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Northampton to launch new smartphone app for residents

Northampton is one of 36 communities statewide to participate in a  pilot program that will allow residents to download a special mobile application they can use to quickly report service issues to the city. The app looks like this. Requests through the Northampton Citizen Connect program will go instantly from the phone to the designated city department.

Northampton is one of 36 communities statewide to participate in a pilot program that will allow residents to download a special mobile application they can use to quickly report service issues to the city. The app looks like this. Requests through the Northampton Citizen Connect program will go instantly from the phone to the designated city department. Purchase photo reprints »

Northampton is one of 36 communities statewide recently picked to participate in a Boston-led pilot program that will allow residents to download a special mobile application they can use to quickly report service issues to the city.

Requests through the Northampton Citizen Connect program will go instantly from the phone to the designated city department.

Mayor David J. Narkewicz hopes this will enable the city to respond quickly to neighborhood concerns.

“It’s another way to increase communication between residents and city government for some of these quality-of-life issues,” Narkewicz said.

The smart phone application will be based on the Citizens Connect app launched by the city of Boston three years ago. That app now handles 20 percent of all quality-of-life requests from its residents and has resulted in 35,000 improvements in Boston neighborhoods, according to a press release from the state’s Executive Office for Administration and Finance.

Expansion of the app beyond Boston, through the so-called Commonwealth Connect program, is funded by the state’s Community Innovation Challenge grant program, which invests in innovations that may lower costs and improve services through regionalization, new uses of technology and improved management.

The city inked a contract with Boston last month in which it will get the software and technical support for three years, a significant savings when compared to investing in its own program from scratch, Narkewicz said.

Boston officials are currently working with Vanessa Oquendo, Northampton’s director of management information systems, and other key players to get the city’s version off the ground.

Residents who own smartphones will be able to download the free application to their phones and use it just like they would any other application, Narkewicz said. The application could be ready next week, depending on planning at the statewide level.

Northampton’s app will include an image of the city’s seal, with six icons beneath, including a “report” button. Residents will use this icon to report potholes to the Department of Public Works, malfunctioning parking meters to the Parking Clerk’s Office and trash and litter refuse to the Health Department.

A phone’s GPS unit will mark someone’s location, and people filing a report will simply answer a few basic questions about the problem. They can also submit pictures, where applicable. The reports are then sent to the proper departments, where they are logged. Users can get status updates on what steps the city is taking to solve the problem.

“It’s very intuitive for smartphone users,” Narkewicz said. “It’s set up like most other smartphone applications.”

Other services, such as graffiti, may be added if the program proves successful, Narkewicz said.

He recognizes that the technology isn’t for everyone, and city departments will continue to field reports by phone.

Commonwealth Connect is being developed in partnership between Boston and See Click Fix, a New Haven, Conn., company that creates apps and services that allow residents to act on issues they see in their neighborhoods.

In addition to Northampton, other western Massachusetts communities selected for the Boston pilot program include Orange and Chicopee.

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