Potholes And Repairs? Boston Has An App For That Cities are getting into the business of developing iPhone apps. Boston has created a Citizens Connect app as a way to make a one-touch kvetch about anything from potholes to broken streetlights. Users snap a photo, and the location's coordinates automatically embed in the photo.
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Potholes And Repairs? Boston Has An App For That

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Potholes And Repairs? Boston Has An App For That


If you have an iPhone, you already know you can use it to do almost anything, from ordering pizza to having your television record a program from across town. Now in Boston, at least, you can use your iPhone to let City Hall know what's on your mind. Boston has just launched what some might call the killer complainer app.

NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH: A few weeks ago, 41-year-old Heather Sears(ph) thought the coolest app on her iPhone was SitOrSquat � a listing of the city's cleanest, closest restrooms. But today, she's even more excited about Boston's Citizens Connect, that basically lets her make a one-touch kvetch about anything that's not so good in her hood.

Ms. HEATHER SEARS: I was thrilled to be able to walk down the alley to where I park my car and say, all right, there's more graffiti. I want it off now - and the satisfaction of taking that picture and sending it in.

SMITH: You were like, armed.

Ms. SEARS: I was armed and dangerous. Yes.

SMITH: For the 10 years she has lived in Boston's South End, Sears is the first to confess she's been a complainer, repeatedly making irate calls to City Hall about everything from potholes to broken streetlights. But now all Sears has to do is snap a picture of a problem, with her iPhone. The location coordinates automatically embed in the photo, and her complaint goes hurtling through the bureaucracy of City Hall straight out to the public works crews around the city.

Ms. SEARS: My graffiti picture is going to the dude who's going to go fix that graffiti - you know, directly to the dude.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEARS: And that feels good.

SMITH: You have hopes they'll actually do something.

Ms. SEARS: Yeah, I expect them to. And I'm watching. I am watching.

SMITH: After a complaint is made, a red dot marks the problem on a map you can see on your iPhone, and if you keep checking, you'll see the dot turn green when your problem is fixed.

Ms. SEARS: It'll be more instant gratification. I'm doing it and it's done. And I don't have to get irate when I'm finally calling the nice people at the call center.

Ms. ALLYN CHRISTOPHER (Receptionist): Good afternoon. The mayor's office.

SMITH: Allyn Christopher has heard her share of irate at Boston's 24-hour hotline, from the guy ranting and raving about a paternity test to the countless calls about dead animals in the road, potholes that need filling, and streets that need a snow plow.

Ms. CHRISTOPHER: People tend to get very whiny, and naturally it's the mayor's fault.

SMITH: As often as not, people calling the hotline want more than their potholes filled. As hotline staffer Frank McDonough puts it, they want a piece of you.

Mr. FRANK MCDONOUGH (Hotline Staffer): Sometimes it's just the venting process that makes them feel better, you know, yelling at the guy over at the mayor's office, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHRISTOPHER: Oh, definitely. There's a lot of value to a human at the other end.

SMITH: City officials say that won't change. Even the mayor's technology guru, Nigel Jacob, knew enough to keep a human option - of course, for those without an iPhone, but also for those too hotheaded to use one.

Mr. NIGEL JACOB (Tech Guru): We have the hot button for that. My fingers are numb with fury. I can't type. I'm just going to call.

SMITH: Get me City Hall now; I need to take someone's head off.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JACOB: That's right.

SMITH: Or if biting someone's head off doesn't do it for you, a bit of biting sarcasm still works, even over the iPhone. The first complaint that came through the new system was one about a streetlight not working. The photo attached was solid black.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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