Seattle Wins Free Civic Apps Through Code for America

Have I ever mentioned how much I love living here in Seattle? This place is on the cutting edge of both technology and social media. We are blessed to have many companies with home bases or satellite offices here who are heavy hitters in one of the two “industries.” The city and surrounding area are filled with people just like me… scary thought, I know.

I didn’t realize until now, though, how much our city government has entrenched itself into these niches. Back in February, Code for America asked cities around the U.S. to submit their requests for applications – apps they wanted or needed to solve civic problems and engage citizens, specifically, apps that will promote transparency, participation and efficiency. For example, a city could have requested an application to help them connect neighborhood groups with emergency first responders. Seattle entered the contest… and was one of only five cities chosen to have their apps built for free. Once each app is finished in January 2011, it becomes free to use and share for any other city in the country.

City chief technology officer Bill Schrier explained yesterday what our city’s request was. Keep in mind that it’s more of a vision at this point:

The City is interested in an application which will help mobilize neighborhoods and communities to civic action. Ideally, the application would identify civic groups, non-profit organizations, social service and community organizations active in each neighborhood. It would serve as a continuous calendar of meetings, events and volunteer opportunities in neighborhoods, and then allow individual people to volunteer and connect with each other to do work on behalf of their neighborhoods.

Part of this would be better connecting the City government to individuals in neighborhoods, but it is really, also, more about giving communities a tool to connect groups and individuals with each other. Example projects might include clean green, maintaining traffic circles, blockwatches for drug dealing, connecting people to organizations like the rotary or local chamber of commerce or to resources such as senior centers. Ideally social media such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter would be used as well.

There would be an ‘information’ aspect for City government, e.g. getting the word out about a paving project or a community meeting about a proposed land use action.

Normally, an app such as this would cost upwards of $200,000.00 to have designed and created. However, the cost will be nothing thanks to the people at Code for America. They are currently seeking developers, designers and project managers to work on the projects for Seattle, Boulder, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The teams will work closely with each city to make sure that the app is designed properly.