The Geek Corp: Code for America takes on cities' technology shortfalls


This morning, my wife emailed a link to an article from CNN about a program called Code for America. The purpose of the program is to get technology and design experts (geeks) to take a year off from work and go work for a city government that is in need of boosting its technology. Many cities in the U.S. are struggling with budget cuts and outdated technology. Code for America believes that instead of cutting services or raising taxes, cities can leverage the power of the web to become more efficient, transparent, and participatory. The program launched in 2011 with three city partners including Boston, Philadelphia, and Seattle. This year, eight cities are involved including Austin, TX, Detroit, MI, Chicago, IL, Honolulu, HI, Macon, GA, New Orleans, LA, Philadelphia, PA, and Santa Cruz, CA.

One of the applications the Code for America fellows wrote last year is called Adopt-a-Hydrant. It lets Bostonians sign up to dig out fire hydrants when they're covered in snow. The code is open source and spreading virally as other cities discover how they can implement a similar program. The City of Honolulu plans to use it to have citizens check on tsunami sirens. Seattle is planing to use it as a program to clean out clogged storm drains. I wonder how a program like this could be implemented in the city where I live. Could we start a program where citizens adopt trees? Adopting trees might not be the answer, but it is food for thought and could spawn a program with significant benefit to the community.
As a resident of Georgia, I'm especially interested in the Macon, GA project. In February three fellows from Code for America, Nick Doiron, Jessica Lord, and Zach Williams, arrived in Macon to take on the challenge to improve citizen engagement and government efficiency. The city held a press conference on January 30, 2012 to introduce the fellows. 
“We’re excited to bring this national program to Macon to identify innovative solutions that will improve our engagement with the public,” says Mayor Robert Reichert. “Our citizens, businesses, and community organizations deserve user-friendly and efficient government services, and I look forward to the Fellows report on how we can make that happen.”
Macon's three fellows have impressive experience in architecture and design, web development, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). If you're interested in reading about the 2012 fellows be sure to check out their bios. Macon's Code for America project will create a technology suite to connect citizens with their government so services can be better directed and result in high quality government services to the city's people. The process will begin with an intensive discovery process where the Code for America team will access and build on existing communication assets. Residents that are interested in actively engaging in making their neighborhood or city better, will have a tool to collaborate with and organize other interested residents.
I will keep you updated on the various projects throughout the year as news about them surface. I can't wait to see what programs or apps emerge from the program.

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