Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Powerful new tool for concerned citizens

A few days ago, I was out skiing on a golf course near my home, when an amazing sight caught my eye--coke machines, all lit up. There were two of them out there, lonely and deserted, but still ready for action. It's the second year I've noticed the machines turned on during the winter. As we struggle to grapple with global warming, such waste boggles the mind.

I wondered who I could report this problem to, but quickly became discouraged as I imagined working my way through robot telephone menus, then finally speaking with a bored employee who thought I was nuts.

Then I read about a new tool to resolve this and similar problems:

"See Click Fix" is "a local advocacy Web site that lets users write about issues to encourage communication between residents and local government. SeeClickFix users post a complaint about problems that occur within a set of boundaries on a Google Map, like graffiti at a bus stop or potholes on a busy street, and the site communicates the problem to the appropriate government agency and marks the problem on the map.

Users can comment on the issue or label it resolved. Government agencies can post on the site to respond to residents, and journalists can use the site to communicate with readers and see which issues are most pressing to people.

Ben Berkowitz, the chief executive of SeeClickFix, said the tool went beyond government: 'Anyone can be held accountable: a business, nonprofit, even a private citizen.'" Read more.

Fixing environmental problems

While the above example mentions problems like potholes in streets, we can use the site for environmental problems like the following:
  • Waste--parking lots that keep lights on all day
  • Identifying good spots for public rain gardens
  • Erosion in parks
  • Construction sites not complying with erosion laws
  • Chemical leaks and spills
  • Places where litter accumulates
  • Illegal dumping
Here's an example of how citizens in New Haven fought the reckless use of ATVs on city streets.

It's a great new tool for citizens---it has enormous potential--but if no one picks up the tool, no work gets done.

So sign up on, and start solving problems in your neighborhood!

How top start using "SeeClickFix"

You do not need an account on SeeClickFix--but you can easily start one if you already have a Facebook account.  The site does have Pro accounts for businesses that require a fee, but citizens do not have to pay a membership fee.
  1. Citizens start here.
  2. Under "citizens get started," type in your city, neighborhood, or zip.   Experiment with the map or lists of neighborhoods till you find the area you want to work within.  I'd recommend your city, since the site is new.
  3. Check out to see what problems your neighbors have reported.  But probably there won't be any, since SeeClickFix is new.
  4. Next, report your first problem.  Click on the tab "report an issue."
  5. Indicate where your issue is.  You can type in an address, or you can use the map to drag the symbol over the right location.  Use the arrows to move the map till it covers your area.  When done, click "go to step 2."
  6. State the problem.  First enter something short and clear in the "summary" blank.  This will be the name of your problem, so make it short, clear, and descriptive.  If more details are needed, you can add them in the space below. 
  7. Next, it's highly recommended to add a photo.
  8. Add you e-mail address in the blank.  It will not be shared with the public.
  9. When you are done entering, click on "report your issue."
  10. Now, wait for a bit while your photo and report are uploaded. Next, you will see some suggestions above for what to do next. For example, you can email your report to your facebook friends, or you can even print a ready-made flier to slip under your neighbor's door.
Next, make some attempts to solve the issue yourself, and post what you are doing on the comments below the posting of your problem.  You need to set an example that this system works, and that problems get fixed. 

Think of SeeClickFix as a public bulletin board where problems are aired and people work together to solve them.