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Adopt-A-Sidewalk, Chicago’s Next Big Push to Get Snow Off Streets

12:34 PM CST on January 25, 2013

Adopt a Sidewalk

If the snow we're going to get tonight sticks around, we're gonna have to shovel it. But what if you aren't home or you need some help? Enter Adopt-A-Sidewalk, a website that came out of a collaboration between the City of Chicago and local developers.

Adopt-A-Sidewalk lets users mark or "claim" the sidewalks that they plan to shovel throughout the winter or ask for help if they need a hand. After shoveling a sidewalk, you can then announce via the website that you've cleared the sidewalk you claimed.

City ordinances require property owners to shovel snow within a certain time period after snowfall, but winter after winter city officials, including mayors, decline to enforce these rules. They prefer to educate, and Adopt-A-Sidewalk is another tool from the Chicago Shovels campaign to help citizens better deal with snow.

The goal of Adopt-A-Sidewalk is "to help people, government and businesses to work together," according to Kevin Hauswirth, the city's social media director. "These are natural tendencies in the face of Chicago's winter and Adopt-a-Sidewalk is there to facilitate neighbors lending a hand."

Adopt-A-Sidewalk is based off the Adopt-a-Hydrant concept, originally designed for Boston: Residents claim a hydrant and then shovel the snow out from around it. It was adapted for Chicago by the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Innovation and Technology, and developers.

Christopher Whitaker is the Code for America brigade captain in Chicago, organizing programmers and designers to work on civic-oriented applications, and worked on launching Adopt-A-Sidewalk. Whitaker has high hopes for what it can do for Chicagoans.

No snow shoveling on this overpass

"One of the things that we hope to see happen is for people to volunteer to help shovel sidewalks that their neighbors need help with," he said. "On the site, you'll see sidewalks marked in red. These sidewalks are from people indicating that these sidewalks need help shoveling and are open for adoption. With neighbors and businesses helping each other during the winter, we'll have cleaner - and ultimately safer - sidewalks."

Adopt-a-Sidewalk is set up on GitHub, a social coding site that allows anyone contribute to the application and discuss new features and issues.

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