Palo Alto embraces its Silicon Valley soul with a new smartphone app

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

I know this has happened to you before—say you’re driving down the road and you see a huge pothole. You want to report it, but won’t be home for hours. Or there’s an intersection where all of the traffic lights are out. You want to alert city staffers immediately.  Reporting these matters along with all other public works issues, in the city of Palo Alto, just got a bit easier thanks to a new mobile app—PaloAlto311.

“At any time or any place you can interact with your government,” said Jonathan Reichental, Palo Alto’s Chief Information Officer. “If you see an issue, while you’re out walking or cycling or out dining, send it to city hall and we’ll fix it.”

The app allows residents to directly report issues via their mobile phone or tablet. Residents can also take a picture of the problem and send it. Thanks to GPS and location services associated with the app, it knows the exact location of the problem.

This app was a way to automate and make it easier for people to work with city hall. So far, about 400 residents downloaded the free app and there have been about 50 tickets for service.

“As the city known as the birthplace of Silicon Valley, it is logical that we embrace new ways to engage our residents,” said James Keene, city manager. We have a highly engaged citizenry and need to reflect how the surrounding community views and interacts with local government.  It is really part of the DNA of the city, and reflects how government will really be at the forefront of the transformation and innovation of civic engagement.”

“The same way folks buy things and interact with their smartphones and computers, we wanted people to have the same, high quality experience with their local government, and Palo Alto, specifically,” said Reichental.

The City has a three year contract with PublicStuff for about $25,000.

“The City has been piloting several civic engagement tools – we are often approached to beta test or pilot apps.  This is part of our philosophy of searching for technology that enhances civic engagement and promotes a closer connection between government and community,” said Keene.

The app also supports multiple languages through the One Voice-Instant Translation feature that allows all Palo Alto residents who don’t speak English to access city services and submit requests in their native language automatically.

As a Silicon Valley city, naturally, what would come next? Soon, residents will be able to text their issues or concerns.

Palo Alto has been working hard bringing government closer to the people and city leaders say others can follow their lead.

“We’re showing it can be down. Most cities in California are made up like us, they’re smaller. The excuse that we’re too small to do these types of things doesn’t hold because we’re not doing anything particularly outlandish nor are we spending a lot of money, we’re just being really cleaver and innovative and forming great partnerships. This is not beyond the realm of any medium sized city,” said Reichental.

PaloAlto311 is available in the Apple or Google app stores for immediate use.


Cheryl Getuiza

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