PARIS -- Graffiti on the side of a baguette-filled bakery. Abandoned furniture on a street corner. A broken park bench in the Luxembourg Gardens. It doesn't take much to ruin the picturesque postcard view that many people have of Paris. A new smartphone application, however, is helping to empower citizens to clean up Parisian streets and it's as easy as uploading a photo to Instagram.
The free app, called DansMaRue (In My Street) was inspired in part by a similar effort in England called FixMyStreet. The British version, launched in 2007, was originally a website that enabled citizens to alert the government of problems in the streets in the UK. The app followed in 2008. The program spurred international versions in Greece, Canada, Tunisia, and Korea among other nations. The French version debuted this June and City Hall hopes to give Parisians one less thing to complain about.
In the UK, over 1,000 problems are reported per week. In Paris, ever since a trial in the 13th arrondissement launched in September 2012, over 27,000 issues were reported, of which some 23,500 have been resolved. Problems range from unwanted street art to broken streetlights and cracked pavement.
According to Philippe Ducloux, deputy mayor in charge of municipal services, the application is a way for the city to engage citizens with their smartphones, which he calls tools more than simple phones. He thinks the app, which cost 180,000 euros to develop, will ultimately be a more effective service to benefit Parisians, even though they can already report problems via a telephone number and a website. Such services, however, are more cumbersome and don't allow photo uploading, nor do they allow instantaneous reports at any hour.
Deputy mayor in charge of innovation, Jean-Louis Missika, said that the application is a step toward changing the traditional way the city takes care of itself. Parisians, known for finding fault with most anything, can now actively take part in changing urban problems. "We hope it leads to a co-management of public spaces in Paris," he said.
Using an iPhone, Android, or Windows Phone with a camera, users simply take a picture of the problem, write a small description, and send the photo with the GPS coordinates into the system. For Parisians, it's simple. In the time it takes to turn on an e-cigarette and take a few puffs, the alert has been sent. Afterward, the municipal authorities will address and prioritize the issues, following up if the users leave their email addresses alongside the problem. "The tool takes the desire to alert the authorities to an actual communication," Missika said.
While only in Paris at the moment, open source code for DansMaRue means that any French-speaking municipality could imagine a similar program. "We hope that other cities and towns will use it," Missika said.
Furthermore, even though the application is only in French for the moment, the developers acknowledged that there are some arguments for having th app in English, too. There could be an advantage to having tourists and visitors give their input as well, since different cultural aesthetics could mean that an American or Japanese tourist may report a problem that blase Parisians don't consider offensive.
Now that the app is available for every district in Paris, the mayor's office is preparing for the flood of complains that should start to stream in, but it's a continual work in progress. For the moment, they are just trying to make communication between Parisians and the authorities as fluid as possible in order to reduce problems in the street as much as possible.
Photos: Lindsey Tramuta-Morel