We stand so close together, but we are so far apart, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Ed Yourdon’s photostream

One of the most incredible technological advances of the past decade is the ability to simultaneously communicate with thousands of people via text message or a smart phone app. Agencies of the federal government, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service, utilize free smart phone apps to keep citizens informed about issues ranging natural disasters to the daily weather forecast. Smart phone apps provide easy, immediate access to information and can play an important role in alerting citizens to everything from traffic conditions to school closings. The City of Pittsburgh should offer a free smart phone app that will keep residents, commuters, and visitors informed. And we should go even further by enabling this app to provide two-way communication so residents can report neighborhood issues such as potholes, illegal parking, or graffiti.

1. Pittsburgh City Alert

Back in 2009, I worked with two Carnegie Mellon University professors to create iBurgh, the nation’s first mobile app for city government. iBurgh allowed anyone with a smart phone to report neighborhood issues directly to the city’s 311 system. More than 3,000 Pittsburghers had downloaded iBurgh within a month of its activation. Unfortunately, the current administration did not keep up the relationship with iBurgh and it is no longer available. However, we have the opportunity to create a new and improved iBurgh that provides not only a means to report issues to 311, but a two-way communication system between the city and anyone with a smart phone.

The new and improved iBurgh would allow the city to communicate with citizens like never before. For example, if you only want to receive updates regarding public safety issues, simply select that option. Want to know how the ride to and from work looks? Just select alerts for traffic conditions, construction issues, weather, and special events. From paving schedules to road and bridge closures, creating a new and improved iBurgh would vastly increase our ability to communicate important information to the people of Pittsburgh.

A new and improved iBurgh paired with a total overhaul of our 311 system would allow citizens to instantly report neighborhood issues to the departments that can respond to them. Have a pothole on your street that never seems to go away? Take a picture and use iBurgh to send the image directly to the Department of Public Works. You’ll even receive a notification after the pothole has been filled. That’s how a 21st century city communicates with its citizens.