Civic Duty to SeeClickFix
SeeClickFix, New Haven, Connecticut
Ben Berkowitz has sold T-shirts proclaiming, "New Haven: It's better than your town." He founded a local business association and helped organize an annual scavenger hunt to familiarize residents with the Connecticut city's less-celebrated landmarks. So when he spotted some graffiti in his neighborhood, his civic pride kicked in. He sought to notify the proper local agency to resolve the issue, but there wasn't a system in place to do so.
At about that time, in the fall of 2007, a friend of his, Miles Lasater, came across a British website, FixMyStreet, on which residents could report problems such as potholes and broken streetlights to regional councils. Berkowitz and Lasater liked the idea. But Berkowitz, 31, envisioned a more ambitious platform that would also allow users to collaborate to resolve issues themselves. "We didn't just want to hold government accountable," he says, "but also citizens, neighborhood groups, business associations, utility companies, and anybody else that had some stake in the process."
That goal served as the impetus for SeeClickFix, which Berkowitz; Lasater; Lasater's brother, Kam; and Jeff Blasius launched in 2008. The site allows users to post location-specific issues from anywhere in the world and vote on the ones they would like to see addressed. Residents and government officials can sign up to receive alerts of new posts so they can monitor issues in their neighborhoods. The site has drawn more than 65,000 reports of problems from residents in 10,000 communities. Of those, more than 45 percent have been resolved. Some 30 municipalities, including Tucson and Washington, D.C., now use a premium version of SeeClickFix that allows them to develop custom applications for their locales and gather data.
For Berkowitz, though, nothing has been more gratifying than seeing SeeClickFix's impact in his hometown. "I've seen not only an increase in responsiveness from the government but a lot more engagement at the local level," he says. "People are organizing to solve problems, as opposed to just running from them." Residents in one New Haven neighborhood, for instance, took to SeeClickFix to urge the city to install lights along a dark bridge on which people had been mugged. The postings got the attention of the city's streetlight administrator, who met with the neighborhood's block watch. In September, residents gathered to christen the bridge's new solar lighting system. Ultimately, Berkowitz hopes SeeClickFix encourages others to become as invested in their cities as he is in his. "I'm trying," he says, "to get that feeling of accountability and participation to as many people as possible."