Since 2011, Philadelphia has created a Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, released 175+ open datasets under OpenDataPhilly and hosted the 2013 US Mayor’s Innovation Summit. Philly is brimming with innovators both inside and outside City Hall and CfA has been pleased to partner with this city. Philadelphia has an active Code for America Brigade — a group of local volunteers who meet regularly to attend events, collaborate on new projects and stand up existing apps. For details visit Code for Philly.
The Fellows were like mysterious strangers that came into my city and taught us we had the magic in us all along.
Jeff Friedman, Co-Director Philadelphia’s Office of New Urban Mechanics
Philadelphia is the only city to enlist the Code for America fellows two years in a row. In 2012 Philadelphia’s City Planning Commission (CPC) was worried about low attendance at public meetings.
Citizen feedback is essential to the health of any democracy, but in-person meetings were personnel-intensive, expensive and those who attended represented a vocal minority. They enlisted the 2012 CfA fellows Alex Yule, Liz Hunt and Michelle Lee to encourage new forms of public feedback.
At the time, only 59 percent of Philadelphia residents had access to broadband internet at home, while 90% had access to mobile phones. The fellows designed, built and piloted Textizen for the CPC to collect feedback via SMS. In this way traditionally disenfranchised groups were able to participate in city issues and public feedback increased tenfold. To date, Textizen has received inquiries from 110 cities across the United States, is currently working with 15+ cities, and has re-deployed in Boston and Salt Lake City.
The team has been so successful that they were accepted into the Code for America startups program, won the Knight News Challenge and have spun out into a full-fledged company.
That year the team also built a system to create neighborhood guides and a system for city employees to organize work-related topics such as booking conference rooms and signing up for city cars.
Code for America’s 2011 fellows Aaron Ogle, Matt Lewis, John Mertens, Mjumbe Poe, Michael Evans, Peter Fecteau and Tyler Stalder were tasked with customizing the Change By Us platform while also conducting on-the-ground research, interviews with neighborhood groups and needs assessment amongst civic leaders. The team met both inside and outside City Hall, hosted events to generate interest in the program, and built multiple apps for Philadelphia including tools to explore public art, track city council meetings, find community groups and understand the impact of transportation choices.