in Houston, Texas
Curious about federal stimulus spending as you stroll around town? There's an app for that.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010, 01:46PM CST
By Jennifer Peebles
William Hookphoto by William Hook

When you're walking down the street, do you sometimes wish you could find out where the federal stimulus money is going and whether any of it is making its way back to you and your surroundings?

There's an app for that.

iPhone 3G users and Android users can use a program called Layar -- that's the correct spelling -- that offers people augmented reality. You launch the program and the phone looks through its built-in camera lens and offers you hidden tidbits of detail about the things you see around you.

Some of the free Layar layers you can add include one that shows you the menus on offer at nearby restaurants or places with wide beer selections.

But the Layar layer we've been playing with today -- on my new Android phone -- is the Recovery.Gov layer from our friends at the Sunlight Foundation.

Launch the free Recovery.Gov layer in Layar and look around the neighborhood like we did.

Down there, down the street, on the Metro tracks? The Metro Transit Authority got $3 million in stimulus funding, it tells us. Back further up Main Street (and over a couple of blocks), it tells us the South Texas College of Law got $44,000 in stimulus funding. And scanning most of the surrounding area from our office, it tells us the City of Houston got $15 million.

Sunlight also has has another cool Layar layer on offer -- again, free -- that allows you to scan the landscape and it'll show you what big political fundraisers are being held nearby, using data from Sunlight's Political Party Time site.

For instance, sitting here at our offices at the corner of Main and Rusk, the Party Time layer shows me that the swanky Coronado Club at 919 Milam has been a political fundraising site. I click a button and it tells me that it was the venue last June for a luncheon for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

These are just two really good examples where people have taken public records about governing and politics and used technology to make them more accessible to the man on the street -- or at least, the man or woman on the street with a smartphone. If you know of other good Layar layers, post a comment below.

Contact Jennifer Peebles at 281-656-1681 or

Tuesday, 05/18/2010 - 01:09PM

Does this work with the iTouch if logged in?

Jennifer Peebles
Tuesday, 05/18/2010 - 02:30PM


I don't know, but we're working on finding out from the Sunlight folks. We'll holler back here when we know something.

And thank you for reading and writing in!

-- Jennifer P

Miss Andrea
Tuesday, 05/18/2010 - 02:49PM

This is interesting and worth checking out. Thx for posting.

Jennifer Peebles
Wednesday, 05/26/2010 - 05:52PM


Sorry it took a while to get back to you. The folks at the Sunlight Foundation said they don't think it works with the iTouch if it doesn't have a camera built in. I'm pretty sure the Layar program uses the phone's camera to "see" stuff, even though the GPS functions of the device tell it where you are.

Thank you for reading us and for writing in,

Jennifer P.

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