Smart cities still struggle to understand, use oceans of data
June 26, 2017
Technology leaders from several cities say they're concerned with staff education and privacy as their smart city efforts increasingly rely on new streams of data.
Local startup Cityflag wins San Antonio, Texas, as its first American client as the city pursues a new brand of citizen engagement.
Colin Wood is the managing editor of StateScoop. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine. Before that, he taught Engl...
Countless cities have deployed some kind of 311 issue-reporting app or service, but a new partnership announced by the City of San Antonio, Texas, this month is a marker of progress both for the civic tech and smart city communities.
On May 3, the city announced the award of a 311 app contract to local startup Cityflag, which now expects to launch the app this summer. By using social and gamification elements like badges and rewards that will promote citizen engagement with government, the company will seek to support the city's vision — called SmartSA — of a connected, smart city future.
Cityflag works out of Geekdom, the city's tech startup incubator, an indication that in at least one instance, the civic tech space is succeeding both as a means of economic development for local markets and a way for city government to capitalize on emerging talent.
And for years, cities have used 311 apps as a way to crowdsource reporting of public issues like potholes or graffiti, but San Antonio's effort shows how city leaders are expanding their thinking beyond spotting problems and fixing them.
"One of the interesting things is yes, it starts with 311, but it's really a citizen-engagement platform," said city Chief Innovation Officer Jose De La Cruz. "It's a better way for us to engage with our residents."
Among the city's ongoing smart city projects is a two-year pilot project — called SATRIP — to collect real-time traffic data with the goal of improving pedestrian safety and alleviating traffic congestion. City government is also including a wide range of stakeholders — universities, local entrepreneurs, and city utility companies — throughout ongoing discussions via community workshops.
The city is using 311 as a way to augment its collaborative smart city projects because it's a such a strong interaction point, De La Cruz said.
"It will give us more data and more location data we can get down to specific areas of town these issues are occurring and think about how we can be more proactive in how we deliver our services," he said.
The contract for the project allows for $22,800 in one-time costs and $6,000 in recurring annual payments to the vendor.
Cityflag is a relative newcomer to the citizen engagement market, joining companies like SeeClickFix, PublicStuff, FixMyStreet, and CitySourced, each of which provide apps and services connecting citizens to their local governments. Cityflag first began offering services in the Mexico City district of Delegación Cuauhtémoc, where the startup received funding and working space through competitions and startup incubators.
San Antonio will be the startup's first American client, where company co-founder and CEO Alberto Altamirano said he wants to build a style of civic engagement not found in other 311 apps. He came to this realization, he said, after talking with civic-minded residents in neighboring Austin, Texas, about the other 311 apps available.
"They wanted more than that. They wanted to engage with their neighbors, they wanted to create consensus around a particular issue, they wanted to have a mutual reference of the things they reported," he said.
Cityflag's 311 app includes social elements like sharing and commenting, as well as gamification elements. Users will get immediate rewards within the app for using it, Altamirano said.
Some cities use real-world rewards like coupons to local restaurants. San Antonio will use digital rewards like badges and ranks.
"They start as 'volunteers' and may end up as 'community representatives,'" he said. "Among that progress, the city may send them a letter from the mayor recognizing their efforts, the city may host them for breakfast with their city councilman, or give them a recognition at a city council meeting."