Code for America is a nonprofit based in San Francisco that is revolutionizing the way city governments operate. Cities are having trouble keeping up with rising technology costs at a time when budgets are shrinking every day. Code for America places fellows — coders and programmers from large technology companies — in cities to work for one year. Funding from companies such as Google and the Omidyar Network make the process — which is garnering high praise — possible.
Code for America is the technology world’s equivalent of the Peace Corps or Teach for America. The premise is simple and elegant. America’s cities need technology help. State, federal and local governments spend hundreds of billions of dollars each year on IT systems and solutions. But a significant percentage of this money is wasted fighting red tape, jumping through bureaucratic hoops or paying for poor execution by legacy government contractors who manage to drag out simple projects and turn them into money pits.
Privately funded technology solutions from Code for America cost local governments nothing and offer the potential to save millions of dollars. Below are three apps currently in use that were created by Code for America fellows. Many of their apps leverage open APIs and open source code foundations so that others can easily harness their power.
This service allows citizens to text their local government regarding issues that matter to them. You don’t see many meetings in City Hall these days, but citizens’ opinions matter more than ever. If people don’t post their feelings and suggestions on social networks, they may never voice it. Rather than spend money promoting a meeting or spending time sifting through social networks, check out this free service to gather feedback and implement solutions.
Government websites tend to be difficult to navigate. (Of course, there are exceptions, like the fantastic State of Utah site, which inspired this project.) They are stripping the valuable information out of government websites and repackaging it to be more accessible. The main page is simply a search bar, similar to that of Google or Bing. Quick access to information makes the experience easy and enjoyable. The team has released the open source code on GitHub.
Did you know that a wildfire could spread at up 14 mph? Most of us are prepared for small emergencies but not wildfires. In Austin, TX, that threat is very real during the hot summer months. Users of Prepared.ly can check their risk of being affected by a fire, based on location, humidity, wind direction and other factors. Text message alerts keep users informed and remind them to practice basic safety procedures. Since the code is open source, it could potentially be repurposed for the unique threats that other cities face.