In 2008, New Haven residents were given a new tool for empowerment: instead of calling 3-1-1 or trying to track down the right person in city hall, they could start alerting the city to problems with just an internet connection and the website “See, Click, Fix.” This site gave the irritated and the vigilant an easy option for voicing problems and concerns as well as a means of holding the city accountable for addressing them (cities that subscribe to the site can signal to users the points at which issues are acknowledged and fixed).
Eventually, SCF reached Boston through its Office of New Urban Mechanics, which (among other things) develops apps to help citizens improve the city’s quality of life. They built Commonwealth Connect, an app that has allowed more than 50 Massachusetts municipalities and their citizens to begin seeing, clicking, and fixing through the web and through their smart phones.
But as with many interventions in the Commonwealth’s Gateway Cities, implementation appears to have varied widely across participating communities.
According to this SCF infographic, the most active Commonwealth Connect users are in Boston, Chelsea, Fall River, Lowell, Malden, Needham, Northhampton, Randolph, and Woburn. They’re complaining the most about things like potholes, trash, trees, and graffiti.
Notably, our neighbors in Fall River are among the most active among not just Massachusetts user communities, but also among communities using SCF nationwide. According to the SCF-calculated list of top-performing cities, Fall River ranks 58 out of 112. This rank is based on the fact that there are a combined 453 users, watch areas, reports, and comments in that city (which yields an “activity score”), as well as the responsiveness of city officials (based on an algorithm that yields a “results score” of 119). Comparatively, nearby Taunton has an activity score of 175 and a results score of 131, while Boston’s scores are 304 and 71, respectively.
Where is our other neighbor, New Bedford, in this mix? Not even on the top performers list, it turns out, with just 9 issues reported in 2013. The city has only begun acknowledging issues in August; out of those 9 current issues, just 5 have gotten a city response–and none are fixed. Instead, the city response is, “Thank you for reporting this <issue>. It will be filled as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, Fall River is already at the point where issues are closed, and responses include things like, “John st. [pothole] has been patched. Thank you!” And in some cases, the response isn’t a complete fix, but a realistic portrayal of how things work: “The funding by the state has exceeded for this year. Foote St. is on our list and will be repaired next spring. Thank you!” It may not be the answer the citizen-reporter wanted, but it’s probably more appreciated than a non-response.
As we often wonder when it comes to the Gateway Cities to our immediate east and west, what’s with this difference in two otherwise similar places? The local newspapers offer one idea. According to a June article in New Bedford’s Standard-Times, a city spokesperson said that the city would make an announcement when the Commonwealth Connect app is ready to be used. No announcement has followed, despite the app having been ready and usable (for citizens, at least) since early summer.
Fall River officials proceeded much more boldly, as evidenced by a Herald News article from that very same week. Mayor Flanagan proclaimed, “Instead of city hall being open from 9 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.), we are open seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” and it appears his city’s residents wasted no time taking advantage.
We look forward to continuing to track the progress of Commonwealth Connect’s implementation in Fall River and New Bedford, and we hope blog readers will help spread the word that this tool is ready and waiting for citizens to fix their communities.