The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Sep 07, 2011

Code for America's Jen Pahlka on the selection of Detroit, Macon and Philadelphia as partners for 2012 program

Posted by Jennifer Pahlka


Jen Pahlka, founder and executive director of Code for America writes:

As we are nearing the end of Code for America’s inaugural fellowship year, we’re excited to announce the forward-thinking city governments we will be partnering with in 2012. Today we’re honored to share that the cities of Detroit, Macon and Philadelphia have been selected as partners for the Code for America program next year.

At the core of Code for America is a belief that we live in an age of participation, but that our public institutions haven’t benefited equally from the technologies and approaches that have so dramatically changed the business and social landscape in the past decade.  We are blessed to have the support of an institution that also believes fundamentally in the power of civic engagement to create a better world. The John S. and James L Knight Foundation is supporting Code for America’s engagements in these three cities, through its Technology for Engagement Initiative, which funds projects that help communities use technology to take action.

The Knight Foundation’s funding allows Code for America to recruit a team of three talented developers, designers, and product managers for each of the three cities. These talented and passionate individuals are giving a year of service to the cause of more open, participatory and efficient city government.  They will work with officials in City Hall and local civic groups to brainstorm and implement innovative applications to engage citizens in solving a particular problem in these cities. This is what we call “a new kind of public service,” one in which citizens use their skills hands-on to make a difference.

While six to eight cities will be chosen for the 2012 program, Detroit, Macon, and Philadelphia were some of the first cities selected because of their proposed project, community support and the opportunity for impact. In each city, we will be leveraging technology to boost citizen participation.

While each city’s projects will be defined by the fellows’ research on the ground, we have identified the core problem area that they’ll be tackling:

  • Detroit: Data on the vacant properties in Detroit is currently currently hard to access and unorganized, so the city lacks a clear picture on available real estate. This undercuts future residential and commercial development. The Code for America project will build software to engage the community to address urban blight:
  • Philadelphia: In 2011, the CfA fellows are bringing the civic engagement platform, Change by Us, to Philadelphia, which enables local leaders to solve local problems, in addition to building multiple other apps apps for Philadelphia, such as tools to explore public art, track city council meetings, find community groups and understand the impact of transportation choices. In 2012, they will build on-top of the Change by Us platform, not only spreading its use across the city, but also developing new features to increase its effectiveness:
  • Macon: Over the past few years, there has been tremendous advancements in the tools cities have to enhance civic life in their communities, ranging from mobile communication technologies to group coordination platforms. The CfA fellows will bring the latest tools to Macon to stimulate resident participation:

Each project is both promising and challenging, but we’re confident the 2012 Code for America fellows who will work with these cities will be up to the challenge.  We received over 550 applications for next year’s fellowship class, and are in the process of a competitive selection process, choosing from amongst an incredibly impressive candidate pool. We’re excited to see what they accomplish, so stay tuned and join us in finding out.

To learn more about Knight Foundation's role in bringing Code for America to these cities, read our press release about the partnership.

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