A city-government effort that’s quick, responsive and kinda cool? Yes, it exists, as of this year.
On Sept. 13 the city launched its 311 app, which gives residents another — and arguably better — channel through which to report non-emergency problems like abandoned cars and trash dumping. (And the app actually connects to the 311 center, as opposed to Councilman Bobby Henon’s April-launched CityHall app, which just gets someone in Henon’s office to enter it by hand into the 311 system.)
The city caught some flak for the 311 app’s delays, but the end result is useful, with FAQs, the ability to see other requests that have been submitted (along with their status and any comments) and a list of city officials (although without contact information, a silly oversight). “When the status [of a complaint] changes, we notify you,” explains assistant managing director Tim Wisniewski, the 311 app’s project director.
Most notably, the app is flexible. Already-existing data from Licenses & Inspections was recently added, so you can search a property’s history and violations. When the city realized Philly 311 could be a helpful tool during the November election, polling-place information and other features appeared in a mere few days. Prior to Hurricane Sandy, the city added a “fallen tree” category to the list of possible complaints. “If there was an upcoming snow emergency, we can add features specific to that,” says Rosetta Lue, director of the 311 center. After such an event has passed, she notes, “we can just shut off” any feature that was temporarily added.
Future additions along the lines of the L&I data will be determined as needed. “We are getting feedback,” says Lue, “so we’ll morph the app into what people are looking for.” It’s a little startling to hear that from a city official and know it’s not just rhetoric.
Complete Streets Bill
Mark Squilla’s legislation, which passed last week, is tough love for bikes and cars, both of whom need to learn some basic rules of road civility and safety. We’ll see whether it’s consistently enforced, but it’s worth dreaming about a world where drivers think twice before dooring a bicyclist.
Councilman Bobby Henon
Henon has taken on blighted properties and deadbeat landlords head-on using hearings to shame bad landlords into paying taxes and bringing their properties up to code. It’s a good start in tackling an issue no one else seems to know what to do with.
Front Door Website and Proposed Land Bank
The website where you can track vacant properties is a big help (and long overdue). If Maria Quiñones-Sánchez can get her land-bank legislation passed, there might be some hope for mitigating this city’s vacant-land problem.
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