New Mapping App Seeks to Relay Urban Woes to City Hall

A new mobile phone application launched yesterday aims to collect data on flooding, blackouts, traffic jams and other problems that plague Phnom Penh, then map its findings for use by citizens and City Hall.

When users of the Urban Voice app spot a festering pile of trash or find themselves knee deep in floodwater, they can submit a report with a photo, a brief description and their location to the Urban Voice website, which then adds the information to its opensource map and sends out an alert on its Facebook page.

A screenshot of the Urban Voice Android app
A screenshot of the Urban Voice Android app

The Android app builds on an earlier citizen mapping effort in which city residents reported issues directly on the website, via text message or through mobile apps Line and Telegram.

“These issues that we are raising up—like trash issues, flooding, traffic—are everyone’s issues, not our organization’s issues,” said Soeung Saran, advocacy program manager for housing rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, which facilitated the development of the app.

Mr. Saran said he hoped the app would not simply help citizens dodge pileups and potholes, but also inform Phnom Penh’s urban planning.

“If we show that in this location there [are] a lot of traffic jams, they might consider why,” he said. “And the MPP [municipality of Phnom Penh] can think about the mechanism to make it…easier for the road user,” such as a traffic light or additional police officer.

Mr. Saran said the organization had yet to approach City Hall on the topic but he had heard that a municipal official had checked the map. He acknowledged that convincing authorities of its value would not be easy.

“They want to save face. They don’t want to look at their irregularity.”

The app took two years to develop and $3,000 in funding from the Open Society Institute and the Swedish International Development Agency. Mr. Saran said Urban Voice’s existing user base—coupled with Facebook and tuktuk marketing campaigns focused on topics like blackouts during the hot season—would ensure that Urban Voice was more successful than other locally developed apps focusing on social issues that have struggled to attract users.

“We actually have the existing group that is using Line or Telegram,” Mr. Saran said. “We hope that these groups will be more active and continue to submit reports.”

Deputy Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng said that how the app was received would depend on the motives of its makers.

“We will wait to see whether Sahmakum Teang Tnaut launched it for political reasons or just as humanitarians, sharing news with us,” Mr. Sreng said.

“If it was launched to share news, it’s not a problem. In that case, we can view and implement” solutions, he said.

(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)

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