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Useful Community Plus
February 27, 2020

Feature: Using Citizen Service Request Records
to Improve City Government
Visit us at the Useful Community Development Website

New Articles on the Website

This month we wrote a couple of articles for our economic development section. First, find out about building an innovation district, and whether your community can support such a major area where established but innovative firms mingle with start-ups and scale-ups. The second new article challenges you to think about whether a night mayor program might help you attract more nightlife and solve accompanying problems, or whether a night-time ambassador program could address issues for night shift workers in a focused way.

We also wrote about the importance of minimum or maximum building setbacks, or both, in residential and commercial areas.

Feature: Citizen Complaints Tell You Plenty

Many cities now have a system of recording all citizen service requests across departments. Analyzing the geography of these calls can provide helpful visualizations and new insights into the performance of your city.

Neighborhood associations, block club leaders, activists, city staff, and elected officials can spot important trends if these reports from the public are coded and recorded faithfully in a systematic way.

For best results complaints should be recorded in a GIS (computer-based geographic information system) to show spatial patterns. If no GIS capabilities are available, geo-code service requests by simply drawing boundaries on a map, giving each resulting area a number, using sticky dots to record types of citizen service calls, and tabulating results for each district you drew.

Whether digital or physical, dot maps showing the location, date, time, and resolution of calls can help citizens and decision makers:

• Understand weaknesses in city services or utilities, resulting in budgeting and administrative action items
• Understand geographic patterns and neighborhoods or blocks that need emphasis
• Understand the speed with which problems are resolved
• Understand patterns of code violations, which is especially valuable if owner-occupied and rental units are differentiated
• Understand where "people problems" such as noise or trash dumping occur
• Understand, often for the first time, the relationship of police data to code enforcement, public works, and other citizen service requests.

Make your data visualization maps as widely available to your citizens and neighborhood associations as possible. In today's world citizens demand transparency from their city and town governments.

In fact, if your city's system becomes sophisticated enough, you might try making it possible for any pre-approved resident or neighborhood group to add data on their own, rather than waiting for accurate recording of a phone, e-mail, or online service request.

Get busy today in making sure your town has a visual means of showing the public where the problems are. If you are a citizen activist, don't let your government off the hook. No excuses allowed.

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