In the aftermath of the global financial crisis and the recovery from the worst American recession since the Great Depression, government leaders have learned that they need to do more, like make improvements to infrastructure, basic services and governmental programs, but with shrinking resources.
Municipal governments have the greatest direct impact on the lives of their constituents and no matter how tight the budget, citizens expect – and deserve – action. So mayors have to think innovatively to accomplish goals, deliver services more efficiently and effectively, and stimulate economic development.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter has not pared back his ambitious agenda despite reduced funding. One major focus: access to a quality education, which he refers to as “the new civil rights fight.” Mayor Nutter supports a number of creative initiatives designed to provide Philadelphians with educational opportunities and job skills to prepare them for the 21st century workforce.
Philadelphia is one of more than 60 cities worldwide that have participated in IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge program. IBM sends teams of six executives to participating cities to help them come up with solutions to difficult problems. Nutter and other mayors have provided insights in to what it takes to transform cities. The lessons they learned are captured in this white paper, How to Reinvent a City.
The Greater Philadelphia region is home to 101 colleges and universities, but the City of Philadelphia still struggles with low literacy, high school graduation and college attainment rates. During the Nutter administration’s first five years in office, these rates have steadily improved, though these numbers are still below the Mayor’s goals. To ensure best educational practices are implemented across the school system and improve the overall quality of education in the city, Mayor Nutter and the Pennsylvania Department of Education support the Great Schools Compact, a collaborative of School District, charter and Archdiocese schools with the goal of increasing the number of seats in high-performing schools.
Mayor Nutter is also championing the new digital learning initiative, Digital On-Ramps, which the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge team helped shape. The Digital On-Ramps initiative aims to provide comprehensive education and workforce training support to Philadelphians ages 14 – 65. The goal is to create an anytime, anywhere, any device learning community that works to improve math and literacy skills, assist in job searches and provide digital skill training. “The only way people will lift themselves out of poverty is through education, and we need to connect people in new, easily-accessible ways,” Mayor Nutter said.
Moreover, 230,000 Philadelphia households do not have internet access at home. To help address the big challenge of the digital divide, the City of Philadelphia is working with programs that make logging on easier and more affordable: KeySPOTS and Internet Essentials. KeySPOTS are federally-funded computer centers – 77 in total – located in neighborhoods where residential access to the internet is small. Internet Essentials is a partnership program with Comcast. With Internet Essentials, people who receive free or reduced lunches are eligible for a reduced-price personal computer and internet service and a free modem.
While access won’t solve the education challenges Philadelphia faces, it can support learning goals and, ultimately, achievement. Mayor Nutter added, “No matter what you’re working on, there is a technology solution, application and engagement that’s going to help you do things smarter, better, quicker, more efficiently or more productively.”
Steve Hamm is a communications strategist, writer and videographer at IBM. He was previously a journalist for 30 years, the last 12 as a senior technology writer at BusinessWeek.