Collaboration in Civic Spheres

“Have A Problem In Portland? The City Has An App For That”

by February 18th, 2010

By Joseph Rose

Say you have an iPhone and you want to report a nasty pothole in Southeast Portland. There’s an app for that.

Wanna get a darkened streetlight or malfunctioning traffic signal fixed? There’s an app for that, too.

Actually, it’s all the same app.

Mayor Sam Adams wants every Portlander with an iPhone to go to the iTunes store and download  the free “City of Portland Citizen Reports” program.

The mayor promises it will ensure “greater transparency, efficiency and accountability in government.”

We’ll see about that. But the app is pretty darn cool.

Users can snap a photo of just about any street-level woe, be it graffiti or a traffic issue, and send the report to the appropriate bureau with a GPS tag to give crews the exact location.

City Hall says the app, short for application, is in “test mode” until next Tuesday. But some residents are already getting responses to their complaints.

“As soon as I downloaded it, I sent in a report about a drain that always backs up when it rains in Pettygrove Park,” said downtown resident Alex Bertolucci on Wednesday. “I’m watching them work on it right now.”

On iTunes, resident James Moore gave the app the highest rating – five stars.

“I reported a crushed bike rack,” he wrote, “and got a call for details the next day.”

Portland iPhoners can also tap in comments and pinpoint the location with Google Maps if necessary.

Once submitted, people will receive updates directly to their iPhone regarding the status of their issues, city officials said.

Of course, Portland isn’t the first city to introduce a citizens-reports app. In Pittsburgh, they have iBurgh. Since the launch of Boston’s Citizens Connect in November, the city has handled about 1,000 reports from iPhones.

“The only bug was the first week,” said Nigel Jacob, senior adviser on emerging technology to Mayor Thomas M. Menino “when people were gaming the system by sending in pictures of their dirty laundry and reporting their dirty desks and coffee mugs.”

Jacob said the app appears to be refreshing civic engagement, especially among younger residents want to help maintain the city. “There is a strong element of renewing democracy though a mobile phone,” he added.

The biggest complaint from Boston iPhoners? “Potholes,” he said. “Definitely potholes.”

No other cities in the Portland area have apps in the iTunes store. Clackamas County’s road department knows about the technology, but has no plans to use it in the near future.

Washington County, on the other hand, has “very strong” interest in rolling out something similar to the Portland app for its 1,200 miles of roads, said spokeswoman Anne Madden. “This is all very new,” she said, “but exciting.”

Roy Kaufmann, a spokesman for Adams, said complaints sent through Citizen Reports on iPhones in Portland will be treated equally to those coming in from the Web or over hot lines. First come, first served, he said.

The response to a pothole, for example, will still take between 48 and 72 hours.

“But when you see something,” he said, “you can report it right there.”

On Twitter, where the app was a hot topic Wednesday, owners of Blackberry and Android mobile phones were clamoring for their own version.

City officials can’t say when that will happen. Rick Nixon, the project’s manager, said the city started with the iPhone because of its growing popularity and the ease of programming for the platform.

OK, but can we talk a name less Big Brother-ish than Citizen Reports?

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