Got a tweet from the mayor: Minneapolis' 311 program has a smartphone app.
See graffiti? Snap a picture, send it in, alert the Squiggle Expungement Department.
I downloaded it immediately and was impressed: It's a clean, simple, free product that lets you nag City Hall with unparalleled ease.
Because we live in the social era where every single molecule of our existence must be sprayed across the Internet, the app lets other citizens share your concerns, vote for a swift resolution or just "follow" the issue. My life is not yet so achingly empty that I need to follow the question of an intermittently illuminated streetlight, but it's there if you need it.
In cities with less responsive government, such an app would be the civic equivalent of Fantasy Football. You pretend to think they'll fix that pothole, and they e-mail you a picture of a city employee eating a doughnut and flipping you the bird.
Here it's sincere. But the potential for abuse is enormous, and that brings us to the most curious part of the app: neighbors.
They're not actual neighbors in the folks-next-door sense, but people who've signed up to use the reporting service. You get "Civic Points" for complaining or pointing out something that needs to be fixed, and to get you started you're awarded 55 Civic Points just for signing up. The points, as far as I can tell, make the cash value of a Gold Bond trading stamp look like Apple stock, but it's a nice touch.
There aren't too many neighbors yet, and the comments they leave are rather cryptic. "Issue resolved with a Summer season." That was made nine months ago, or last November. Apparently if you complain about the humidity it takes a while to work its way through the bureaucracy.
The same person filed a grievance about a pothole on Randolph Street in St. Paul, which makes you wonder if this app connects to a worldwide database. I'm tempted to note that the bike paths in Helsinki have some goose poop on them, just to see what happens -- an alarm light is triggered in a Finnish city garage and men in jumpsuits slide down poles and head off on Segways with small shovels slung over their shoulders?
No issue is too small. One user complained that hedges were overtaking the sidewalk on 26th Avenue S. -- and lest you plan on some unimpeded ambulation, there's a map function that shows you exactly where the Thicket of Impenetrability exists. Or, rather, existed. The issue, apparently imported from the great 311 database of complaints, hails from April 2010, and a comment notes that the hedges were trimmed in the summer of 2010. Whew!
There's a button that lets you share this matter on Twitter or Facebook.
If I ever tweet about untrimmed hedges, you have my permission to unfollow so hard that my iPhone bursts into flames.
But what happens after you've made a complaint? Well, first there's an automated reply: "Your request to Minneapolis 311 has been accepted." Sometimes there's a response: "Case closed" or "Case is invalid." Another report comes back "Invalid" as well but adds, "Re-created in error." Well, they said that about the "Dallas" reboot, but people seem to like it.
There are some curiosities in the neighbors section, though. One neighbor's report of a parking meter issue consists of a photograph of a co-worker, which suggests he'd like to stick a quarter in his ear, then slap him on the side of his head when his eyes don't show 15 minutes. But the same neighbor's pothole report is another co-worker, and a co-worker's head appears in a street light issue report. It makes sense when you see the 311 poster in the background. It's the folks who brought us the app! Love the behind-the-scenes look, but you might want to delete all that.
Special note to "Becky," whose "Graffiti Test" entry has a photo of a smiling woman dressed up as a Three of Hearts playing card. Might want to delete that, too.
But hey, you don't get Civic Points for nitpicking. So I called up the map to find issues in my neighborhood, and there were lots of potholes. One 2011 complaint was a few blocks from my house, so I ambled over to see if it had been filled. It had. No sign. On the spot I noted that it had been filled, and changed its status to CLOSED. I had that power? Apparently.
And now I have 60 Civic Points.
I could get many more by just closing every single pothole complaint in town, but that wouldn't be ... neighborly.
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