About 50,000 Austin-area users have already downloaded Citizen, a smartphone app that reports real-time police and emergency medical threats. Austin is already one of Citizen's most popular cities since the company soft-launched here late last year.
"It's one of our top markets after cities like New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago," Citizen spokesperson Lily Gordon told Austonia via email.
The app relies on hired analysts and user-generated content to track every 911 call and public safety dispatch in the city. Users receive alerts about nearby incidents directly on their cell phone lock screen, and reports are updated live with additional details as well as audio and video recordings as they become available.
While there are numerous services similar to Citizen, including the city-built Austin PD smartphone app, Citizen claims to be the most popular since its launch in 2017. In total, the app has been downloaded by 5 million people across 20-plus metropolitan areas.
Citizen has already live reported several notable events in Austin. In addition to daily local COVID-19 updates, the app served as an information resource during downtown social unrest in late May and June.
More recently, Citizen dominated coverage during two September news events: when five boats sank during a pro-Donald Trump boat parade rally on Lake Travis (Sept. 4) and again when two construction cranes collided, injuring 22 workers in the Mueller neighborhood (Sept. 16). During both news events, the smartphone app scooped some local news outlets with live breaking news updates from analysts and Citizen users.
"We were proud that we were able to provide real-time updates on this major story to more than 30,000 Austinites and be a resource for local news outlets," Gordon said via email. "As a real-time safety app, this example points to how we are in a unique position to provide up-to-the-minute updates about developing public safety incidents."
As part of its "official" Austin debut in April, the company hired freelance help to increase activity on the platform. Austin native Brian Smith, who runs @txmobilenews on Twitter as a freelance videographer, helped Citizen cover breaking news events in Austin as part of its "Street Team Program." He posted videos of public safety threats directly to the app, getting paid for each scene he documented.
The street team disbanded after the first month because of COVID-19 health concerns. Smith did similar stringer work while living in New York City. But Austin doesn't have as many breaking news stringers—think Jake Gyllenhaal's character in "Nightcrawler"—as the larger news markets.
"I'm kind of the only one who does the videos for the television networks," said Smith, who works as head of sales for a technology startup during the day. "This market just doesn't support it."
Even though Smith is no longer paid by Citizen for his side hustle, he still uses the app to find breaking news events to cover for the highest bidder. He even posts the occasional video clip from a news event as long as it doesn't compete with his freelance work.
From his experience, the app has proven reliable and accurate, and it's only improving.
"I do believe the people behind Citizen are committed to doing the best they can to put the best information out there to inform the public," Smith said.
Public safety alerts are blasted to Citizen users each time a 911 call is documented. Users can customize the extent they receive alerts.Citizen app
Many users on Citizen promote news from the app on other social platforms, including Westlake resident Dennis Lastor, who posts the occasional breaking alert to Twitter. The city has become less safe since he moved here 21 years ago, he said, and Citizen helps document the extent of the issue.
"I wanted to see what kind of crime was going on and what kind of increase might be going on, and Citizen app was the only direct source showing the reality of what kind of crime was going on," said Lastor, who downloaded the app about three months ago.
Lastor, an engineer, says Citizen provides data that shows a rising crime trend as well as bizarre anecdotes about public safety risks in Austin. For example, there have been reports of multiple people chased by a machete-wielding man in one neighborhood, he said, and more than a dozen 7-Eleven convenience stores have recently been robbed.
According to the latest crime report from the Austin police chief, crimes against persons and property crime are down so far this year. Lastor acknowledges the app has the potential to confirm his own bias, so he also relies on other news sources to balance out Citizen.
Lastor and Smith also both reject any comparison to Nextdoor—another hyperlocal reporting service—which is sometimes ridiculed for its unsubstantiated "suspicious person" posts. In fact, Lastor just deleted his Nextdoor account.
"(Citizen) can be hypervigilant, so you may think it's World War III when it's just an average day, but the upside beats the downside," Lastor said.
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If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.
Giga Texas, the massive Tesla factory in southeast Travis County is getting even bigger.
The company filed with the city of Austin this week to expand its headquarters with a new 500,000-square-foot building. The permit application notes “GA 2 and 3 expansion,” which indicates the company will make two general assembly lines in the building.
More details about the plans for the building are unclear. The gigafactory has been focused on Model Y production since it opened in April, but the company is also aiming for Cybertruck production to kick off in mid-2023.
While there is room for expansion on the 3.3 square miles of land Tesla has, this move comes after CEO Elon Musk’s recent comments about the state of the economy and its impact on Tesla.
In a May interview with Tesla Owners Silicon Valley, Musk said the gigafactories in Berlin and Austin are “gigantic money furnaces” and said Giga Texas had manufactured only a small number of cars.
And in June, Musk sent a company wide email saying Tesla will be reducing salaried headcount by 10%, then later tweeted salaried headcount should be fairly flat.
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