One Man and a Trash Grabber

Dave Brindley is honest about his own tech skills—or rather, lack thereof. “I can’t change my wifi password,” he says, laughing. “I refuse to update my phone or computer. I figure if it worked when I got it, it should from from now on.”

Why get involved with Code for Philly, then?

He moved to West Philadelphia 8 years ago to start his new job as a campus minister at the University of Pennsylvania. He and his family settled into a house downwind from a commercial corridor and Dave noticed that trash tended to blow from the commercial corridor right to their front door.

“I just hated [the] sign of hopelessness that trash conveyed to the kids in the neighborhood,” Dave says. Motivated to make his new neighborhood nicer for his kids and the neighborhood kids they played with, Dave bought himself a trash grabber and dedicated a handful of his time each week to collecting trash. He quickly made a difference on his block, got to meet a lot of his neighbors, and the story very well could have ended there if the person behind the idea was anyone but Dave, who wasn’t content making an impact only on his block, for himself and his neighbors.

He wanted to see if he could convince more people in Philadelphia to do what he did and dedicate a small amount of time each week to cleaning up their own block. He thought maybe it could take the form of a website or an interactive map, a place where individual resident’s could “claim” their block and pledge to do their part.

#notinphilly clean up on Chestnut Street

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Code for Philly Lends A Hand

A friend put him in touch with someone who put him in touch with someone else who recommended Dave attend a Code for Philly event. Dave, and this is easy to glean after spending just a few moments with him, is amediable and open and willing to try things outside his personal expertise in order to find a solution to a problem. He went to a Code for Philly meeting, he pitched his idea, and Code for Philly latched onto it immediately.

“They were excited,” Dave says. Volunteers at Code for Philly thought that an existing Code for Boston project called Adopt A Hydrant might be a good fit, with some tweaking, for what Dave had in mind.

For a guy who claims to be techno-inept, Dave is very good at explaining how Adopt A Hydrant ended up not being the model for them. “It took GPS locations and not block segments. [The volunteers at Code for Philly] were undeterred.” They moved on to google maps to see what google maps could offer as far as open source code for the project—and nothing. They checked other cities—nothing.

“That’s when they realized, this is going to take a lot longer than we thought,” Dave says.

The Partnership That Built Not In Philly

At that point, Dave was particularly thankful to have found a good project partner to take the lead on the coding side of Not in Philly.

Yury Korzun is a soft spoken man who is more than happy to talk about the challenges, and unique opportunities, that exist in civic tech. He started attending Code for Philly meetings two weeks after he moved to Philadelphia, hoping to apply his technical skills to an area he was very interested in (civic tech and urban development) but didn’t have much real world experience in.

“I was excited to meet new people and I had a goal of learning new technologies, and the best way to learn is to build something,” Yury says about his involvement with Code for Philly and Not in Philly. “And I liked Dave’s idea.”

Dave and Yury have a partnership that is well known and well spoken of in civic tech circles. Corey Acri from CyclePhilly was quick to point to them as an example of what he called the successful coming together of “personality and shared value system and dynamic teamwork.”

“Yury and I made a great team,” Dave says. They quickly settled into roles working on the project that took advantage of their individual skills. Dave earnestly heaps a lot of credit and praise onto Yury. It’s entirely possible that no one on the Not in Philly team has any ego to speak of whatsoever. Dave dismisses his contributions as a whole lot of talking, while he insists that Yury has “actual skills.”

“Dave was responsible with engaging the community, finding connections, going out to people, and promoting the project,” Yury says. He provides a fitting argument against calling Dave’s contributions just a whole lot of gabbing. “My part was building the website with the resources we had.”

We caught a family cleaning up their block! #notinphilly

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The Partnership That Grew Not In Philly

They very quickly realized there were aspects of the project that they would need additional funding for. Microsoft had already provided them with free hosting for their website, but to really achieve what they wanted for Not in Philly, more would be needed.

“Dawn [at Code for Philly] made me aware of fiscal sponsorship, which I wasn’t aware of before,” Dave explains. Fiscal sponsorship is a way for established non-profit organizations to lend their legal and tax-exempt status to outside projects or activities that fit the nonprofit’s mission in order to help with fundraising efforts. Dave points to Dawn’s coaching of Not in Philly in this moment as another perk of the project’s involvement with Code for Philly.

What started as a meeting to discuss potential fiscal sponsorship with the Pennsylvania Resources Council quickly turned into a much bigger deal. The environmental nonprofit was so taken with the idea of Not in Philly, they suggested that instead of fiscal sponsorship, maybe Not in Philly would like to become an official project of the non profit. Dave and Yury would stay involved with the project, which would exist within the PRC, and the PRC would be able to spend more time and effort raising funds for it.

“It’s kind of like being proposed to on a first date,” Dave acknowledges, seeming very amused and bewildered by how things happened so quickly. “But it worked out well and they’re exploring avenues for funding for us.”

Not in Philly hopes to raise funds to:

  • Provide even more participating neighborhoods with trash collection and cleaning supplies
  • Roll out Not In Philly in neighborhoods outside the more “up and coming” and “expected” ones
  • Develop an app that would, in the style of CyclePhilly, help Not in Philly participants measure the amount of time they spend cleaning their block

Neighbors on the 1000 block of S 50th taking out the trash! #notinphilly

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Not In Philly Becomes A Social Movement

The existing Not in Philly website and its social feeds are proving popular, and grew more quickly than Dave or Yury anticipated. People all over the city are promising to dedicate a little bit of time, each week, cleaning up their block. At the Not in Philly website they can sign up to promise to do so and are given a map to stake their tiny claim, something that Dave says likely has helped so many people sign up.

One registered Not in Philly user is James Delmar, a decade-long resident of Pointe Breeze.

What asked what he enjoys about Not in Philly, he points to the low barrier for entry to getting started, especially when compared to the existing City of Philadelphia’s block captain program.

“Saturday or Sunday mornings I dedicate an hour, hour and a half if that [picking up trash]. And I post pictures of my success on my street to Not in Philly’s facebook.” The pictures aren’t anything he spends much time on, he labels them very simply with what number week he’s on in his trash pick up journey; he’s just reached week 26. “The hurdles are low, I have a phone, I take a picture, type some words, and post it.”

For someone who has, individually and without much thanks for it, been cleaning up his block for years, he appreciates the outlet of being able to post about his efforts. And he’s noticed that since he’s started sharing his photos on Facebook and tagging his neighborhood groups in the photos, that neighbors have been coming up to tell him what week they’re on in their own trash pick up efforts.

“If one person on every block would decide this is the last day I’m dealing with this trash and I’m going to do something, then we can make some positive change in this city,” James says. “If there’s what, 5,600 blocks in the city, there’s 5,600 people who could then influence others and it becomes a groundswell of people saying no more.”

“Something that ties together people who sign up for Not in Philly and volunteers at Code for Philly is that people want to find a way to serve the city,” Dave says, echoing James’ sentiment. “What we’ve tapped into here is something everybody hates and feels powerless over and we’re saying, you’re not alone, you’re part of this larger movement.”

“There’s a lot of systemic issues. We can’t solve all the problems. But our members are helping address this one aspect.”

And as both Not in Philly and Code for Philly have proven—that’s a pretty good start.