Civic engagement can take many forms and Cityflag, a mobile phone app that allows citizens to highlight and track local issues, wants to make it just a download away.
Along with allowing users to post photos of infrastructure issues, Cityflag incorporates a social media tangent and mapping system where people can share infrastructure and City service issues like graffiti and potholes they’ve seen in their neighborhood and have others up-vote/validate it. The app will also track if/when the issue is addressed. A red flag indicates a problem, a yellow flag indicates it is in the process of getting fixed and a green flag shows it has already been fixed. That’s the plan, anyway, as Cityflag develops its app for launch this fall in San Antonio.
Like many startups and mobile applications, Cityflag started out as an abstract idea.
“We wondered how we would connect local government with citizens. We asked ourselves what tools do we have as organizers to bring together local public officials and their (constituents),” said Alberto Altamirano, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and co-founder of Cityflag who works out of Geekdom in San Antonio.
The mobile app comes from an international team of six entrepreneurs Alberto Altamirano, Eduardo Bravo, Alberto Gomez Isassi, Marco Vera, Ivan Benavides and Ada Mariela Ortega.
What started as a brainstorming session with Isassi, a co-founder and political communications professor, led to the development of an innovative way to catalog issues in San Antonio such as potholes and graffiti.
“During our market research, Millennials are (the largest group) that use a smart phone. It also showed reporting public infrastructure issues took over half an hour just trying to speak to someone,” Bravo explained.
Conventional methods of getting in touch with City Council members about pressing matters such as dangerous road conditions and vandalism often means being one of dozens if not hundreds of emails and phone calls that are filtered by staff. Citizens also have the option of attending public meetings, but a one-on-one conversation with your council member is certainly not guaranteed. Through tech-savvy, grassroots tactics like Cityflag and other emerging websites like Ideas for COSA, people can potentially communicate with their local representative almost instantaneously. Cityflag also hopes to make it easier to hold city leaders accountable. In theory, the more red flags turn into green flags, the more responsive City government is to citizen needs.
“We started seeing that millennials, after the 2008 election, decreased their participation in civic engagement,” said Altamirano, a University of Texas alumnus. “We needed to capture the essence of the millennial generation. There are 80 million of them out there and it could be the largest voting block in the country. But we’re not organized. While they trust government services, they’re skeptical that government can solve problems.”
Cityflag has garnered praise from the giants of the tech start-up universe such as Google with their recent invitation to their mentoring program at their headquarters in San Francisco, California.
But it was Cityflag’s recent success as finalists in the Voto Latino Innovators Challenge that really placed them on the startup world’s map.
“Finally, a fun app that informs, involves and educates young people in the critical space of community involvement and engagement,” said Lionel Sosa, founder of Bromley Communications. “This app will help increase citizen and voter participation among our youth; something sorely needed nationwide. I congratulate the Cityflag team for putting their talents and creativity to work.”
As one of the largest Hispanic advertising agencies in the United States, Bromley Communications joins a growing number of companies expanding the commercial and political Latino clout.
Cityflag CFO Bravo first met co-founders Altamirano and Isassi in April of 2014 at the US-MEX FoCUS Conference. The event, organized by Stanford University and the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM), would also bring Vera onto the Cityflag team.
“We presented this project at Stanford University in November of last year and people were excited,” Bravo said. “(Altamirano) looked into ways to get seed capital and found the Voto Latino Innovators Challenge. This was perfect because they were interested in getting people to be active in their community and to get them to vote.”
As Cityflag progressed through the early rounds of the competition, an invitation to the decade anniversary of Voto Latino in Washington D.C. was not far behind. Cityflag joined other finalists from across the country, but plans did not stop there.
With exposure through the MacArthur Foundation and MSNBC, the spotlight on Cityflag is only intensifying. It is also redefining that tech start-ups are more than the stuff of Silicon Valley.
Cityflag was recently selected as a member of Startup México‘s fourth generation. Out of more than 400 projects only 18 were chosen to participate in the six-month program, where it was given seed funding, mentorship, and office space. Last week Cityflag’s co-founders attended a series of very productive meetings at SUM Hub with entrepreneurs, investors and technology experts from México’s private sector. Cityflag’s vision seeks national and international expansion.
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While Austin has long enjoyed a reputation as progressive and tech-friendly, it also boasts locals willing to embrace the innovation Cityflag has to offer. Not to be outdone, the Alamo City also looks to follow its neighbor along Interstate 35 into a more responsive local government.
“There is so many people in the public sector that have validated our idea and are interested. We’re also planning on launching Cityflag in Mexico City,” Bravo said.
*Featured/top image: Cityflag co-founder Alberto Altamirano poses for a photo at Geekdom. Photo by Iris Dimmick.