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 firstname.lastname@example.org.