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Mayor Kenney’s ideal tech town

At Philly Tech Week's Mayoral Town Hall, the city's top elected official sat with industry leaders and explained how Philadelphia plans to foster the tech sector's growth.

Mayor Jim Kenney sits on a panel of tech community leaders, moderated by Technical.ly Associate Editor Juliana Reyes. (Photo by Roberto Torres)

Although Mayor Jim Kenney and technology might have gotten off to a rough start, the crowd at the Free Library of Philadelphia Monday night witnessed an elected official admirably step outside of his comfort zone.
At the Philly Tech Week 2016 presented by Comcast Mayoral Tech Town Hall, Kenney (or “Jim,” as he kept insisting panelists call him), took off his jacket and spoke candidly about what he sees the city offering its tech community, and vice versa.
“This room could market the city in ways that we wouldn’t even think about doing, spending way less money that we could do it,” Kenney said.
Kenney was flanked by a panel of tech community leaders: Stephen Tang, president of the University City Science Center; Keith Leaphart, from Replica Creative and Wallsome.net; Brian Mercer, from the Media Mobilizing Project; and Courtney Wilburn, from O3 World and Lesbians Who Tech.
After jokingly asking Technical.ly Associate Editor (and panel moderator) Juliana Reyes if she would help him “fix his phone,” the mayor marked the event as the beginning of a longterm relationship with the tech community — and effectively outlined a neighborhood-centric innovation agenda.
In the city idealized by Kenney, pre-K education is a priority. Not only to keep kids engaged in the school system from very early on, but to ensure the growing tech workforce has no qualms about staying in the city as their children enter school age.

The urban landscape in Kenney’s mind, unlike the one that currently exists, has free WiFi across parks and public spaces. Free broadband access will not only be for clichéd tourist spots, but also in underserved neighborhoods, particularly in recreation centers like the ones where Coded by Kids gives teenagers a shot to learn tech skills.
In the hopes of executing that vision, the city put out a Request for Ideas to all companies with experience building and managing wireless networks. The closing date for this open request was March 22, 2016 and, according to the document, it may lead to one or more Requests for Proposals depending on the content of the submissions.
At local prisons, instead of eluding abuse and waiting for time to pass, prisoners would get the chance to sit in front of a laptop and learn how to write code, picking up workplace skills that can help ward off recidivism, Kenney said.

However, there are issues that elude the mayor’s local scope but have the potential to further strengthen Philly’s stance as a tech hub: Kenney wants the country’s immigration system to provide clear paths to residency for foreign students graduating from local universities.
“I think it was Joe Biden who first said this, but I think we should be stapling green cards to their diplomas,” Kenney said of talented college grads.
The bottom line for the mayor — and members of the panel — is that Philadelphia, over the coming five years, must work to shed its legacy of poverty.

Companies: City of Philadelphia / Free Library of Philadelphia / O3 World / University City Science Center

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