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What’s New in Civic Tech: Philly to Host Innovation Fest

Plus, Washington, D.C., preps for digital inclusion week; Florida relaunches and expands its commercial property search tool; and the National Digital Inclusion Alliances unveils two new tools for local government.

by / October 10, 2019
Philadelphia, Pa. Shutterstock/S.Borisov

Philadelphia will play host to a cross-sector innovation festival later this month that involves more than 150 events aimed at fostering ideas to shape the future of the city.

Dubbed the B. PHL Innovation Festival, this will be a citywide event held from Oct. 15 to Oct. 17. Its name pays homage to famed former Philadelphia resident and inventor, Benjamin Franklin. Part of the goal behind it is to promote Philadelphia as the most innovative city on the East Coast.

There will be 13 locations throughout Philadelphia hosting events, with a list that includes Independence Blue Cross, the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, Community College of Philadelphia, the Curtis Institute for Music, Temple University, Drexel University, the Science Center and Jefferson University.

In addition, Philadelphia will be embracing its makeup as a city of neighborhoods by organizing related events in each of its districts during the weekend before the festival proper, with that weekend being Oct. 12 to Oct. 13. 

The nature of the events that comprise the festival is varied, and it includes interactive workshops, speakers, panel discussions and exhibits that showcase related concepts, including innovation itself, health care, technology, engineering, art, music and film. It sounds a bit like the famous conference in Austin, Texas, SXSW, just playing more to Philadelphia’s strengths as a city of neighborhoods, whereas Austin concentrates that event largely within its downtown entertainment district.

To make all this happen, festival organizers are partnering with and highlighting local organizations, entrepreneurs and individual innovators. 

Guest speakers associated with the festival include Marques Colston — a former NFL player who is also the founder of Dynasty Innovation — as well as the former head of innovation and creativity at Disney, Duncan Wardle.

Washington, D.C., Preps for Digital Inclusion Week

This week is National Digital Inclusion Week, and, as such, there are related events taking place in cities across the country, one of which is Washington, D.C.

The celebration of Digital Inclusion Week in Washington, D.C., has two main facets. The first is a proclamation from Mayor Muriel Bowser that stresses digital inclusion as vital to giving all residents a “fair shot at full civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.” The second is an announcement that Comcast will expand eligibility for its Internet Essentials program, thereby making low-income households in the District eligible for low-cost Wi-Fi. Before this change, only targeted low-income households with school-aged children, seniors or veterans could qualify.

Washington, D.C., however, is not alone in supporting the week or its cause. Communities across the country are participating, and interested parties can go through the week’s convening body, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, to find relevant happenings near them.

National Digital Inclusion Alliance Announces Two New Resources for Local Government

Speaking of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), the group has taken the occasion of this week to announce two new resources for local government to use in the service of digital equity.

The first of these is a new white paper titled, “Why Smart Communities Need Digital Inclusion.” This report was developed with guidance from the NDIA’s Smart Inclusive Cities Working Group, which includes local gov representatives from several cities, including Louisville, Ky.; Austin, Texas; and Portland, Ore. The paper looks at a fascinating topic, namely how smart city tech, if handled in a certain way, has the potential to make digital divides worse, excluding more people from opportunities. It goes on to explain that smart cities can at the same time embrace digital inclusion, the solution to the digital divide.

The other new resource rolled out by the NDIA for local government is a revamped set of indicators for its Digital Inclusion Trailblazers program, which rewards cities for their efforts in being digitally inclusive. Being named a Digital Inclusion Trailblazer is essentially an accreditation for local governments when it comes to digital equity work. 

These new indicators have been created by the aforementioned working group with the support of Google Fiber, and they are as follows: local government has or funds one full-time staffer who works on digital inclusion; has or is developing a digital inclusion plan; participates in a digital inclusion coalition; has conducted or plans to conduct and publish a survey on Internet connectivity of residents; funds community digital inclusion programming; and is taking or has taken steps in increasing affordability of home broadband service.

The deadline for local governments to apply to be a Digital Inclusion Trailblazer under the new indicators is Nov. 15.

Florida Relaunches, Expands Commercial Property Search Tool

Florida has announced plans to expand and relaunch its commercial property search tool, called Find It Florida!

That tool, which is the work of Enterprise Florida, is a public database that can be used to view and upload locations for available commercial buildings and site properties throughout Florida. The new relaunch and expansion includes updates to functionality, as well as a new layer that features opportunity zones. In a press release, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis described the tool as a means “to assist business and now investors to find commercial properties and sites in Florida.”

The end goal is to encourage long-term investment and job growth throughout the state. The opportunity zones program is a tool that provides areas that offer tax incentives when investors reinvest gains in qualified opportunity funds. Those funds must then be invested in low-income communities from designated census tracts, or opportunity zones.

All told, the newly relaunched site includes up-to-date demographics and statistics for 67 counties in Florida and nearly 1,000 cities, towns and communities.

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Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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