Notice some vandalism in New Haven? See it, click it and the city will fix it.
Citizens of New Haven have been working to improve their city streets using SeeClickFix.com, a Web site launched in March 2008 by Ben Berkowitz GRD ’96 GRD ’01, Yale Academic Media and Technology systems programmer Jeff Blasius, and brothers Kam Lasater and Miles Lasater ’01. The Web site, which utilizes Google maps, allows users to report non-emergency issues in their communities to have them addressed by the appropriate authorities.
SeeClickFix.com is a national tool that solves a problem cities across the nation have struggled to answer — an efficient way to address non-emergency societal issues like potholes, garbage overflow and graffiti. The program is not perfect Berkowitz noted, as visitors occasionally abuse the site by spamming reports or comments. But, at least in New Haven, the site’s creators and city officials agree that the program has been helping.
On Sunday, Nov. 30, a local resident reported seeing several red graffiti tags, or signatures, marring an underpass and buildings between the Bradley and Trumbull Street intersections. A day later, on Dec. 1 , the report was acknowledged by the New Haven State Street Association, and is now in the process of being removed by city officials. The cause for the timely response was an e-mail from SeeClickFix.
Berkowitz, found himself troubled by a common issue that seems to plague inner cities: vandalism.
“I became frustrated by the communication from the city about reporting graffiti,” Berkowitz said. “My voice-mail messages went unanswered and I felt that many other people were in the same boat.”
The quartet created the Web site a year ago, modeling it after the concept behind the national 311 program, a hot line for non-emergency issues. SeeClickFix functions through an interactive map that allows citizens across the nation to locate their geographic area and report an issue that is then filtered via keywords to the appropriate authorities. The Web site, a national tool, has its highest activity from San Francisco, Calif., and in its home city of New Haven.
Many types of issues have been cited in New Haven, including drug dealing, garbage overflow and broken streetlights. To date, there are roughly 150 open issues in downtown New Haven; within the Yale community, there have been over 70 issues reported.
Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts ’01 said that residents commonly report potholes in the roads and cracked sidewalks, adding that the Web site aids in getting the local government to do its job.
“Just judging by the use that the site gets, a lot of citizens have clearly embraced it and voted with their actions,” Smuts said. “We are working with [SeeClickFix] to help integrate the site into the city’s work order systems and change the way we process issues.”
SeeClickFix’s creators said the site still needs improvement — Berkowitz noted that the site becomes much less effective when users leave trivial comments. He noted that these comments are usually removed, but at times they become a nuisance, hindering the mission of the Web site. Some issues also go unresolved for months because the system cannot read proper tags, leaving issues unresolved if citizens forget to actively check on their report.
The creators of the Web site said a slew of changes are on the way. SeeClickFix will soon release a new version of the site that will allow citizens to add photos and videos of areas and issues they want to report. The site will also feature feeds that explain what changes and issues have been resolved most recently. By instituting these changes, the minds behind SeeClickFix are broadening their mission of using technology to encourage residents to take action in improving their neighborhoods.
“The desire to get something fixed is really all you need to actually get something fixed,” Berkowitz said. “When you’re making yourself heard in a public forum like SeeClickFix as opposed to on a voice mail, it elevates the position of your voice and gives you some feeling of responsibility for helping to improve the public space.”
The New Haven Independent — a reported online news blog — recently began to sponsor SeeClickFix for no profit and included a sidebar on their Web site. Yale professor and founder of the Independent Paul Bass sees the site as a tool for enhancing journalism and for bolstering community activism.
“The definition of news and journalism and civic dialogue is evolving,” Bass said, “and SeeClickFix is right at the cutting edge.”
Currently, with over 50 graffiti cases reported and resolved, Berkowitz notes that hastily sprayed designs are gradually beginning to fade from the city’s major streets.