Code for America is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 2009 to help cities modernize their operations and take advantage of new technology to increase transparency and accountability and provide new models of citizen engagement. Through the Code for America Fellows program, young programmers and developers are placed within city governments around the country to work directly with the Mayor’s office and the staff of city departments. In addition to the Fellows program, Code for America also provides seed funding to startup tech companies and runs the Code for America Brigade program, which places staff within community organizations to help build their capacity and increase their use of technology. Dozens of cities across the country have taken advantage of this unique program and it’s time for Pittsburgh to become the next Code for America city.
One of the most incredible technological advances of the past decade is the ability to simultaneously communicate with thousands of people via text message or a smart phone app. Agencies of the federal government, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service, utilize free smart phone apps to keep citizens informed about issues ranging natural disasters to the daily weather forecast. Smart phone apps provide easy, immediate access to information and can play an important role in alerting citizens to everything from traffic conditions to school closings. The City of Pittsburgh should offer a free smart phone app that will keep residents, commuters, and visitors informed. And we should go even further by enabling this app to provide two-way communication so residents can report neighborhood issues such as potholes, illegal parking, or graffiti.
Pittsburgh’s tech and start up universe is rich and diverse and has been a major driver of our economic stability and growth over the past decade. However, recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other agencies have shown Pittsburgh lagging in new job creation, especially in high-tech industries. The city has to be a strong partner with our emerging industries and work hand-in-hand to ensure that they are getting the public and private resources and opportunities they need to be successful. One of the best ways to do this is create new business incubators that provide the transitional space and resources for young firms in a collaborative, cooperative environment where they can learn from one another and from established firms in related fields. The idea is not to try to force innovation to happen where it is not already happening but to nurture organic startups and provide a bridge from start up to successful company.
In 2010 Boston Mayor Thomas Menino created an experiment in Boston city government. He pulled together a few civic-minded entrepreneurs and Boston residents and paired them with innovators within his office to create a new program of the mayor’s office called the Office of New Urban Mechanics. The purpose of this new program was to advance the speed of innovation within city government by working directly with constituents to find new ways to address the issues that matter to them through the use of new technologies. In 2012, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter reached out to Mayor Menino and asked to bring the Office of New Urban Mechanics to Philly via a franchise model where the two cities worked closely together to share ideas and data and pioneer new problem-solving technologies. I have been in touch with Mayor Menino’s office about the possibility of bringing the Office to Pittsburgh. As Mayor, I will create a Pittsburgh Office of New Urban Mechanics to engage our tech sector innovators to work directly with city government and residents to address the issues our neighborhoods care about.
We need your help to build a New Pittsburgh and there’s no reason you can’t have a FUN-tasic time while doing it. We have two fun and creative events coming up on Sunday and Monday. Enjoy a fiesta! Mingle with the ‘Burgh’s creative community. Either way, you can help elect Bill Peduto by attending one of these FUN-draisers.
You’ve created the next big thing in urban apps. Could you use and extra $5,000? Of course you could! You still have a couple of days to enter your app in the AppMyCity! Prize contest. The prize is organized by the New Cities Foundation and made possible by Google and The Atlantic Cities.
Pittsburgh’s Summer Youth Employment Program provides paid job opportunities for several hundred Pittsburgh youth each year. The program gives kids an opportunity to gain some real-world work experience, make a bit of money, and make connections with employers and other youth. The program is a joint venture of the City of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Foundation, and corporate sponsors and allows kids between the ages of 14 and 21 to apply to participate. The Summer Youth Employment Program is a fantastic partnership and something that we absolutely must continue to support. However, I would like to bring in a more diverse set of site partners and allow kids to enter a broader field of summer jobs that will better prepare them for the kinds of jobs that are available in our region. We must expand the program to provide kids exposure to jobs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.
Ensuring the safety of our children when they go to school is one of the most important roles we have as parents, teachers, law enforcement officials, and elected leaders. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut last year puts this responsibility in sharper focus. That tragedy should make us even more vigilant in our efforts to create the safest learning environments we possibly can. But this requires that we look closely at how our public safety officials at the city, the county, the Pittsburgh Public Schools, the universities, and the charter, private, and parochial schools interact and communicate with one another. We must have clear, open, and frequent communication between all of these officials. We must have concrete plans in place for how to deal with any emergency situations that could arise, whether it be a natural disaster or a dangerous individual.
You can do virtually everything online in this day and age. From purchasing airplane tickets to depositing checks and everything in between, many services are migrating to the computer. I want to bring Pittsburgh into the digital age and allow citizens to access many city services and carry out many official functions online. This is particularly important when it comes to permitting related to the Department of Public Works or Building Inspection for home renovations, new construction, or sidewalk repairs, for example. I want to make it easier to invest in our neighborhoods by streamlining the application process, letting people apply for these permits online, and allowing payment via credit and debit card and wire transfer. There is no reason that one should have to go downtown and visit three different government offices with three different cashiers checks in order to obtain one simple permit. We can make government more user friendly just by bringing some common technology to bear on the process.
Pittsburgh is known around the world for the ingenuity of its people. We invented the polio vaccine, daylight savings time, even bingo! It’s time to bring that know-how to City Hall. I believe that Pittsburgh can be the city for creativity in government technology. We can be a pioneer for new ways of making our city work smarter, saving the taxpayers time and money in the process. Many of our city processes, from tax collection to filing for a permit, are stuck in the 1970s, yet Pittsburgh is full of companies and individuals that are inventing powerful new tools to increase efficiency. We need to start leveraging that innovation and bringing it to bear on how we operate as a city government.