With thumping music, slick video and a showing of city leadership, a team of San Antonio 20-somethings who founded Cityflag on Wednesday debuted the city’s new 311SA mobile public service app.
The free app, available on both android and iOS devices, allows users to within seconds report and submit photos of problems such as potholes, graffiti, illegal dumping and stray animals. Reports are geolocated with flag icons, and participants can see the issues be addressed and resolved by changes in the flag colors.
What’s more, the “gamified public service app” is interactive, rewarding users points and badges for engagement, allowing them to follow others and be followed, and let them see what’s being reported citywide. Residents can download the app from the iTunes store or Google Play under the name “311SA” or find it on www.sanantonio.gov/311 .
“No other application in any city has this, where you can vote and interact directly with anyone on the platform,” said Alberto “Beto” Altamirano, Cityflag’s CEO and a co-founder along with Eduardo Bravo and Alberto Gomez.
Cityflag won an initial $40,000 contract last year as part of a nearly $8 million city initiative to become a “smart city” by increasing digital connectivity and internet-of-things initiatives.
“I’m thrilled that here in the city of San Antonio, where we have pledged to be smarter, to be funner, we’re doing that here today,” city Mayor Ron Nirenberg told the packed launch party at the Geekdom Event Centre.
“I get calls about potholes and graffiti and you know street crimes and things like that and it’s a lot of fun to be able to work on that and improve it,” Nirenberg said. “Now, for the first time ever, citizens are going to have the power in their hands to be able to experience that as well.”
City Manager Sheryl Sculley said the Cityflag partnership gave residents a new way to communicate with their city.
“We worked to find new ways to further engage the community … to get the public more involved and make it easy for them to respond or report things that are going on,” she said.
Cityflag founders have spent much of the past year working with city department heads to customize the app for San Antonio residents.Paula Stallcup, who manages the city’s 311 center, said residents should think of 311 as “that first point of contact with the city of San Antonio.” “We’re here seven days a week to take those calls from the residents, whatever service it is,” she said.
Cityflag’s concept dates back to Altamirano’s 2008 stint helping local Democrats during Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign.“I knocked on a lot of doors and I remember getting the same replies: ‘Who’s going to fix the potholes in the streets?’” he said. “By 2030, 70 percent of the population’s going to be in the cities. … So why not create some type of communication platform to make it easier to communicate with city government. And that’s what we’re doing.”
A mid-2014 brainstorming session with friend Beto Gomez, a college professor, led to the idea of a civic engagement app.
They used it to enter, and win, a national competition known as the Voto Latino Innovators Challenge, which was spearheaded by Voto Latino, a national nonprofit supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation through a grant from the University of California.
About a month later, they won the Startup Mexico competition in Mexico, which provided 18 of 400 competing teams with funding and office space in Mexico City.
Altamirano in November was named to Forbes Magazine’s prestigious “30 under 30” list.
Asked if he saw Cityflag leading up to his own political career, he said, “I wouldn’t be opposed to it.” “I’m excited right now about what we’re doing in business,” he said. “I think we’re nurturing economic development when we talk about innovation and technology, but as of right now I’m focusing on my company.”