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Code for America Will Send Geeks for a Year of Service in Philly, Detroit, and Macon

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, September 7 2011

Programmers and other technologists will spend a year in city halls in Philadelphia, Penn., Macon, Ga., and Detroit, Mich. next year as part of the Code for America fellowship program, the organization announced Wednesday.

The announcement is a first glimpse into the changing shape of a brand-new institution's second year of operation. Launched last year, the Code for America program supported 20 fellows for a year of service in cooperation with Washington, D.C., Boston, Mass., Philadelphia, and Seattle, Wash. While there, the fellows developed technology-infused ways to address problem sets the cities identified in their applications for the program. CfA last week announced, for example, that it was working with the group CEOs for Cities and New York-based design firm Local Projects to open-source a platform they developed, Change By Us, for citizens to share ideas and resources. The adapted platform on Wednesday went into open beta in Seattle.

Next year, the program will support as may as 25 fellows operating in up to eight cities as they spend a year performing similar work.

CfA chose to adopt Change By Us in order to provide residents in Philadelphia and Seattle with easier ways to share ideas and resources for civic projects, a spokesman, Abhi Nemani, told me today. In a press release, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is quoted as saying he was eager for Philadelphia to enjoy more of the same.

“Selection by Code for America for a second straight year is evidence that Philadelphia is at the forefront of the movement towards more open, transparent and participatory urban governance,” Nutter said in the release. “We look forward to a second year of collaboration with Code for America as we deploy powerful and sophisticated Internet-based social media tools that make it easier for citizens to get things done in their neighborhoods.”

The three cities announced Wednesday will receive CfA fellows thanks to financial support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Nemani tells me that while last year's cities paid $225,000 for teams of five fellows, all cities participating next year will be paying $150,000 to subsidize the work of teams of three. Knight and other foundations are supporting many of the cities, he said. Knight pays special attention to Detroit, Philadelphia and Macon, among a group of other cities, because those cities played host to newspapers once owned by the Knight brothers' media organization. As a point of disclosure, Knight supported Personal Democracy Forum's 10Questions project in 2010, which also operated in all three cities.

In Detroit, so hard-hit by declining industry and the economic downturn that its population declined by 25 percent over the past 10 years, fellows will build tools for neighborhood residents to track data on vacant properties.

In Macon, where Knight also supported a game using alternative currency to connect neighbors and support local business, CfA fellows will build a technology suite to connect citizens with government services.

Code for America will sum up all of its work from the past year at a summit event in San Francisco in October.

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