Philadelphia’s urban complexities can sometimes seem overwhelming, but thanks to the efforts at Temple’s Urban Apps and Maps Studios, grappling with these complicated issues might soon be possible in the palm of your hand.
Over the next three summers, high school and college-age students will take part in a six-week program to learn digital design and business skills, with a dozen of them working year-round to develop apps and maps that solve challenges of urban communities.
A central goal of the program is connecting the students with underserved North Philadelphia communities, engaging them with the design challenges. According to Michele Masucci, professor and chair of Geography and Urban Studies at Temple University, it was this community outreach component of the project that caught the eye of the Knight Foundation
—they are providing a $635,000 grant. "The issues to be solved come from community input," explains Masucci. "Knight thought this was fantastic and wanted to get involved."
Thanks to the Knight grant—as well as the initial U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration
grant that jumpstarted the program last year—the Urban Apps and Maps Studio is fully funded for at least the next three years. Masucci believes the benefits of the program will guarantee funding for years to come. "The youth of this country are one of the largest digital consumer groups," she says. "This program brings them to the table to also be digital innovators."
The program also broadens students' educational and professional horizons by connecting them with Temple’s vast resources. In an unprecedented model of collaboration, faculty from Temple’s Fox School of Business, College of Science and Technology, College of Engineering and Tyler School of Art have lent their expertise to the Studio’s efforts to create, implement and eventually sell the apps and maps.
A number of apps and maps have already been created. These include an app for urban farming, an urban health warriors game app that helps increase health awareness and a game to educate youth about personal finance.
Over the next few years, expect even more innovative solutions to emerge from the Studio. Accoring to Masucci, the University will continue to work with the Philadelphia School District
and the Philadelphia Youth Network
to identify and recruit students from North Philadelphia to take part in the Studio. Over the coming years, they are aiming to expand the program to other parts of Philadelphia as well.
: Michele Masucci, professor and chair of Geography and Urban Studies, Temple
: Greg Meckstroth