The first annual Palo Alto Apps Challenge is well underway. And after 70 applicants submitted their ideas for a civic app that would enhance the engagement between local government and its citizens, only ten apps are left.
Over the past four weeks, finalists have worked on designing, coding and developing their apps, which all give civic-focused solutions to addressing issues within the City, including bike safety, animal services, teen activities, parking, community education and climate change.
The Palo Alto Apps Challenge was created as a follow-up to last year's highly successful CityCamp Palo Alto civic innovation event. While CityCamp focused on idea generation, the Apps Challenge moves to apps creation.
On April 27, the finalists will present prototypes of their apps at a showcase at the Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road, from 1-4 p.m. Community members are invited to view the apps and give ideas and feedback to the finalists as they prepare for the finale on May 31 when a winner will be announced.
Read on below for a preview of some of the finalist apps and their creators.
Playfully Reinventing the Way People Interact with Palo Alto
Francesco Ferrari has always been civic-minded and socially conscious. As a high school student in his native Italy, he volunteered in the community as much as he could and was the president of his city council.
During that time, he and his fellow councilmembers created a game to get people in his community to interact more with their city in ways that would not only be fun, but also give back to the community. Though they had the best intentions, the project ultimately failed because, he said, it did not have the proper platform to support it.
But then, Ferrari, who is now an engineering student at University College London and working in Palo Alto for the year as an intern with Cisco, heard about the Palo Alto App Challenge. He felt it was the perfect way to revisit his earlier project and recreate it in a way that would work for the City.
Using the principles of gamification, Ferrari hopes to reinvent the way Palo Alto visitors and residents interact with the City through his Play Palo Alto app.
"The aim of the app is to raise civic awareness amongst both residents and visitors, as well as to increase their engagement with the environment through various activities," he said.
The app will contain a series of challenges and missions for both residents and visitors to complete. Resident challenges will involve more volunteer work and community service activities, and visitor challenges will be more focused on tourism and promoting local businesses.
“For residents, it could be more volunteer-related things, such as taking care of an animal for a day, cleaning up a street, or taking care of an elderly person,” he said.
For the visitor challenges, he wants to entertain people who come to Palo Alto.
“So many times you go to a city you don't know and you just end up walking around visiting monuments,” he said. “If you have a list that says you have to visit this monument first and find something there, then it gives a clue to another place and at the same time you get some points that you can use for discounts somewhere, then it’s a whole new experience of visiting a town or a place. It will be much more interesting.”
Ferrari would also like to incorporate a reward system that gives users points for completing challenges. The points could then be added up and redeemed for coupons at Palo Alto businesses.
“Say you have 20 points, you get a coupon for 50 percent off at the local ice cream shop. Or if you have 100 points, you can use it for a discount in a restaurant,” he said. “At the same time, it’s good for the user, but also gives local businesses visibility.”
Though the idea for the app was all Ferrari’s, he has enlisted the help of co-workers and friends to create it. Also on the team are Allie Ahn, Richard Logan, Aris Iliopoulos and Nikos Bregiannis.
“It was amazing when I found out I was a finalist,” he said. “If we win, it will be one of my dreams come true.”
Animal Welfare Through Mobile Apps
When Cynthia Typaldos found a stray puppy in her yard last September, she had no idea it would lead to her and a team of fellow animal lovers creating mobile apps that focused on animal welfare. But just seven months later, that is exactly where the team is at, with two apps in the top ten of the first Palo Alto Apps Challenge.
“This is an incredible opportunity,” Typaldos said. “To make this available and to give people like us an opportunity to improve our city is just wonderful.”
It all started when Typaldos found the stray she named Bronco. Since she already had three dogs, she couldn’t keep him and took him to the shelter at Palo Alto Animal Services.
“I followed him in the shelter and was very interested in him having a successful adoption,” she said. “He did get adopted, but he was in for about four months. I realized that there could be a lot more done for the animals to get them adopted more quickly.”
From her dealings with Animal Services, she also found out just how underfunded the local animal shelters are.
