When it comes to technological innovation city governments are not high on the list and one gets the sense they still run on an ENIAC or maybe even an abacus. Add to it, the idea that a bureaucracy is actually interested in fixing things in a timely manner is more a punch line than a reality. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and his New Urban Mechanics shatter low expectations and stereotypes as they look for ways to crowd source data for city municipal repairs. More specifically, they have been working on Street Bump – a smart phone app for city residents that uses GPS and the device’s accelerometer to record and notify the city of pothole locations for repair.
The app was a collaborative effort between New Urban Mechanics, Connected Bits, IDEO and Professor Fabio Carrera from Worcester Polytechnic and Innocentive along with partial funding from Liberty Mutual. The first generation wasn’t able to distinguish between a pothole, a railroad crossing or a speedbump. So they brought more collaborators into the solution. “The fundamental premise of Street Bump relies on citizens to help the City collect data on road conditions, so it’s also a natural for us to turn to the global community of Solvers to help find the best algorithm to analyze that data,” said Mayor Menino.
When a particular location registers the same pothole three times, Public Works heads out to fill the hole. Thus, they save Boston residents from the typical experience of numerous unresponsive phone calls to the city offices and multi-month lag times parodied so well in a recent episode of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.
It is a new breed of municipal government that efficiently engages feedback from the people they serve with truly innovative solutions that require minimal participation for maximum impact. We hope to see more solutions like Street Bump.