8 months after its launch, Philly311 app seems to be a success

Posted: May 02, 2013

TAKYI WILLIAMS RUNS a barbershop in Point Breeze with his wife. But he often found himself spending less time cutting hair and more time cleaning up messes left behind by his fellow residents - such as graffiti on a wall or bags of trash on the sidewalk.

Then, another neighborhood resident, Andrew Pinkham, told Williams about an app, Philly311, that allows him to snap a picture and send it instantly to the city's 3-1-1 office, where such requests are handled. Williams said the ease of using the app has allowed him to spend more time focusing on his business.

"This app absolutely takes the strain off me to not have to go outside and paint the graffiti off the wall or move the debris to a Dumpster," said Williams, 38, as he sat inside his Shear Talent Barbershop, on Point Breeze Avenue near Wharton Street. "It allows people to do their job as a whole and focus on their business, which, in turn, will be better for the economy."

On a recent afternoon, Williams stood outside the barbershop and eyed bags of trash lining the curb. Before the app, he said, when he saw trash piling up and it wasn't trash day, he'd move it himself. Now, he uses the Philly311 app to snap a photo to send directly to the city.

"It's a trickle-down effect," he said. "It just empowers people. It allows people to do what they need to do."

City Deputy Managing Director and Chief Customer Service Officer Rosetta Lue, who oversees 3-1-1, said the app has been downloaded about 15,000 times and has been used to send 12,000 requests since its launch in September.

CityHall App, a similar app launched in March 2012 by Councilman Bobby Henon, lets users submit 3-1-1 requests and photos to his office. Henon, who represents the 6th District in Northeast Philadelphia, said yesterday that about 600 people had downloaded his app at last count and that more than half of them are repeat users.

Lue said requests for graffiti removal are the most common type sent through the Philly311 app.

A new feature helping to bridge the gap in Philadelphia, Lue said, is that the app is now translatable into 16 languages.

"It converts to English for us, and we communicate back in English, but it translates for you," she said.

Pinkham, 49, a South Philadelphia resident who told Williams and other business owners about the app, said it's been a help in his work with the West Passyunk Neighbors Association.

"What it's enabled me to do was interact with the merchants," said Pinkham. "A lot of them didn't feel like there was much they could do about the quality of life . . . having this app was a really empowering tool for them to be able to utilize."

Both Pinkham and Williams said that they use the app to report graffiti and illegal dumping in South Philadelphia and that they've been especially happy with how prompt graffiti cleanup is.

"As far as the graffiti, it's fantastic, but with the vacant lots with debris, they take their time," Williams said.

Carlos Mitti, 45, of Kensington, echoed Williams.

"With graffiti or abandoned properties, before [the app], it was like, 'Oh well,' " said Mitti, president of the Somerset Neighbors for Better Living civic association. "Now, it's just like right there, it's a solution."

Mitti said he's seen quick results in cases of graffiti and illegal dumping.

He said the flexibility of having it available at his fingertips has helped him to spread the word to his neighbors.

"Not too many people have access to a computer," Mitti said. "That's the advantage of that, because it's easier for everybody to carry their cellphones."

Philly311 is available for iPhone, BlackBerry and Android, and can be found in the phones' respective app stores by searching "Philly311."

Lue encouraged Philadelphians to take advantage of the app and be "eyes and ears" for the city.

"It's really a tool at their fingertips," she said. "The bottom line is: Download that app."

On Twitter: @morganzalot

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