Hack for Resilient Communities tackles climate change in Austin communities

Noah Rose

Students, professors and community members used software engineering to develop tools that would counteract the adverse effects of climate change in Austin communities on Saturday. 

At Hack for Resilient Communities, a hackathon put on by seven different Austin organizations, students collaborated with Austin professors and environmental experts to design tools that could help Austin communities disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change to withstand their effects. The event focused specifically on Dove Springs, an East Austin neighborhood at severe risk for flooding and pollution.

Carmen Llanes Pulido, a representative for Go Austin/Vamos Austin, spoke about the inequities associated with pollution and climate challenges at the hackathon. Pulido said climate change and systemic inequities during Austin’s development has disproportionately increased the risk of flooding in southeast Austin.

“As we address climate risks, the quality of life of (Austin) gets bigger, and the risk of displacement is also higher,” Pulido said. “We are looking at not just mitigating displacement but getting ahead of it and looking out for unintended consequences.” 

Students split into teams, where they identified areas of interest, formulated research questions, searched for relevant data sets and created visuals mapping the most at-risk areas in Southeast Austin. Several members of Texas Convergent, a UT student organization that helps members launch their own companies and products, collaborated on different solutions.

Natalia Ruiz Juri, a research associate at UT’s Center for Transportation Research, spoke at the event. She said the hackathon’s goals were to spread awareness about the negative effects of traffic-related air pollution on public health, to share data between environmentally conscious organizations, and to foster collaboration in the development of tools, ideas and solutions for pollution concerns in Austin.

Ruiz Juri said she hopes the organizations continue sharing data after the day-long event. 

“These data sets are already gathered together (for the hackathon),” Ruiz Juri said. “They (will be) available for research, class projects and capstones, and the more people know about these resources, the more they will use them.”

Martha Czernuszenko, a management information systems senior and Convergent member, heard about the hackathon through a Design Strategies certificate class. 

“I (would like to) visualize data and create something that’s actually readable to users,” Czernuszenko said. “(With) so many different people here, it will be really cool to see how different mindsets and different perspectives can create something that is actionable.”