Kristopher Priemer // WSBT photo

Kristopher Priemer // WSBT photo (January 10, 2013)

A team of "geeks" will arrive in South Bend in the next few weeks with one main goal: use computer programs to make the city better.  The Code for America fellowship program is bringing the experts in fields such as computer programming and urban planning to spend the rest of the year with the city and people who live there to assess some of the problems or struggles – including economic development, vacant and abandoned housing and helping local businesses work through red tape.

City employee Kristopher Priemer is the designated city employee working very closely with Mayor Pete Buttigieg, city residents and the Code for America team.

“We’re really trying to create electronic solutions to governmental problems,” Priemer said.

A self-proclaimed computer nerd, his favorite movie about computers is “The Social Network,” documenting the development of Facebook. 

“They were able to take essentially nothing and create a whole revolution of a culture in the world,” said Priemer. 

The 26-year-old Marion High School graduate, who has backgrounds in finance and computer science, wants to use computer programs to impact South Bend the way Facebook has impacted the world. 

Similar to the Teach for America program where recent college graduates commit to spend a certain amount of time in urban schools to help the country’s youth, Code for America takes experts away from their ‘real jobs’ for a year to try and solve problems in cities across the country.

South Bend is one of nine partner cities chosen to participate in Code for America 2013.

How it’s helped other cities:

In New Orleans, Code for America turned the problem of vacant and abandoned houses into a computer program where people living near the blight could check on the city's status of dealing with it.

“Then they took it a step further to show where they are in the process of getting something torn down or getting their lawn cut - whatever that might be - and me as a resident, I could log in, type in my address and see on my block maybe what the houses are and what their status is.”

In Boston, the Code for America team noticed frozen fire hydrants were costing firefighters valuable time in hooking up hoses and fighting fires.  So the team developed a computer program that allowed neighbors to sign up and volunteer to keep specific hydrants clear. 

“What I like to do and try to see is how you can take something small and have such a huge impact on people in such a positive way,” Priemer explained.

Another unique facet about computer programs Code for America developed for other cities to use – many of them can be modified to use in other cities, such as South Bend.

The goal is to continue using the programs long after Code for America representatives leave.

The team is scheduled to arrive in the next couple weeks, learn about the culture and inner working of the city in February and build and implement applications between March and September. 

South Bend will likely receive 4 or 5 new programs when it’s all said and done, Priemer said. 

The program costs $360,000 but community partners and other donors stepped up to pay for a lot of that.  Thursday morning the Redevelopment Commission approved $170,000 taxpayer dollars for the project.