America’s first capital, Philadelphia is still the nation’s fifth largest city, but far from its most prosperous. Like other old industrial cities, it suffered decades of decline as automation and globalization eliminated low-skilled employment. Today, 51% of jobs in Philadelphia require a university degree but only 22% of Philadelphians possess one. Though it is home to dozens of universities and thriving service businesses, the city has a poverty rate of almost 27%. When he took office in 2008, Mayor Michael Nutter pledged to double the percentage of young people who attended university. Since then, city government has marshaled local and national resources in an effort to break the cycle of low achievement and economic exclusion.
Nearly half of Philadelphians lack Internet access at home. Having identified broadband as an essential utility in its master plan, the city assembled a coalition of health, social service and community development organizations called the Freedom Rings Partnership. The group successfully applied for broadband stimulus funding, which has been applied to the development of 77 KEYSPOTS digital inclusion centers in low-income neighborhoods. Each provides access to technology, digital skills education and training in such essentials as job interviewing and keeping a job. Together, they have served 165,000 participants, with an impact that often reaches far beyond basic digital literacy. Other public and private investment has gone into redevelopment of the Navy Yard into a green industries park and America’s largest urban solar farm, as well as early development of a learning management system for the public schools. For Philadelphia, the payoff from these programs will be an increase in the percentage of its citizens that participate in the city’s economic success.
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