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New app spruces up the city

Residents encouraged to report nuisance problems online

By: Amy Crofts

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 09, 2014 06:00 am

SPRUCE IT UP – Jason Wywal, the city’s manager of applications, shows off St. Albert’s new vandalism/disorder app, which was revealed at city council’s meeting on Monday.
SPRUCE IT UP – Jason Wywal, the city’s manager of applications, shows off St. Albert’s new vandalism/disorder app, which was revealed at city council’s meeting on Monday.
APRIL BARTLETT/St. Albert Gazette

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St. Albertans can now tell city staff to clean up graffiti, fix a broken street lamp, or clear away snow, from the comfort of their cell phones and tablets.

The city unveiled the Spruce It Up app at Monday’s council meeting.

Developed by the company SeeClickFix, the app allows users to take a photo of the problem – potholes, vandalism, a tree obstructing the road – which will then be forwarded to the city department responsible for it.

The rationale behind the app is to streamline reports and to get them to the right people as soon as possible, said Jason Wywal, manger of applications services.

“With a few simple clicks information can be readily reported and filtered to applicable departments. For example, snow removal goes to public works and graffiti goes to municipal enforcement,” he said.

The app has been tested internally for the past three weeks.

Reports can be made anonymously or via a personal profile. The app will automatically tag the location of the photo using the phone’s GPS, or an address can be entered manually.

Users can see what other people are reporting in real time and vote on issues that need to be fixed. They will also receive a follow-up message from the city when the problem has been addressed.

App developer SeeClickFix is being used in other Canadian cities including Grande Prairie. Residents have reported issues such as road drainage problems, ice ruts and the need for a crosswalk or traffic lights.

The app had 658 reports in 2011. Reports increased to more than 1,000 in its second year.

Public works receives about 12,000 calls per year, said city manager Patrick Draper; it would be ideal if 30 to 40 per cent of those issues could be addressed using the app.

“We hope residents will take advantage of this easy way to communicate with the city,” added Wywal.

Spruce It Up comes with a price tag of $13,000 in its first year (including initial licensing and adaptations costs) and a $9,000 support fee every year after that.

It isn’t the first non-emergency crime reporting app being used in the city, said Wywal, but it will be the official one.

Neighbourhood Watch released the Disorder Reporter app last summer.

The main difference between the apps is that the Disorder Reporter covers the entire capital region, said developer Dale Fetterly. It also accepts submissions that aren’t related to the city such as damages to phones and cable lines.

Since its launch in Android phones in July, the Disorder Reporter has been downloaded 1,400 times and has received more than 600 submissions – some from as far as Edson and Hinton.

The top three categories for reports have been graffiti, potholes and “general disrepair.”

Fetterly suspects more and more municipalities will be rolling out their own non-emergency crime reporting apps, but there will still be a need for a regional app as Albertans are frequently commuting between cities.

Spruce it Up is available for free on Apple, Android, Blackberry and Windows phones and tablets. A widget will also be placed on the city’s website.


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