“We discovered only about 20 percent of dogs are licensed in the City,” she said. “There was a potential for there to be more money for the shelters.”
Then she heard about the App Challenge and felt it could be a solution.
“I thought, what if we could build an app that could help those two things—getting more revenue in the shelters by increasing licensing compliance and getting animals adopted more quickly,” she said.
She reached out on Nextdoor.com to see if any of her neighbors wanted to help and met Ruthellen Dickinson, also an animal lover. The two began working on several apps that would address animal welfare, and ended up submitting four to the competition. Two, Dogs in the Neighborhood! and Adopt Me!, are finalists in the competition.
Once they heard the news that they had two apps in the finals that they needed to create prototypes for, they recruited a team of people to help. Along with Typaldos and Dickinson, team members include, Brian Smith, Nancy Cook, Helena Merk, Justine Hirsch, Cynthia Chou, Kayla Block, Bhanu Iyer, and Claudine Lundgren. The team's advisors are Rob Blackwelder and Frank Spies.
“A lot of what draws people in, I think, is their passion for animal welfare and their interest in what we are trying to do for the shelter,” Dickinson said. “Everyone on the team is an animal lover.”
With the Dogs in the Neighborhood! app, the group wants to create a way for dog owners to get their pets together for play dates and walks, and encourage dog owners to get their pets licensed.
“It is designed to be able to connect up dog owners in the community in various way,” Dickinson said. “One of the exciting core features is that if you are going on a walk with your dog, you can go into the app and say who is going for a walk, and you will be able to see on your phone your neighborhood and who else is out walking, so you will be able to meet up with them. It facilitates people having the opportunity to see who is out and get together if they want to.”
Dogs in the Neighborhood! will come in two versions, a free, bare-bones one and a more robust, premium one only available to dog owners who have licensed their dogs. They are doing it this way to give people an incentive to license their pets, which will also help to bring more money into the animal shelters.
Adopt Me! is all about helping to get shelter animals adopted quickly. The app would pull data on animals that is already in the Animal Services system. The animals would also have profiles that shelter volunteers could upload fun and playful pictures to and write tidbits about the animals on.
“This would give people an opportunity to see the animals’ personalities,” Typaldos said.
Typaldos added that she, along with the entire team, is very thankful to the City for putting together the competition and for all of the help along the way. And they are hopeful that their two apps will be a great resource for animal lovers and really help to improve the welfare of all animals in Palo Alto and beyond.
“If we can do this here in Palo Alto, then it can be cloned in other places. We really can change the world,” Typaldos said. “Our goal is not to improve the welfare of only animals here in Palo Alto, but also around the nation. Other shelters and other people can use our tools too.”
Keeping Teens Connected in Palo Alto
Palo Alto teens have no shortage of things to do in and around the City. From entertaining and educational events to volunteer and job opportunities, it can all be found in Palo Alto. The problem though is that with no specific place to go to search for it all, teens often times don’t know what is happening and miss out on great opportunities and good times.
ClickPA is hoping to change all that. The organization, founded in 2013 by six teens from both Gunn and Palo Alto high schools, already has a website to try and address the problem. Now, the team is in the process of also creating an app to go along with the website in hopes of increasing its reach and engagement with local teens.
Inspired by the City’s App Challenge, the ClickPA team decided that an app would take their website to the next level. Judges for the contest agreed and out of 70 ideas submitted to the contest, ClickPA’s app made it into the top ten.
Ally Gong, one of ClickPA’s founders, first heard about the App Challenge at one of the City’s Teen Advisory Board meetings and she thought it would be perfect for her organization.
"ClickPA is literally a community engaging theme and we already have the idea down," Gong said. “The app is the only thing we are missing.”
Gong said the idea for ClickPA came about because the teens involved came to the conclusion that events in the City weren’t broadcast enough.
