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Want to read books on your iPhone? There’s an app for that. Feel like playing classic video games, like Tetris? There’s an app for that. Found a pothole on the street and you want the City of Los Angeles to know? There’s an app for that too.
In mid-April, Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti’s office began a pilot program in the 13th Council District for an iPhone application called Garcetti 311. Using the app, citizens can directly contact Garcetti’s office to inform the staff about various issues, including potholes, graffiti, abandoned trash and dead animals.
“I’ve always believed that government should be at people’s doorsteps and this puts it in the palm of their hands,” Garcetti said. “Technology can help the community and this is a great example of that.”
The app is available for free from the iTunes store. It allows community members to take pictures of issues of concern, leave comments and send them directly to Garcetti’s office, which in return sends them to the appropriate department at city hall. It also sends the user’s physical location, using global positioning technology, without the need for the sender to report it.
Garcetti hopes to expand the app’s coverage to all of Los Angeles by the end of the year, at which point he would like to see a name change as well. Councilman Paul Krekorian, 2nd District, has a similar version of Garcetti 311, called CD2Krekorian. Unlike Garcetti 311, Krekorian’s app was made in-house and features a news feed, resource list and e-mail option.
“Obviously, residents can call our office or visit us in person to report issues in the district,” Krekorian said. “But driving to our office or giving us a call during working hours may not fit into everyone’s schedule.”
Since April, Garcetti 311 has been downloaded more than 1,100 times, and 372 reports have been received, including 208 reports regarding graffiti and 102 reports regarding bulky item pick up, such as abandoned couches and mattress. The remaining reports covered issues like sidewalk repair, illegal signs and shoes on power lines.
“Hopefully we can give somebody the power by contacting us within a few seconds,” Garcetti said.
Garcetti added that the app comes in a time of need, given the city’s growing struggles with the 311 system, where people can potentially be placed on hold for upwards of 20 minutes.
“Even though 311 is a great system, we’ve become victims of our own success,” Garcetti said. “The application will make that process easier.”
Eventually, Garcetti hopes to “take the middle man out,” and allow all reports to go directly to relevant offices at city hall.
David Kekone, a resident of Highland Park, uses the app every day when he walks his dog. He is ecstatic because the app allows immediate contact with the city and allows him to provide more information than he could with a phone call.
“It’s a really great tool. It only takes a minute to pull over, take a picture and send the report,” Kekone said. “It empowers everyone to report issues they would normally drive by and ignore. It also forces our elected representatives to see where these hot spots are.”
Kekone added that he considers the app yet another valuable city resource for the community that empowers people and encourages them to participate in city affairs.
Along with submitting reports, the app also allows users to check the status of their reports, holding the city accountable for resolving such concerns, according to Garcetti.
“I love the accountability piece because people can track progress and make sure the city’s taking care of things,” Garcetti said.
CitySourced, the creative team behind Garcetti 311, contacted the council president last August with the idea for the application, and began developing it to present at a technology conference in San Francisco called TechCrunch50 – what Kurt Daradics, co-founder of CitySourced, considers “the ‘American Idol’ for startup companies.” In December, CitySourced officially met with Garcetti and began further development of the app for a mid-April release.
CitySourced, also the name of the technology, is a platform used nationwide by cities such as San Jose, Glendale, Ann Arbor, Michigan and San Francisco, which is also working to create more direct lines of communication between community members and specific departments.
CitySourced is also part of Freedom Speaks, a database that offers more direct communication with over 50,000 public officials. According to Daradics, CitySourced stemmed from the Freedom Speaks website as a natural step with Internet technology. The idea came from Jason Kiesel, a former senior developer for MySpace, who was frustrated that he did not have an easy way to access public officials.
“The mission was really simple, transform civic engagement by taking the friction out of the process,” Daradics said. “We all wanted to be a part of a movement. Mobility is a big factor in where things are going and what motivates people. CitySourced was designed to fit that need.”
According to Daradics, CitySourced is currently working on expanding the app beyond the iPhone to other smart phones like the Blackberry and the Droid. Since Garcetti 311 stems from a larger online platform, it can be used in areas outside District 13. CitySourced can treat reports like e-mails and redirect them based on the global positioning.
Garcetti hopes to make Garcetti 311 citywide at the end of the six-month pilot phase in October, after all the fine-tuning is complete. The app can be found on the iTunes store by searching for “Garcetti 311”. For information, visit www.city-sourced.com and www.freedomspeaks.com.
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