Sunday, October 10, 2010

From Potholes to Graffiti: A Primer to Civic Engagement

In February, I saw an article about Tucson, Arizona, using (SCF) to report potholes and reported the 2-foot pothole in my neighborhood.  Wow, it was fixed in a few days!  I never thought the city could be so responsive, this is great!

Commuting by bike, I see graffiti (tags) on utility and light poles, utility boxes, signs, curbs, everywhere.  The tags are a visual blight in the city, a cancer, a disease to be treated.  Because SCF allows users to post other types of issues including graffiti, I hoped with SCF I could help the city fight this disease and keep the vandalism from lowering our property values.  The article I read did not say the City was using SCF for anything other than potholes, but it is worth a shot.  I used SCF to report some graffiti near my neighborhood.  Unfortunately, it was not fixed quickly like the pothole.

A couple of months later while searching for something else on the city’s web site, I found that the city has a web form and email address to request graffiti abatement.  I quickly realized the city’s form and email address are black holes.  There is no tracking or feedback mechanism.  In July, when a wall near my house was tagged, I used both SCF and the City’s web form.  The graffiti was removed in a few days.  The graffiti reported previously was still there.  I had found a way help clean up the city and track the reports; report the graffiti using SCF and the city’s form.

The city’s Graffiti Removal Program said they do not monitor SCF, so if I used the SCF mobile application, the city would not see the issue.  Entering the information twice was becoming a pain.  I had to find a way to streamline my reporting process.  On SCF, I would include the address in the description of the issue, forward the "Thank you for reporting your issue" email to the city and bypass their web form.  This reduced the amount of typing.

The Graffiti Removal Program is in the same department (transportation) that is fixing the potholes.  I wish they would setup a watch area and get alerts.  Wait a minute; I can setup a watch area for them!  I created a citywide watch area filtering on the key word graffiti and added their email.  Now they will get alerts about graffiti within the city and I can use the mobile application!

Now that I have a system worked out, what do I put in the reports?  I know the crews use different process to abate the graffiti based on what the graffiti is on, so I include details they will appreciate.  I include the exact location so they can find it, what the graffiti is on, painted or unpainted, block or wood, etc. so they know what to prepare for.  I include the color of the graffiti although I do not bother including the characters.

As long as the City funds the program, I will report the graffiti I see.

Theodore Roosevelt said, "Do what you can, where you are, with what you've got."  I think he would have loved SeeClickFix.

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