How the Nerds Are Going to Save Our City

Computer programmers from Code for America to the rescue!

Over the course of this year, five computer-geek transplants are going to try to change Philly government forever. And the revolution is probably going to involve an app.

It’s all coming courtesy a group called Code for America — sort of like Teach for America, but with computer programmers instead of teachers. The (non-partisan, apolitical) organization based in San Francisco has found and funded 20 “fellows” — programmers chosen from a highly competitive pool of 300+ applicants — to come work with our city and three others. (Each chosen city applied, competed and won the opportunity in an equally fierce competition.) Their mission? To develop technology to improve the city in some way. CFA wants to move the chosen cities toward more transparency and citizen collaboration, to spend about a year making each city government more responsive, more open … and, yeah, cooler.

Jeff Friedman, Mayor Nutter’s chief of staff in the division of technology, says it’s too early to tell exactly what sort of tech program we’re talking about here: Our five Philadelphia fellows don’t even get to Philly until February. But, he says, the idea is to use modern, accessible methods of technology to help us all rally around issues, and work within our own neighborhoods — helping people engage with the government more, so that the government can respond more to issues that matter to us.

The upshot to all this, he says, is that Code for America — whose board includes bold names from O’Reilly Media, Google, Blue State Digital, to name a few — picked Philly for the project because they think we get it, and that things can take off here, and possibly even work in other cities after we lead the way.

“It’s a great conversation to start,” Friedman says. “How do we engage more with citizens, and make a real connection?”

Philly ahead of everyone instead of behind? Philly changing the way things have always been done? Philly trying to be more accountable to the people who pay taxes? It certainly sounds promising. We’ll keep you posted.

(In the meantime, Accountants for America and City Councils for America, we’re ready and waiting for you.)