From a KU classroom, Gala Korniyenko virtually tours her Ukrainian hometown looking for broken sidewalks, curbs without ramps, and other potential hazards.
Korniyenko, a graduate student in urban planning, is studying at KU on a Fulbright scholarship. She uses Google Street View to research accessibility and safety issues on the streets of Cherkasy, Ukraine.
“I can take information about my hometown and analyze it from any place in the world — simply because a Google car drove through Cherkasy this summer,” she says.
She hopes to use her research and new technologies to improve the accessibility of Ukrainian cities and make them safer, even before she returns home.
She is part of a Google development group — tech experts, engineers, and government officials from Ukraine — that uses 24-hour “hackathons” to collaborate on issues such as environmental sustainability and public transportation.
One app her group is developing works like this: When residents see a problem — say, a pothole in the road — they take a picture with their phone. With the click of a button, they send the photo and its GPS location to city hall. Once the problem is fixed, a phone notification alerts the party who filed a complaint.
The app not only opens lines of communication between the public and city officials but also leads to improvements in the urban landscape.
In Ukraine, where citizens have spent years under oppressive Soviet rule, this kind of civic empowerment is an unfamiliar concept.
“Part of using technology in urban planning is about getting buy in from people,” Korniyenko says. “We use media to engage the public in communication, and to let them know local government isn’t sitting off somewhere beyond reach.”