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This St. Louis-Born App Can Help Fix Your Neighborhood

Magnify Your Voice
An entry in the Magnify Your Voice app calls for residents to encourage restaurants across north county to provide paper straws in place of plastic ones, like Bloom Cafe provides.

Pi Pizzeria didn’t always have a diaper changing station in its men’s restroom, but then a local dad called for restroom parity. He shared his concern with his favorite pizza shop and asked for others to do the same via Magnify Your Voice, a civic engagement app meant to help residents work together to tackle projects in their neighborhood.

Four hours later, Pi Pizzeria's owner responded, and a changing station was installed that night.

Other cases include DeMun Park-goers who noticed a dying tree near the playground and persuaded authorities to save it and residents in Clayton who now enjoy a protected bike lane on Maryland Avenue. Magnify also helps encourage people to get in touch with their local leaders, pair up with a voting partner or become a poll worker.

Washington University professor Betsy Sinclair says there is a resurgence of political life at the local level — what she calls “little ‘D’ democracy.”

“It refers to the myriad of ways that we connect to build neighborhoods, communities and [local] government,” Sinclair said on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air.

She co-founded Magnify in 2018 and explained how residents can use technological resources to help people effectively organize during a pandemic.

James Byard
WUSTL Photos
Betsy Sinclair is an associate professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis. She co-founded the Magnify Your Voice app.

“The coronavirus pandemic has been paired with a loneliness pandemic. Suddenly people weren’t able to be physically present to be part of the myriad of organizations that support their lives, and they were looking for other ways to be engaged,” she explained.

“Suddenly we also saw the potential for connection for people who couldn’t make it to a 7 p.m. meeting or volunteer Saturday morning, but still wanted a way to be a ‘micro-volunteer’ — a supporter who can participate very rarely in an in-person event, but can provide digital support on an ongoing basis.”

So far, more than 4,000 Magnify users are on the platform, most of them based in the St. Louis metro region. Via the app, users can post a concern or action they want the others to take in their area. Those interested can then follow the course of action listed, whether it's writing to a local government leader, leaving a compliment or attending a city council meeting.

Users earn points for proposing new projects or helping complete existing projects.

“Little actions count. Every step counts. If you can come and get credit, if you can come and take an action, it’s good for your wellness, it helps you connect to other people … and it gives you a little bit of hope,” Sinclair added.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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