A High Tech Solution for a Neighborhood Problem

BY Cat Wise  May 20, 2013 at 3:04 PM EDT

Spencer Michels sat down with Alex Pandel and Eddie Tejeda, two of the co-founders of an app called BlightStatus, as part of Code for America’s fellowship program.

“Government is supposed to be about how we do things together and we can do that much more together if we use technology smartly right now.” Those are the words, and guiding philosophy, of Jennifer Pahlka, founder of the San Francisco nonprofit startup Code for America. Code as in computer code. The organization connects technology professionals, like web programmers, to cities around the country that are looking for innovative ways to address specific problems in their communities.

Tech experts embedded in the cities are part of Code for America’s one-year paid fellowship program, which has been dubbed “Peace Corps for geeks.” In just its third year, Code for America is gaining attention; more than 500 people applied for 27 fellowship spots this year. Some come from well-known Silicon Valley companies like Apple, Yahoo and Google. Those who are chosen receive $35,000 for the year, a sizable pay cut for many applicants.

Teams of fellows spend a month in the city they are assigned to work with, listening to officials and residents explain their specific challenge — like improving food distribution to low-income residents, or improving municipal transportation information. The teams then return to Code for America’s headquarters to develop a web-based program they think will help.

A number of small-scale but interesting apps have come out of the collaborations so far, like Adopt a Fire Hydrant in Boston and BlightStatus in New Orleans. You can see a list of other Code for America projects here.

During an interview with NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels, founder Jennifer Pahlka pointed to BlightStatus as an example of how Code for America is trying to keep projects “alive” after the one-year city partnership ends. BlightStatus tracks how the city of New Orleans is dealing with abandoned and rundown buildings, which has become a huge problem for the community since Hurricane Katrina.

Three of the four Code for America fellows who last year created BlightStatus decided to turn it into a for-profit business they now call Civic Insight. The founders hope to sell their technology and support services to other cities around the country. The three are getting a big boost from Code for America, which is providing them with free office space and a $25,000 grant as part of its “Accelerator Program.”

Spencer Michels sat down with co-founders Alex Pandel and Eddie Tejeda to learn more about their project. Amir Reavis-Bey, another co-founder, wasn’t present for the interview.