An App with a Direct Line to City Hall
Software lets citizens snap and geographically tag urban blight.
When you see something ugly or hazardous in your neighborhood—a couch on the sidewalk, a pothole, or a tree limb blocking part of a road—you can call the city, send an e-mail, or walk into city hall and file a complaint. But these methods can be time-consuming and often don’t give the city all the information it needs to respond quickly.
A startup called CitySourced has developed a mobile application for iPhones, Android devices, and Blackberry smart phones that it believes greases the gears of civic responsibility. The app lets people send geographically tagged pictures of urban blight, complete with a time stamp, a category (graffiti, trash, etc.), and a note from the user. Crucially, the data from the app is fed directly into a city’s back-office workflow management system—servers that manage work orders for various departments.
Tight integration with a city’s workflow-management system means that the right people get the right information and can respond swiftly, says Kurt Daradics, the startup’s director of business development. “It’s really critical that the solution we deliver makes the public works guy’s job easier,” he says.
According to CitySourced, the approach could save cities a lot of money. The company says it can cost $9 per complaint when a person walks into a city hall and up to $5.30 per complaint when a person calls. It costs as little as 25 cents when a person uses an automated Web-based reporting system like CitySourced.
Michael Armstrong, chief information officer of Corpus Christi, a city in south Texas that uses the application, hopes to see it reduce the number of phone reports the municipal government receives, allowing it to adjust staffing levels at its call center accordingly.
CitySourced isn’t alone in its quest to help citizens report unsightly urban artifacts. Other apps, including SeeClickFix and Citizens Connect, also let citizens report blight from their smart phones. But in some cases, Armstrong says, these apps just send automated e-mails to a designated city in-box. “They seem to prefer mayors’ [e-mail addresses],” he says, although “reporting complaints outside that workflow [management system] would actually delay response to the citizen.”
So far, CitySourced has partnered with about 20 cities, including San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles. The app has been downloaded 20,000 times and has mediated about 10,000 reports, says Daradics. CitySourced has also partnered with Esri, a company that sells mapping software, to ensure that a complaint is correctly routed to the appropriate municipality, which can be tricky near the borders of neighboring cities.
The app is still in its first public iteration, but the next version, set to be released early next year, will allow users to have registered accounts, says Daradics. By registering, a person could still report anonymously, but they could also identify themselves and receive awards for civic responsibility, he says.