Thursday, May 5, 2011

What if the City of Raleigh had “an app for that?”

It’s no secret that the web and mobile apps have made our lives more convenient. From banking to maps to the totally unnecessary but fun apps like Ocarina – many people can’t imagine their life without internet access or apps. So what’s missing? Why doesn’t Raleigh have more apps?

Think about what bothers you most about your neighborhood. Have you done anything about it? Why not?

Stick with me here.

When most people think of government, they think bureaucracy and politics. At the city level, they pick up your trash, clean up your parks, maintain the sidewalks, and all the things that you encounter on a weekly, if not, daily basis.

So what if those little things could be made easier? When things DO go wrong, wouldn’t it be so much easier to “have an app for that?” Going back to why you probably haven’t attempted to solve what bothers you – we’re hoping to find ways to make solving those problems easier through more open government.

Let’s walk through a typical day and you’ll see what I’m talking about.


After you’re dressed and ready to walk the dog or go for a run, you head out the door. Down the street you notice that the abandoned property near your house has grass 3 feet tall. You’ve had it. You take out your phone and fire up SeeClickFix and report it to the City. Takes 30 seconds.


Over lunch you check your personal email and notice that both of your SeeClickFix issues from this morning have been acknowledged and one has already been assigned. Sweet!

Meanwhile, your co-worker, who lives in the neighborhood next to yours, asks if you’ve heard about the proposed development around the corner from your houses. You haven’t, so you pull up the city’s website neighborhood map feature, insert your address, select to see all activity from all city departments within a 2 mile radius of your house, and the map appears. You see that a parcel of land on the corner of your neighborhood entrance has a zoning case assigned, and someone is applying to have it changed to business. You pull up the application and see that they want to add an ice cream shop. Fun!


On your evening walk you notice that there are police at a house and ask the officer what’s going on. There was a break-in and thankfully no one was home. Everyone is ok, and the thief took mostly electronics. You mention to the officer that you’ll share the news with your neighbors, and he tells you that it has already been reported to the Neighborhood Watch app. Anyone within 1 mile from the property has been notified if they have the app. This is all news to you, so you download the app right away. Sure enough, there is the report. You walk down to the elderly woman’s house a few doors down and make sure she knows about the incident. Two pieces of cake and 1 hour later, you arrive safely back home.

You probably get the gist of where we’re going with all this. The point is – government CAN be so much more accessible and your life can be improved because of it. SeeClickFix already exists and has helped fix hundreds of issues already. It has brought accountability to the city. Think of how else we can leverage technology to interact better with our local government. The other examples are just hypothetical, but the links are to existing data that is already available.

So, what do you wish there was an app for? Send us your ideas or tell us what issues you want solutions for. Or just vote on the ones we've already thought of!

We are planning an event called CityCamp that has nothing to do with camping and everything to do with solving problems with technology and making government more accessible. You don’t have to be a techie to participate, but techies will be attending the event to help bring the ideas to life. Join us June 3-5.