, LocalWiki, is that it's not at it's core a hacking project. We encourage you to hack it—and lots of people do!—but what's great about LocalWiki is that you can set it up and the project goal isn't "customize this" or "hook it up to data feeds," but rather, "document your community."

In the same way that hacking with friends brings you together, working on a LocalWiki project can bring a community together with a shared purpose and goal. I believe that we all have a deep, fundamental desire to share and help our community. But people want to know their time and effort is valued — that it's part of something larger, something that can benefit their community for years to come. And people want to know they can contribute just a little bit and have it help.

With that in mind, I want to give you a couple of recent examples of ordinary people hanging out, having fun, and building out LocalWiki projects.

San Francisco parklet ride

SF Parklet rideA couple weeks ago we were slated to have an absolutely beautiful weekend here in SF, and I thought, "you know, it's gonna be a beautiful weekend—it'd be great if we could just bike around, take pictures, enjoy the beautiful day, and toward the end of the day get on our laptops and work on the soon-to-be-launched SF LocalWiki project!"

So I just threw up a Facebook event, invited some friends and came up with a little plan: document all the parklets we encountered on our bike ride through the city.

And we did just that. We biked around, had lots of coffee, ate some delicious baked goods, and took pictures of a few parklets we encountered. We randomly encountered one of the parklet's primary designers and even found a parklet that features a totally awesome beanbag seats and pacman.

At the end of the day we made a few pages on our LocalWiki, but more importantly, we shared a fun experience together.

Kitchener LocalWiki Workshop

This is Steve:

This is Steve

Steve's an artist who does really amazing projects like SelfControl, AddArt, and Capitalism Works For Me! True/False.

Kitchener LocalWiki workshop

Last week, Steve got together with CAFKA, a public space art organization, and held a two-evening workshop for artists and residents in Kitchener, Ontario on building a LocalWiki for Kitchener.

After starting out with the basics of how local wikis work, the workshop immediately got people out into the streets—participants toured the city, collecting information about their favorite places, insider tips, and popular spots. After running about, everybody reconvened and had a big local wiki writing party at the art center.

With over 221 pages, 167 photos, and 130 maps in just a few days, the KitchenerWiki project is off to a great start!

Originally published on and republished using Creative Commons.

Philip Neustrom is a software engineer in the San Francisco Bay area currently co-directing the LocalWiki effort. He co-founded in 2004. For the past several years he has worked on a variety of nonprofit efforts to engage everyday citizens.


I love the localwiki concept, but hope the project changes the default installation from a .deb install to something similar to standard mediawiki: unpack an archive, ftp it up to a server and set up a database (all common tasks possible via web panels). It's a fine line but making the server OS invisible would substantially reduce the barrier of entry and put this cool app within reach of more communities.

I second this. Sadly, my web hosting service doesn't support Django-based apps, so I'll have to play with it from my own computer. I think this looks very promising, and with no doubt, I'd like to be the first person to try it out in my city!

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