A new app for iPhones, Droids and other new-generation mobile devices allows residents to send real-time complaints to city officials about problems they encounter in their neighborhoods. Supporters say the app, called CitySourced, can improve city responses, broaden the pool of people monitoring everything from potholes to public safety threats and help improve residents' sense of community.
CitySourced draws on GPS and other mobile technologies to let users snap photographs and file complaints from their phones. It also creates databases of the complaints for municipalities, and can be customized to work with existing systems for dispatching repair crews. You can download the app for free. Cities pay a fee to CitySourced based on their populations.
And since the reports include a photograph, city officials can more readily assess the problem, which makes it easier to prioritize projects, said Kurt Daradics, CitySourced's director of business development.
The program already is in use in portions of Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif., and, internationally, Gravesham, England. CitySourced also has teamed up with the nonprofit SkyTruth to develop a special app for those involved in and monitoring the Deepwater Horizon oil spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.
"We have other customers coming online but haven't formally published those," Daradics said. "Part of our marketing strategy is to make sure the product is super solid before we started waving our arms around too much."
The program has won a convert in Eric Garcetti, president of the Los Angeles City Council, who has signed on so residents in his district can alert his office to problems.
"No one is more aware of how to improve a neighborhood than the people who live there," Garcetti told AOL News. "I wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to report graffiti, potholes and other quality-of-life issues so that the neighborhoods in my district receive the level of service they are entitled to."
Garcetti said the app's use of geo-tagging -- automatically adding geographic coordinates to the complaint -- means "one doesn't even need to know an address. I am hopeful this app will not only improve our neighborhoods, but will serve as a gateway that helps people become more involved in their government."
The app was developed by Freedom Speaks, which launched a website four years ago to help individuals write letters to elected officials on public policy and other issues.
"Our mission is, very simply, to get in touch with elected officials," Daradics said this morning. "We built one of the largest databases of publicly elected officials in the United States. We started thinking about what motivates people, and really started thinking that people are interested most in their own backyard. Then we thought about America's future with mobility, and those design questions informed the design of CitySourced."
The program launched in August and was a finalist in September in the TechCrunch50 competition for technical innovation in San Francisco.
And access to the complaints isn't limited to city officials. At the CitySourced website anyone can monitor the reports as they filter in, from an illegally parked car that "totally blocked the sidewalk" in San Francisco to trail flooding at a North Hollywood, Calif., park.
"The art of it is that it delivers better service to the residents, and it deflects the amount of calls that come into city hall," Daradics said. "In these trying times, it's an opportunity to use technology to do well with less."