San José taps citizens to improve neighborhoods, save city money

Through a new mobile application launched this weekend, the City of San José now has thousands of eyes (and iPhones) watching the city’s streets for graffiti, abandoned vehicles, potholes and other maintenance issues. Developed by CitySourced, San José City Councilman Pete Constant held a “download day” Saturday inviting residents to try the new application, dubbed Mobile City Hall.

After downloading the Mobile City Hall application to an iPhone, the user can simply take a photo, and briefly add a description of the picture. The application automatically sends the image with geospatial information to the city government, allowing staff to pinpoint where the problem is and how best to respond.

“Our desire is to shift what’s currently being done, where city officials have to patrol for problems,” Dave Kralik, director of marketing for CitySourced, said. “Instead, why not tap the power of the citizens to do that?”

Despite inclement weather, Kralik said the “download day” was a success. “The Councilmember [Pete Constant] was pleased, and one of his colleagues in a neighboring district showed interest as well.”

According to a statement prior to “download day,” Councilmember Constant said his motivation behind the project stemmed from his experience in law enforcement. “Crime and urban blight go hand in hand,” Constant said. “As a former police officer, I know how important it is to respond quickly to problems in our community. Mobile City Hall will provide my residents with an easy way to report neighborhood blight.”

When a picture is submitted using the CitySourced system, an automatic alert is sent to City Hall, as well as a designated stream on Twitter.

citysourced mobile demo

Currently, the application is only available for iPhones and only feeds information to officials in San José, but Kralik said there are plans to release a Blackberry, Palm Pre, and other smart phone versions of the app next year. He also mentioned that conversations are ongoing with a number of cities in the region.

“It’s ironic, but the app is the first of its kind on the west coast,” Kralik said, in reference to San Jose’s proximity to the tech-savvy Bay Area and Silicon Valley. “But we’re talking to a number cities in the So-Cal and Bay Area.” Mr. Kralik anticipated more partnerships to be announced within the first quarter of next year.

Mr. Kralik said the company was still working to make the Twitter stream more specific. At present, a generic alert followed by a specific url are automatically generated. Still, he and others involved with the project believe it will be a game-changer for those who want to use a free and simple tool to make their cities a better place.

“We think this is the way to approach these kinds of services. Prove value in a small area, rinse and repeat.”

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