Our government partner Burlington, VT is now officially joined by another Burlington: Burlington, Ontario. The city, which is part of the greater Toronto area and has a population of around 175,000 residents, plans to focus on pothole related reports for the time being, but will later expand to include additional service request options. Residents can currently submit reports from the SeeClickFix website, the mobile app, and Burlington's official website.
We're excited to announce the launch of Fix it Greensboro, the dedicated mobile app for Greensboro, NC, a city with approximately 311,000 residents. The app will allow residents to submit reports concerning instances of potholes, graffiti, damaged street signs, abandoned vehicles, overgrown lots, streetlight outages, traffic signal outages, parking violations, and sidewalk issues (among others). Residents without smartphones can submit reports on SeeClickFix or on Greensboro's official website. Local officials will monitor incoming requests during business hours on weekdays and will attend to all after hours and weekend requests the next business day.
The following is a guest blog post written by New Haven resident, Aaron Goode:
I love the way SeeClickFix empowers citizens by democratizing information. As a board member of the New Haven Urban Design League, I see all the time how information is used in exclusionary ways that disempower citizens from participating in critical decisions that can affect the built environment. In New Haven, as in most places, many local government meetings are poorly attended, but the two bodies most responsible for guiding development decisions and shaping urban form—the City Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA)—take the proverbial cake as a case study in civic apathy and elite control. It's not individual malice but a structural information gap that makes these institutions—attended mostly by lawyers, architects, consultants, and other paid experts—susceptible to capture by special interests.
Consider the following: my SeeClickFix watch area will notify me if a pothole appears on the other side of town, but not if a $200 million skyscraper goes up a block away. In the latter case, the law requires property owners within a 100-foot radius of a lot requiring a zoning variance or special exception to receive notification by mail. If you're an inch outside the radius, or a renter with an absentee landlord, too bad for you. Planning and zoning matters also get published in the small-type "Legal Notices" section of the newspaper and on a bulletin board in the City Clerk's office, neither of which are much help to the average citizen. In terms of transparency, the situation could be even worse: a debate is currently raging in the Connecticut state legislature about whether to eliminate the longstanding practice of requiring publication of legal notices in newspapers. In the Age of the Internet, where information can be disseminated so easily and inexpensively, tolerating this bare minimum of community notification about major development projects—during what is, at least for New Haven, the middle of an unprecedented building boom—seems irrational and unconscionable.
The answer is not to eliminate the current notification protocols, but to augment them. That is why I recently began posting items on the City Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals docket as tickets on SeeClickFix, with links to relevant documents, maps, and public hearing dates. I see this little DIY project as part of a major trend in the Government 2.0 movement. With an increasing number of cities and counties sharing zoning data for bulk download in geospatial format, there are an increasing number of great apps for visualizing and manipulating open data zoning information (e.g. Second City Zoning, part of the Open City app project). There is a lot happening in this corner of the civic hacking universe, some of which has been compiled in this Sunlight Foundation primer on open data, zoning, and transparency.
But for my limited purpose of facilitating access to the City Plan and BZA decision-making process, I didn't want to re-invent the wheel. SeeClickFix, already heavily integrated into many of New Haven's informational and service-providing functions, is an ideal, "shovel-ready" platform for disseminating information on planning and zoning issues, for the following reasons. First of all, items on the City Plan or BZA docket are inherently geo-spatial. By definition tagged to particular locations, planning and zoning issues lend themselves well to a map-based system for tracking and notification. Second, while the current notification protocol for zoning variances simply uses an arbitrary distance from a particular lot to determine who is (and isn't) a stakeholder, SeeClickFix allows people to determine for themselves if they are stakeholders by defining their own watch areas. There is nothing more antithetical to open government than the use of an arbitrary standard to determine who gets access to information and who doesn't. Let citizens decide for themselves what is geographically relevant to them!
Ideally the City Plan Department, which provides the back-end support for the City Plan Commission and BZA, would perform the function of integrating their dockets with SeeClickFix. This might seem like an extraneous task for an under-staffed department, but in the long term it would actually lessen their workload, because their 'customer service' obligations—responding to inquiries from the public—could be handled passively through better online content. For now it will have to be a DIY project. Sometimes government institutions will only break the shackles of bureaucratic inertia if a third party assumes the responsibility for a particular task until the public benefit becomes more clear.
The initial results of the experiment seem positive. At a recent public hearing on the sale of six acres of public land for a major redevelopment of New Haven's Route 34 corridor, a resident told me he only learned about the hearing through a ticket I had posted on SeeClickFix. In the long term can SeeClickFix be leveraged to enhance civic engagement on planning and zoning issues? I have no idea. But I continue to be guided by the belief that in government decision-making generally and city planning in particular, the democratization of information is a prerequisite of good process, and only good process leads consistently to good results.
This week, the City of St. Albert, Alberta, Canada rolled out its new SeeClickFix powered "Spruce it Up" mobile application! The city, which is home to approximately 61,000 residents, announced the program at a city council meeting on Monday.
The St. Albert Gazette featured "Spruce it Up" in a recent piece:
Developed by the company SeeClickFix, the app allows users to take a photo of the problem – potholes, vandalism, a tree obstructing the road – which will then be forwarded to the city department responsible for it.
The rationale behind the app is to streamline reports and to get them to the right people as soon as possible, said Jason Wywal, manger of applications services.
“With a few simple clicks information can be readily reported and filtered to applicable departments. For example, snow removal goes to public works and graffiti goes to municipal enforcement,” he said.
I'm Kevin Baldwin and I'm the newest member of SeeClickFix's sales/government partnership team. I have spent the last nine years in IT related government sales. I hold a B.B.A from Radford University in the beautiful state of Virginia.
It is an honor to be part of a solution that actually improves the quality of life...everywhere. Yes, citizens and our governments can harmoniously work together to enhance our communities. We can do it through my new home, SeeClickFix.