By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News
They’re a brigade of citizens seeking to solve the city’s problems through technology with an empathetic twist.
Together, they seek to tackle issues around transparency, information about school closures, creating customer service portals, discovering cultural secrets of San Antonio and city council hot issues.
Those are just a few of the ideas for city web and mobile applications generated from a massive brainstorming session at Rackspace on Saturday. More than 50 people attended Code for America’s CodeAcross daylong event.
They are part of the Open San Antonio brigade, known as OpenSATX. They met in five groups with city officials and looked at San Antonio data sets and ways to use them. And they created lists of problems on yellow sticky notes the city should be addressing.
The event also raised awareness for the local Code for America program.
San Antonio’s Code for America fellows include Maya Benari, David Leonard and Amy Mok. They have been here for three weeks meeting with citizens and city officials. They have one more week to go. Then they’ll take their research back to San Francisco and choose a project to work on.
Benari, a web designer and developer from Los Angeles, wants to make technology more human and empathetic.
“When people think about government it’s not an easy system,” she said.
With events like CodeAcross, the goal is to start with the users and focus on solving their problems, she said. So much of government creates the solutions first, she said.
Benari signed up with Code for America to help people.
“I thought it was an incredible opportunity to have a bigger impact in influencing the things people deal with every day,” she said.
Kyle Rames, a software developer advocate at Rackspace and organizer of San Antonio’s CodeAcross brigade, said the goal of the event is to empower citizens to make change in their communities.
“I think this is an opportunity for people who have questions about how their city works and how they can get involved with it,” Rames said.
“I think there are a lot of exciting things going on in San Antonio right now and it’s changing right before our very eyes,’’ Rames said. Those initiatives for change include SA 20/20, the decade of downtown and Geekdom, a coworking and technology incubator and now the CodeAcross brigade, he said.
Rames would like to see more of an open data policy from the city.
“So developers can interact with it, especially with the rise of places like Rackspace and Geekdom where people can take that data and apply it very creative ways,” he said.
The city has a finite budget so the ability to tap into the creativity of citizens will provide more solutions, said Hugh Miller, San Antonio’s Chief Technology Officer.
He attended the event to get fresh ideas on how to solve the city’s problems.
The event sought to get customer feedback on city services and how the city in partnership with citizens could create better applications, Miller said.
“How can we make what we’ve already done more simplified to find,” Miller said. “We have this large volume of really cool bits of data but they’re not marketed and consolidated in ways they are easy to consume.”
Collin Beck, Koedal Inc., an iPhone and iPad app company, attended the event because he wanted to help improve San Antonio, particularly its transportation industry.
“I wanted to see how I could help out with my skills to make San Antonio a better place,” he said.
San Antonio can do more to make the downtown area more accessible to its residents particularly by providing more parking, said Wayne Hartman, a mobile app developer.
He attended the event to donate his skills.
“I’ve been blessed with a lot of opportunities,” he said. “My ability to give back is somewhat limited. But I really like what Code for America is doing. This is a way for me to give back to the community.”
Hugh Donagher, storyteller for the Code for America San Antonio brigade, said the organization needs all kinds of skills. The group is publishing its information under the OpenSATX brand. It has a Facebook page and a Twitter account under that brand and it’s has created a OpenSATX.org website.
“I came to Code for America to check out awesome civic engagement in action,” said Joey Lopez, Convergent Media professor at Incarnate Word University.
Today’s event was about finding knowledge, he said.
“I want to learn how we can improve our roads, improve safety and improve education,” Lopez said. “Those are core issues our city is having fundamental issues with right now.”