Potholes? There's an app for that

Staff writerJune 29, 2010 

— Battalions of iPhone and Droid-armed citizens could end up being the ones making sure Raleigh fixes its potholes, bent signs and crumbling sidewalks.

At least, that's the hope of Bonner Gaylord, the city's newest council member. Gaylord launched a smart phone application with the help of Connecticut-based SeeClickFix .com on his campaign website. The application lets residents in Gaylord's Northwest Raleigh district take pictures of problems in the city and send them directly to him and a staffer in the city council office.

Gaylord may be the first city council member in the country to set up a program like this, said Ben Berkowitz, one of the co-founders of SeeClickFix.

The SeeClickFix application is free, but geared toward residents in Gaylord's district. Gaylord will shell out $100 a month to keep it running. He's unsure whether he'll keep paying for it out of his personal account, use leftover campaign funds or take it out of an annual stipend that each city council member gets. He hopes other council members will get applications of their own; until then, Gaylord said he'd pass on reports of problems that he gets from residents in other parts of the city.

"Hopefully, it'll help people to have more direct contact with government and feel empowered to report issues," Gaylord said. "It didn't take me a whole lot of time to implement it, it took me a week."

Wide interest

Gaylord is developing a reputation as a bit of a tech nerd on the council, which probably doesn't hurt him with the voters who commute to Research Triangle Park and Centennial Campus. Earlier this year, he offered to name the unborn twin children his wife is pregnant with after Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page if the company chose Raleigh for its Google Fiber for Communities experiment.

A user can pull up the smartphone application, take a photograph, type in a message and send it immediately to Gaylord as well as a receptionist in the city council office. The photo and message can then be forwarded to the right city department to be addressed, Gaylord said.

Berkowitz came up with idea for the application after he tried to get graffiti removed from his New Haven, Conn,. neighborhood and didn't get much of a response from City Hall. He saw it as a way of putting pressure on city leaders and employees by using smartphone technology to collectively document problems.

Almost immediately, Berkowitz and his three co-founders began getting calls from cities and media outlets. Several newspapers, including the Boston Globe, New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Dallas Morning News have tapped the company to put the application on their websites. City governments in Tucson, Ariz.; Washington, D.C.; and Lansing, Mich. have also bought the applications as well.

As for Raleigh using the application citywide, Raleigh's City Manager J. Russell Allen said city staff is too swamped with an overhaul of several city technology systems to see if the SeeClickFix application or similar ones would work.

"We'd clearly like to have technology that suits what we want," Allen said. 'I don't know if this does it or not."

If Raleigh opts for SeeClickFix, it would cost the city about $400 a month or $4,800 a year, Berkowitz said.

sarah.ovaska@nando.com or 919-829-4622

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