This month, the City of Las Vegas welcomes three Code for America (CfA) Fellows to town as one of only 10 cities across the US selected to participate in the program. Other cities include San Francisco, New York, Kansas City, and Louisville. “There aren’t many cities accepted into the program, so we’re excited just to be a part of it,” says Dr. Patricia Dues, IT Portfolio and Applications Manager for the City.
Through Code for America’s fellowship, web developers, designers, and entrepreneurs work to make governments more open and efficient. For 2013, just 28 individuals were chosen from a pool of 550 applicants. Those accepted into the program sign on for an 11-month fellowship that begins with a month of training, research, and team building that takes place at CfA headquarters in the Bay Area.
Fellows then take up residence in their various assigned cities and spend time hacking on data and interacting with members of the community. Those efforts are meant to spark ideas for applications that open up the vast supply of data held by local governments to members of communities who can utilize it to better their cities. “What happens with the Code for America program, the fellows come in, they have a process in place of how to get to at what is really needed. They will have focus groups, put a project team together,” explains Dues. “Based on what they hear in the focus groups, they will take that information and start to build programs,” she continues.
Once their residence period is completed, the fellows return to San Francisco and get down to work. The teams from each city have seven months to spend in development of applications that will empower community members to better navigate, understand, and utilize all that their cities have to offer. Previously completed projects include ReRoute.it, a mobile application that enables community members to make informed decisions about their transportation choices. Where’s My School Bus is a CfA project that enables parents of Boston school children to identify the location of their kid’s bus without having to contact an already overloaded call center to ask. Other projects help residents to be better prepared for disasters or become more civically engaged. There are also projects that focus on civic APIs that enable members of a local community to access previously unavailable data.
In September of this year, teams will launch their respective apps in their host cities. That launch will be followed by a summit in San Francisco, which will include representatives from the various municipalities. After that, the CfA fellows spend time documenting their work, fixing bugs, and preparing to hand their projects off.
The fellows who will be working with the City of Las Vegas will be based in Downtown. The fellows have wide-ranging backgrounds including architecture, engineering, and art direction. Lou Huang is a LEED-accredited urban designer, graphic and web designer who holds a degree in Architecture from University of California Berkeley and received his Master of City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania. Software engineer and entrepreneur Ryan Closner studied philosophy and political science at Seattle Pacific University. New York-based art director Lindsay Ballant most recently served as the design director of Newsweek.
Code for America saw Las Vegas as a good fit for an organization that engages people in what they describe as “a new kind of public service” that “helps governments work better for everyone with the people and the power of the web.” Current revitalization efforts in the City coupled with a local government that is open to innovating the way it operates helped Las Vegas in their bid to become a CfA city. Code for America Chief Program Officer Bob Sofman explains, “Our primary effort is working with cities that have a need that Code for America can fill and an approach to the work that is consistent with Code for America’s approach.”
Certainly Las Vegas, decimated by the economic downturn of the last several years, has needs. While this year’s fellows will be based in the midst of current Downtown revitalization efforts, it’s the hope of the City that whatever projects are developed can be further utilized to help residents of the entire municipality according to Dues.
CfA will soon be accepting applications for 2014 fellowships. The application process opens on March 6th. Those interested in applying should visit codeforamerica.org/fellows/apply. There are also other ways that community members can contribute. The CfA Brigade allows anyone to code for America from anywhere. And the CfA Commons tracks apps in over 600 cities around the country and allows users to add apps via the website.