SeeClickFix – Harsimus Cove Association President Encourages Smartphone App To Help Report Quality of Life Concerns

Neighborhood associations typically form to protect and improve the quality of life. A loud bar is applying for a zoning exemption in a residential area? Your neighborhood association is probably there. A rich developer is schmoozing with politicians to get a sweetheart deal and ruin the character of historic buildings? They fight that too.

It would be only natural, then, to expect that neighborhood association members would be more inclined than most to proactively report quality of life issues — after all, they’re not transient city-dwellers, they have a vested interest.

Enter SeeClickFix, a smartphone app geared to the civic responsibility-inclined neighborhood association member in all of us. SeeClickFix isn’t a new smartphone application – in fact, San Francisco has been using it since 2008 – but its use in Jersey City could soon be taking off thanks to the efforts of Harsimus Cove Association president Stephen Musgrave who demonstrated the program at Monday night’s HCA meeting.

SeeClickFix, explains Musgrave, lets anyone with a smartphone report a problem that others might ignore (and that the city might not be aware of).

“I call SeeClickFix “block watch for quality of life issues,”” writes Musgrave in an email to JCI. “Just like with a block watch, if those responsible for resolving quality of life issues know where the problems are, they will be much more effective in their job.”

Here’s how it works. A concerned and discerning resident notices a problem – say, someone illegally dumping garbage where it doesn’t belong, or a pothole knocking tires out of alignment – so they launch the application, which in turn “geo-locates” where the resident is. The SeeClickFix user describes the problem, takes a picture, and submits it. In the case of the HCA, Musgrave has set up a “watch zone” for the group that will collect all of the issues reported by their members. Anyone with the application can set up his or her own watch zones or report to a pre-existing one. By subscribing to someone else’s “watch zone,” writes Musgrave, the issue being reported is public to everyone, or “ulta transparency at work.”

“When I receive an email notification [from my “watch zone”], I let the City know through various channels, depending on the issue,” he explains. “I then update the issue on to indicate that it’s been reported. This triggers an email to the reporter so they know that someone is paying attention.” A slideshow created by Musgrave can be found here.

Added HCA vice president Laura Fant, “I downloaded the SeeClickFix app several weeks ago and have since used it to report several instances of trash and litter on city streets and sidewalks.”

“The fact that I can use the app to snap a picture and record the details and location of a trouble spot while on-the-go makes me much more likely to report a problem,” she continued. “This in turn helps the information reach the right people and gets the problem solved that much faster. It’s empowering to know that you are helping to bring positive change and a better quality of life to your neighborhood.”

Jersey City does not currently interface directly with yet. That’s too bad for residents who call for increased government transparency, as the website ranks how well a municipality responds to QoL complaints.

“The brilliance is that this is all out in the open,” adds Musgrave. “Anybody can report, anybody can get alerts, anybody can resolve. You can even share issues over Twitter, Facebook and other social media websites to bring attention to a matter or go begging for some neighborly appreciation.  And yes, I’ve done that a time or two.”

“The fact is, we need to make good use of city services.  If they know where the issues are, then they can be better at what they do,” he added.

Issues that have been reported Downtown can be found here, and citywide issues can be found here.

Matt Hunger

is a former staff writer for the Jersey City Independent.