“A lot of teens aren’t even aware of what is going on and even if they are aware, they are not necessarily interested because they don’t know enough about it. They don’t have any prior experience, there is no word of mouth or anyone telling them how this event has been in the past, so we want to combat this problem of not knowing about events with the website,” Gong said. “With the app, we are kind of hoping it will increase the market and more people will use it in that moment.”
Currently, the ClickPA website has an events calendar, reviews on local events and places, job, volunteer and internship listings, and opportunities for things such as mentorship, auditions and contests. The next phase is to enlist teen journalists and bloggers to provide news and feature stories, reviews and other content of interest to teens.
ClickPA hopes that incorporating an app will make it easier and more likely for teens to submit info, such as events or job listings, they see as they are out and about. They also want the app to be the place teens will go to automatically to find out what is happening around them as they are out.
“For example, if they were standing on a street downtown and were looking for something to do in the area, the app would give them an overview of what they could do nearby,” Gong said. “One really important thing we want for ClickPA is accessibility, and to have it be very instantaneous and on the go.”
With the help of the Android Development Club at Palo Alto High School, the team has been working hard to create a prototype of their app for the upcoming showcase with hopes that it could lead to an actual functioning app to go along with the website.
“The contest is a way for us to connect with developers around the Bay Area to build our app. We don’t really have the resources to build a perfectly functioning app, but we do have the ability to enter this contest and meet connections to help us,” said ClickPA Tech and Media Manager Charles Yu. “We are hoping that at least the app contest was a pushing off point for us in making the app.”
The team really believes in their app and its potential to engage teens in a way that is not currently being done, and they hope to become a one-stop activities central where local teens go to find out about all that is happening in and around the City so they never have to miss out again.
“Sometimes you take the city you live in for granted, especially in a place as nice as Palo Alto,” Gong said. “When I started with ClickPA, I was really surprised to see how much was going on. Before working on this project, I didn’t even know how much was really going on in the City. Being behind the scenes was a real eye opening experience for me so I hope that for our users it will also give them that feeling.”
Along with Gong and Yu, Sharon Chen, Bryan Wong, Bethany Wong and Fabian Garduno are the core ClickPA staff. Charlie Mihran and Ryan Huang are members of the Paly Android Development Club helping with the project. All are local high school students.
For more information on ClickPA, visit http://clickpa.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Taking a Crowd-Sourced Approach to Parking Crisis
Anyone who has driven around downtown Palo Alto knows that parking spaces can be scarce and hard to find. The problem is one that Oren Shneorson is trying to tackle through an app he is creating for the Palo Alto App Challenge. With his Crowd Parking app, he hopes to alleviate some of the stress that comes with trying to find a parking spot in the City.
“Parking in the City is politically important right now,” Shnerorson said. “The situation is aching and hurting people. It comes down to the fact that everyone is just cruising around downtown everyday looking for parking spaces. The time you spend looking for one takes away from your lunch break or anything else that you are doing.”
In looking at the current parking situation, Shneorson said that what is missing is information on where current spots are and what is and is not available at any given time. His app aims to provide a solution.
For the App Challenge finals, he is creating a prototype that directs drivers in Palo Alto to the nearest parking space, gathering information through crowd sourcing where users mark spots that are in use or free and report spots wrongly marked as used or unused.
“What if people in Palo Alto were behaving in a way that when they park, they are telling people this parking spot is taken. When they leave, they tell this spot is available,” he said. “It’s a solution that needs civic engagement. It addresses your common sense and your willingness to work for the common good.”
Though the app would require people to be actively engaged with it to make it work, Shneorson said that the issue is one that a lot of people really care about and want to solve, so that is a motivator.
“People will have to be aware of the common good in order for this to work,” he said. “If you said in Palo Alto this is what we do and the City provided the means of doing it, then people will start saying if you park you mark.”
Shneorson said that though he knows the overall parking situation can’t be solved entirely by an app, but ultimately only with more parking spaces, he hopes that people would be open to an app like his and at least give it a try.
“It’s a behavioral change,” he said. “People will have to be convinced that they want to do this, but what the heck, let’s try it.”