Three finalists in the City of Palo Alto's current Apps Challenge are gearing their inventions towards neighborhoods and positive change.
From teen social activities to dog socials to a game to reduce a neighborhood's carbon footprint, these mobile-device applications are tools the city hopes will build a deeper sense of engagement between government and residents, city leaders said March 13 as they announced the Apps Challenge's 10 finalists.
Midtown residents Ruthellen Dickinson and Cynthia Typaldos and their team have two applications in the top 10: Adopt Me!, an animal-adoption app, and Dogs in the Neighborhood!, a dog owners' app that combines social networking with charity.
Typaldos struck upon the idea after reading about animal issues and needs on her neighborhood's Nextdoor networking website, she said.
The team submitted seven applications to the city challenge, all related to improving animal welfare through the city's animal services and adoption programs. They settled on two major goals: spreading the word about animal adoptions and generating more revenue for the city's shelter, she said.
Dogs in the Neighborhood! would bring more income to the animal shelter by requiring people to license their dogs in order to access the app.
"We became aware that dog-licensing compliance is less than 20 percent," said Typaldos, who is working on her third tech start-up. By offering "the carrot rather than the stick," other cities have garnered up to 98 percent compliance, she said.
In addition to benefiting the shelter, the app would create a community of dog owners. The application would allow registered users to build a profile of their dogs and themselves. A link could let members know about lost pets, she said.
"They can share care, go hiking or walking together, or find similar needs or connect on similar breeds. There would be an online forum to chat with each other, and they can log in while walking the dog and see who else is walking at the same time," Dickinson said.
Typaldos' 60-pound dog, Bunny, sometimes encounters two canines he adores.
"It would be cool if he can meet up with them. There really are dogs your dog wants to meet," she said.
The Adopt Me! app would use existing social networks, such as Instagram, to distribute photos of adoptable pooches.
The group has established a website, www.paloaltohomelessdogs.org, where people can register to receive a notice when the applications are ready.
Typaldos said the dog apps could help further define the city's image.
Palo Alto is "the most digital city in America. Why can't we be the most humane city in America?" she said.
Barron Park resident and app builder Lisa Altieri agreed the apps will help give Palo Alto a stronger identity as a leader in important arenas. In her case, it's about the city's carbon footprint.
Altieri is the neighborhoods liaison for the city's Community Environmental Action Partnership (CEAP). The city formed CEAP in 2008 to bring together different parts of the community to develop innovative solutions to environmental issues.
Altieri launched neighborhood Green Teams and "greening neighborhood events" that have included composting and recycling projects. With a background in custom database design and development, she considered developing an app around carbon-dioxide reduction three years ago, but she didn't launch the idea.
"I only learned about the challenge a few days before the deadline. I just threw it in. I've been thinking a lot on how we could increase actions by residents. It would be great to have some tools apps, a website," she said.
The phone application would allow residents to calculate their current carbon footprint and then explore ways it can be lowered.
"They can make commitments, and as they make changes they can mark them as 'done' and get points," she said.
Neighbors and friends can compete and potentially receive recognition. Persons who make deep cuts might also receive prizes, she said. The application would work similarly for businesses. She is putting together a team that will include a graphic designer and applications developer, she said.
Teens at Palo Alto's public high schools are also working on an app to address a local concern: teen boredom. In a town that launched a program in recent years to improve youth self-worth and build a sense of belonging, the application, clickPA, is a project that gets to the heart of teen needs to connect and to have fun in the process.
"It's a great city," said Ally Gong, a Gunn High School junior and clickPA's marketing manager. But every Friday night she heard teens say they were bored.
The students took part in the city's Palo Alto Youth Collaborative project, and they discussed what the city lacks in terms of teen resources.
"We thought, 'What if we created something that helped teens find things to do?'" she said.
In September 2012, the teens put together a calendar-based website, pulling information on events such as music, theater and sports from the city's resources.
"We created a one-stop, drop-by site," she said. The application would be a mobile version of the site.
The core staff of six students include two from Gunn and four from Palo Alto High School, she said. There is a marketing manager, graphic designer, technology manager, social marketer, events blogger and journalist. The group wants to recruit youth journalists who will cover events and take pictures. Blogs and photos would be posted for teens who missed the event and who might attend another one in the future, she said. The teens are gearing up to develop a marketing program, which could include sponsors.