For the city, it’s always a question of communication, said one city official: how do we get news and information out to a community?
The city’s three-year-old cross-departmental effort PhillyRising program works inside 15 high-crime neighborhoods in hopes of empowering and organizing communities, but director John Farrell said the most common refrain he hears is, “I didn’t know about this,” whether it’s about a community meeting or a neighborhood computer lab or an afterschool program.
That’s why the city launched myPhillyRising, a web app tailored to each of the 15 PhillyRising neighborhoods. It’ll act as a virtual bulletin board that lists events, resources and facilities like computer labs and farmers markets.
Residents and organizations can submit events, news and even iCal feeds, and PhillyRising staffers will monitor and approve the content, Farrell said. There’s also a gamification feature where residents can earn points for their neighborhood by RSVP-ing to events and checking in, as well as a discussion board feature.
myPhillyRising was built by New York City and Philadelphia-based civic app shop OpenPlans, with former Philly Code for America fellows Aaron Ogle and Mjumbe Poe as the leads on the project. Poe and Ogle, who work out of Indy Hall, spoke to Philly residents and youth as part of their research in building the app, they said.
The firm responded to the February request for proposals for the project.
It was important that the app be accessible through mobile, said Managing Director Rich Negrin, acknowledging Philly’s digital divide problem and that while 40 percent of households don’t have Internet access, many Philadelphians use smartphones to access the Internet.
When asked if more features would be added, such as a crime map, Director of Civic Technology Tim Wisniewski said that it was not in the works because myPhillyRising aims to celebrate communities. Besides, he said, the city’s tech community has already done a great job of developing crime maps for residents to use. Though it’s worth noting that myPhillyRising’s target audience is certainly different from that of those crime apps, which are generally used by those who are already tied into the tech community in some way.
It’s also worth noting that Ogle and Poe worked on a project with a very similar mission called Change by Us while they were Code for America fellows in 2011. Two years after it officially launched, though listed as in beta and backed by Knight funding, it is all but silent. Technology is full of good ideas, but getting people to use it often the greater challenge.