Northeast Times

Philly311: connection to City Hall stronger than ever

With the help of its mo­bile app and the Neigh­bor­hood As­so­ci­ation Li­ais­on train­ing pro­gram, Philly311 is ded­ic­ated to bridging the gap between res­id­ents and gov­ern­ment ser­vice.

North­ern Liber­ties res­id­ent Thomas Wolfinger can re­port graf­fiti any­where he goes.

Thanks to Philly 311’s mo­bile ap­plic­a­tion, Wolfinger can re­port van­dal­ism, in­sec­ure va­cant prop­er­ties, high weeds or any num­ber of neigh­bor­hood is­sues in­stantly.

The ap­plic­a­tion’s glob­al po­s­i­tion­ing sys­tem will pick up his loc­a­tion, from which point he can up­load the in­form­a­tion, his name and tele­phone num­ber, even a pic­ture of the com­plaint site.

The 45-year-old teach­er is also a Neigh­bor­hood As­so­ci­ation Li­ais­on. He’s been trained by Philly311 staff to more ef­fi­ciently in­put data in­to the 311 sys­tem, thereby in­creas­ing the rapid­ity of re­sponse.

“I think it just gives people more faith in city ser­vices,” Wolfinger said. “When they see that there’s graf­fiti on a wall and then two days later, it’s gone.”

Philly311 and the Neigh­bor­hood As­so­ci­ation Li­ais­on Pro­gram have been in ef­fect since 2009. Philly311 (215-686-8686) is the phone line con­nect­ing city res­id­ents to city in­form­a­tion and ser­vices such as il­leg­al dump­ing, va­cant lot clean-up and graf­fiti re­mov­al.

Now Philly311 is work­ing on spread­ing the word about the im­prove­ments to the sys­tem and the li­ais­on pro­gram.

“We’re  try­ing to change a mind­set that if you re­port things to the city it just goes in­to a big black hole,” said Rosetta Car­ring­ton Leu, deputy man­ager and dir­ect­or of 311 op­er­a­tions.

Leu said the Neigh­bor­hood As­so­ci­ation Li­ais­on Pro­gram got star­ted when she saw the op­por­tun­ity to put to­geth­er a pro­gram tar­geted at com­munity lead­ers.

“People that are com­munity lead­ers, as­so­ci­ations mem­bers that are really in­ves­ted in their com­munity and want to see things im­prove, this is tar­geted at them,” she said.

Those li­ais­ons are trained on in­put­ting in­form­a­tion and can see ex­actly in the sys­tem what Philly311 staff can see.

When a li­ais­on enters in­form­a­tion in­to the sys­tem, he or she can see the com­plaint’s track­ing num­ber. Leu said com­plaints are giv­en a time frame in which to re­solve is­sues. In the case of a pothole, for ex­ample, city work­ers are giv­en 24 hours to in­spect the com­plaint and 3 days to fix it.

“We’re all speak­ing off the same page,” she said of the sys­tem. “We can see when things haven’t been re­solved.”

Is­sues range from graf­fiti and va­cant prop­er­ties to high weeds and il­leg­al dump­ing.

She said 80 per­cent of the re­quest 311 re­ceived are eas­ily re­solved.

So far, Leu said the pro­gram has trained 400 neigh­bor­hood li­ais­ons.

Wolfinger got star­ted as a li­ais­on in March of 2010. He used to live in Kens­ing­ton, where he said he re­por­ted on dozens of va­cant lots and graf­fiti.

“The blight was just in­cred­ible,” he said.

Now he lives at 2nd and Berks streets, where he said he still re­ports many in­stances of van­dal­ism. He’s also a mem­ber of South Kens­ing­ton Com­munity Part­ners.

He said by go­ing to com­munity meet­ings and hear­ing dif­fer­ent is­sues, he can eas­ily let people know he is a neigh­bor­hood li­ais­on and a “go-to” per­son.

“I want the com­munity to look good,” he said. “I think that the people in North­ern Liber­ties or Kens­ing­ton de­serve to have the same qual­ity of life [as any oth­er neigh­bor­hood].”

Leu said li­ais­ons like Wolfinger rep­res­ent “com­munity her­oes.”

“Some people, they’re the ‘go-to’ per­son [in their neigh­bor­hood],” she said. We seek out who that per­son is.”

The staff of Philly311 re­cruit li­ais­ons around the city and will be host­ing train­ing ses­sions once a month for the rest of 2012.

Philly311 has also won the Pub­lic Tech­no­logy In­sti­tute’s Cit­izen En­gaged Com­munit­ies award. Phil­adelphia is one of only nine cit­ies to get the des­ig­na­tion.

Es­sen­tially, Leu said, the pro­gram rep­res­ents the idea that to get things done through the gov­ern­ment, you don’t have to “know some­body who knows some­body who knows some­body.”

“We’re one of the lead­ing or­gan­iz­a­tions of this type across the na­tion,” she said. “We’re try­ing to build a na­tion­al mod­el.”

To learn more about Philly311 or to be­come a neigh­bor­hood li­ais­on, vis­it ht­tp://www.phila.gov/311/neigh­bor­hood­Liason.html.

Man­aging Ed­it­or Mi­kala Jam­is­on can be reached at 215-354-3113 or at mjam­is­on@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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