A year ago, I attended an exhibition at MoMA called “Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects.” One project in the exhibit, Mayo Nissen’s City Tickets, left an indelible mark on me. Mayo Nissen’s proposal was to readapt parking ticket machines to “City Tickets kiosks.” The City Tickets kiosks would allow citizens to report on urban problems–a pothole, graffiti, or an awkward junction, for instance–and to suggest local improvements: benches for sitting on, or perhaps a weekly market.
The way City Tickets kiosks would work is simple. The kiosks would generate short forms, printed as standard-format receipts. Each receipt would display a hyperlocal map on the reverse side, indicating the exact location of the problem, or suggestion. Perhaps the most elusive aspect of this design is that the kiosks would enable citizens to mail this information, free of charge, where it would be processed and routed to the correct department for an efficient response. The reports would then be entered into a public database, allowing citizens to track their reported problem or suggestion in the system, including the projected date of completion.
The rationale behind City Tickets is to create direct communication between local authorities and citizens, which is usually hindered by bureaucracy. While the City Tickets kiosk remains an unrealized idea, two mobile applications, SeeClickFix and Love Clean Streets, have been developed under the same premise. Applying a similar concept, these two mobile applications translate the physical infrastructure of the City Ticket Kiosk to a digital format.
The SeeClickFix application, available worldwide, allows citizens to report on urban problems to their local government via their mobile phone or the website. Citizens submit a description, image, and the exact location of the problem, and local authorities are responsible for responding to it. While the issue is in the process of being addressed, citizens can stay informed of its progress. An additional feature of the app is that it is predicated on community interaction–citizens can vote on, comment on, vote to fix, or update issues already reported by their neighbors.
Love Clean Streets, an application available to users in London, similarly allows users to report environmental crime issues via their mobile app, or the website. A short video advertising the app claims that citizens can report the issue in less than 40 seconds. The local authority is responsible for dealing with the report and the user can review the progress of it.
The real, and still untapped, potential of these two applications is impressive. They provide a new opportunity to mobilize vast numbers of citizens to become engaged in their local communities, thereby fostering a sense of empowerment among citizens. Furthermore, a transparent system that holds government accountable for their actions reaffirms citizens’ confidence in government. While still relatively new, the introduction of these two applications may be the start of a new movement in participatory urban planning.
Photos: Mayo Nissen