Is that neighbor down the street always letting his grass grow knee-high? Now residents can deal with code complaints from the comfort of their own smartphone, thanks to an app unveiled this month by the city of Arlington.
“Ask Arlington” is part of a five-year, $208,902 program aimed at getting simpler issues addressed while relieving some of the call load on the city’s Action Center hotline, which fielded 360,000 calls last year and put lots of people on long holds, said Gil Mesa, manager of the roughly 10-year-old center.
“We are the primary nonemergency number for the city of Arlington,” Mesa said. “The fact of the call volume that we’re receiving is at times we’re not able to provide the level of customer service that we would like to provide.”
The app, which allows uploading of photos and videos with a complaint, isn’t just for keeping neighbors on good behavior. Apartment dwellers can use it to report potentially serious issues, like insect infestation, hot-water outages, broken air conditioning and heating. Users can also point out water main leaks and potential health code violations at restaurants.
Or a park patron could report a broken swing set, Mesa said, and follow the progress of the city staff’s response.
“We encourage residents to report problems they see, whether it’s a burnt-out street light, graffiti or a dilapidated fence, to help the city keep our neighborhoods, parks, streets and business areas safer, more attractive and clean,” city spokesman Jay Warren said in a statement.
Those who don’t have smart devices can still submit complaints online at the city’s Action Center website.
Reports can be filed in more than 100 languages, which the app translates into English for the staff to address, then back into language of each submitter.
“Arlington is such a diverse community, we knew we needed something with that capability,” Mesa said.
The app shows the complaints in lists and on an interactive map of Arlington. Each report is tagged as “Submitted,” “Received,” “In Progress” and “Completed.” As the tags indicate, the reports, including specific addresses and images, appear first in the app without immediate oversight by the city staff, so some alleged violators could experience some unfair shaming.
Mesa concedes that’s possible, but he said the software allows an administrator to block from public view a gripe from anyone “trying to have a public forum on an issue.”
City officials are happy so far with the popularity of Ask Arlington. More than 400 people downloaded it on Jan. 10, when it was unveiled, Mesa said, and the number grew to about 1,600 by Friday morning.
Mesa said Ask Arlington dovetails with two ongoing City Council initiatives, Champion Strong Neighborhoods and Put Technology to Work.
“We are looking at options that are available out there, technologywise, that can make us more efficient as an organization, and help improve the lives of our residents,” Mesa said. “We feel this this really falls in line with that statement.”