A conversation about getting young people engaged in municipal politics has spawned a smartphone app with a host of helpful potential uses.
At a monthly event in Saskatoon, two candidates for council in that city’s upcoming election were discussing the need to get more young people to show up at the polls. Several sitting city councillors who were also in attendance said one of the most common hurdles they saw to people being engaged in city issues was that they often simply didn’t know what ward they lived in, or who their representative on council was.
Also at the meeting was Dale Zak, a web developer who had started a venture called Apps4Good while living in Halifax a few years ago. “The idea behind Apps4Good was to build apps which we’d sell, and then donate the proceeds to charity,” said Zak.
Finding it difficult to keep up with the need to market and promote paid apps using a volunteer workforce, Zak said the concept was adjusted, now the idea would be to make free, open-source apps that would serve beneficial purposes.
Zak set himself to creating an app to help address the challenge of informing people in Saskatoon and Regina of what ward they live in and who their representative is. What’s My Ward? is a simply designed iPhone app that, once downloaded, maps the user’s current location and overlays a map of city wards so that the user can see exactly what ward they are in. A touch of an icon immediately brings up the name of the councillor for that ward, along with their contact information and a brief bio.
Zak said he considered making a website that would serve the same function, but ultimately decided on the smartphone app,
“The reason I thought the app was an interesting solution to the problem was that it detects your location, shows where you are on the map, but also, you can easily call your councillor because the phone’s already in your hand and you just tap the number, which is something people on a webpage probably wouldn’t do.”
The app is completely open-source, and designed in such a way that other developers can potentially adapt it to any number of uses. “It could be re- used for anything, any kind of mapping. Like, let’s say you wanted to see all the bus stops in Regina or all the bike lanes or all the public toilets, rather than just using the [data] for the wards, you would grab the [data] for that and plug it in. Or, you could provide it with different data and different graphics and it could be used for other cities,” said Zak.
Zak said another app showing all candidates running in a ward may be in the works ahead of the municipal elections.
Links to download the the What’s My Ward? app for Regina or Saskatoon can be found at http://apps4good.ca/apps/whats-my-ward/
Read the full article on the Leader-Post at http://www.leaderpost.com/technology/iPhone+designed+help+voters+involved/7239739/story.html