Entrepreneurship and civic innovation are exploding all over the world! Nowhere is it more vibrant than at Silicon Valley headquarters in Palo Alto, California. Saturday night marked the grand finale of Palo Alto’sApps Challenge 2014, part of the second annualNational Day of Civic Hacking and the largest civic collaboration in history. In Palo Alto, seventy-four entrepreneurs of all ages and skillsets competed to develop civic-oriented apps to benefit our community.
Led by Palo Alto CIO Jonathan Reichental with judging by resident tech experts, nine finalists emerged. We selected the winners from a cadre of creative apps promoting greater citizen involvement and compassion for our community.
Mayor Nancy Shepherd announced the winners. And what a joy to see many talented young women involved and leading some of the initiatives!
First prize went to Play Palo Alto, an app to gamify volunteerism. Play Palo Alto makes it fun to engage in local volunteer events and activities by offering points for participation, which can be redeemed as discounts and prizes at local businesses. Not only will the app help broaden the growing trend of “citizens as capacity,” but it supports the local economy as well.
Play Palo Alto leader Francesco Ferrari talked about how the idea came about while in Italy. The team chose to pilot it here. They do plan to productize the app and we’re glad to be the beneficiary!
Second prize went to AdoptMe! , an app for volunteers, fosterers and staff in animal shelters and rescue groups to quickly share news, notes and photos of adoptable pets via social media. The app makes it simple for adopters and adoptees to find each other quickly! And it can free up space for shelters to accommodate more animals. AdoptMe! is used in three local shelters so far and was featured on KTVU Channel 2. Helena Merk spoke of their goal to make Palo Alto not only the most digital city, but also the most humane. And when offering their prize money to Palo Alto Animal Services, Helena’s passion for animals was both evident and heartwarming.
Third prize went to Enabled City, a crowdsourced app to visually map wheelchair-accessible resources for the disabled, like parking, restrooms, even hospitals. The app can be updated by anyone to add or edit resources to improve coverage. Developer Michael Simkovic described how their own use of a wheelchair helped the team gain valuable insight into how hard it is for people in wheelchairs to navigate the community. In doing so, they discovered that Palo Alto’s public facilities are fairly well-equipped for wheelchair access, while private facilities could be improved.
The other finalists contributed more great apps using open data sets to benefit the community!
Tall Tree Teens: Avni Joshi, Sharon Chen and Moriah Bradski from the Henry M. Gunn High School Girls’ Tech Club developed an app for teens to voice their opinion on city topics and school issues. Their goal is to make it easy for
a) teens to be more informed and involved in issues that impact them, and for
b) the city and other institutions to use these insights in their decisions.
As I had told the Tall Tree Teens team, their app was my favorite because, as we had discussed at former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s policy conference at Stanford last year, social media to engage the voice of the citizens is having a huge impact on democracy and restoring trust in governments all over the world. And as I written in another article, American culture often ‘seeks youth for activity but not problem-solving, and elders for problem-solving but not creativity.’ So the Tall Tree Teens app can help address that bias by tapping our collective wisdom, regardless of age.
The Farm: Oren Shneorson offered an app to connect neighborhood urban farmers to coordinate resources, barter seeds and other goods, or combine crop fields and techniques for greater output and efficiency. Palo Alto has an active community of ‘backyard’ farmers and this app is a unique addition to Palo Alto’s nationally ranked PaloAltoGreen program for sustainability. And with our limited space and huge costs for land, the app offers a way for Palo Altans to create a new sharing economy to help soften these challenges!
Bike Watch: Molly Munson developed her own codingand biking skills on demand to build an app that promotes bike safety. The app shows trails and bike hazards and provides a way to register one’s bike with local law enforcement for easy recovery if stolen. Molly is a superb entrepreneurial role model for everyone who wants to contribute to civic innovation! She had never developed an app before and educated herself via books, a prototyping tool and GitHub’s open source developer platform. And she produced a highly scalable app that can benefit bike enthusiasts and cities everywhere!
Go CO2 Free Palo Alto: Lisa Altieri developed a Palo Alto-specific carbon calculator to compute one’s carbon footprint and explore options to reduce it. The overall goal is to help Palo Alto become the first carbon-free city. The app also includes challenges and prizes for making changes.
Dogs In The Neighborhood: Ruthellen Dickinson and team developed an app impacting animal welfare. Only about 20-25% of dogs in the city are licensed, so increasing this revenue stream could benefit shelters. The app also provides a way for dog owners to network with other dog owners and access other special features.
clickPA Mobile: Charles Yu, Ally Gong and team developed a central portal for Palo Alto teens to access local events and activities in real-time in one click on their mobile devices. Geo-location and interest-based searches are in the works. Their goal is to “go where the teens are” to get them more engaged and active in all that the city has to offer.
Three recurrent themes jumped out to me from all of the apps and goals:
1) each app sought a new way to collaborate between citizens and government to improve community life together,
2) several apps demonstrate Greylock venture capitalist James Slavet’s prediction that we’ll see all sorts of new ‘on demand services’ at the intersection of technology, business and culture. Silicon Valley’s Top Ten Tech Trends lists the next wave of gamechangers, and
3) there are many compassionate people in Palo Alto who love their community … and their dogs!
What an opportunity that HackPaloAlto and city CIO Jonathan Reichental created for us to convene the community in a proactive way.
And as City Manager James Keene noted, it was Aristotle who said that the city-state comes into being for living, but it exists for living well, as apartnership between households, clans and villages to provide a fully developed and self-sufficient life.
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