Boston Adopt-A-Hydrant

Via New Urban Mechanics:

To adopt one of Boston’s 13,000+ public hydrants, go to Once you sign in, you can choose and name – the hydrant(s) you would like to volunteer to shovel out. You will receive a confirmation email with your hydrant location(s) and shoveling tips as well as friendly reminders when snowstorms hit.

The Adopt-A-Hydrant application was developed by Erik Michaels-Ober, a Code for America fellow, who served with the City of Boston in 2011. The City is piloting the application this year. If successful, the City will explore how this application could be used to encourage adoption of other streetscape features, such as trees. The app also is available for other places to use and, to date, three cities – Chicago, Honolulu, and Buenos Aires – already have expressed an interest in adapting it for use by their residents.

Does anyone think it’s worth petitioning the City Council to see if we can adapt it for use in Worcester?

For those of you following along at home…

I’m going to be making a short (though everyone knows me — the mayor’s going to have to cut me off!) public comment on items 11d, 11e, and 11h on tonight’s Council agenda.

Here is the detail for what I’m going to talk about.  (If you read this blog on a regular basis, there’s nothing new in here; it’s just packaged for a certain audience.)  Let me know if you think I should say anything else.

(Also, you should get your Bingo cards out for tonight’s meeting.)

Have we finally reached the 21st Century?

Or have we just gotten to a point where Konnie Lukes reads my mind?

I keep procrastinating about petitioning the City Council regarding government 2.0 stuff, but that’s ok — Konnie just did it for me.  (See this week’s Council agenda.)


11d. Request City Manager report on the development of a “crowdsourcing” program to be initiated on a pilot basis on the City’s website as a web based collaborative for polling and problem solving based on citizen input. (Lukes)

11e. Request City Manager provide a legal opinion as to what controls, if any, can be used by the City regarding inappropriate responses to a “crowdsourcing” project and whether the identities of responders can be required. (Lukes)

11h. Request City Manager report which city departments and officials use social media, such as Facebook, Twitter etc., and the process and criteria used in determining which department or individual uses social media and what purpose and accomplishments result from the usage. (Lukes)

So, I guess I’ll try to make some sort of public comment at that Council meeting, where I will say something along the lines of, “IdeaScale is free and awesome, people!”

Let’s do a rundown of the City and Social Media for Konnie, though —

The Library is on Twitter, Facebook, etc.; you can text or chat live with a librarian as well.

The Police do press releases via Twitter, and you can text an anonymous tip.

DPW&P has an excellent Twitter/Facebook feed, along with their winter parking ban text service.  You can also chat live with a customer service rep during business hours.

Worcester Emergency Management is on Twitter.

Worcester Arts Council is on Facebook, as is the Citizen Advisory Council.

Worcester Cultural Coalition is on Twitter, and has an excellent email newsletter you can sign up for

You can also sign up for emails from the City of Worcester’s Economic Development office or the Planning office (or both).

Does anyone else have anything to add?

I Am Officially in Love

(I will leave it to Victor to wax romantic about actual people.  My love is reserved for pieces of software and certain elderly men with weekly columns in the T&G.)

I’ve previously expressed my admiration for ManorLabs.  (And the Mayor once again threw me a bone by mentioning FB & Twitter at Tuesday’s City Council meeting; located towards the end of the Liveblog.)

I’ve found a similar software called IdeaScale for managing ideas and suggestions.

It has thumbs-up/thumbs-down voting on proposals:


Wiki-style editing:

And decent tools for moderators:

The best part?  It’s free to government agencies.  I highly recommend the City look into using this for citizen suggestions.

Vote for Project

As discussed in this post, I’ve put together a poll with your suggestions for a project to bring to the city — let me know if I’ve missed anything; I had to summarize some of the (wonderful, long) comments into a bite-sized chunk. 

(Also, I know I promised a poll yesterday, but I’ve been busier than usual.  I mean to respond more to the comments as time permits; as always, I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the comments and continue to feel that those are the best parts of this blog.)

Regarding the poll, you can vote for up to two choices, and on Friday, I’ll pick one of the top three vote-getters as something we can work on. 

Ultimate Citizen

(Um, obviously not referring to me.)

Tracy pointed out a competition sponsored by the Pioneer Institute called the Ultimate Citizen Award. 

Here’s a summary:

From May 17th to June 15th, 2010, Pioneer Institute is launching a competition to hear citizen’s ideas about how transparency and accountability issues in government could be solved through technology.If you live or work in Brockton, Chicopee, Fall River, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford, Pittsfield, Springfield, Taunton or Worcester we invite you to contact your family, friends, and neighbors and ask them 3 basic questions:

What government information do you think people should have access to?
In what format do you think this information should be delivered in?
How do you think technology can be used to make government more transparent and accountable to citizens?

You can collect responses to these 3 questions through blog posts, email surveys, video testimonials, phone calls, Twitter update submissions, and/or in-person focus groups.

So — in addition to our ongoing discussion of a project that we’ll vote on for the city — I’d love to hear your responses to the three questions above (either in the comments or on your own blog).  I’ll submit this blog post (with comments) as an entry.  If we win, we can use the money from the prize ($1,000) towards one or more of the projects we vote on, or something that comes up in the context of the above three questions.

Here are my answers to the three questions:

1 & 2) I think there’s a lot of financial data that could be made accessible to citizens without going the FOIA route.  For instance, there are legitimate questions about how much the Providence Street playground should have cost, and I know (though I can’t find a link) that Konnie Lukes has proposed that all city payments be made available via the web.  For that kind of data, I think that something online, easily searchable, and downloadable into a .pdf or .xls format would be preferable.

I also think that the City of Worcester needs to improve public safety communications.  When I read Jeff’s post this morning, I was less irritated that the T&G had not reported the news of a shooting, and more that the police had not reported this via Twitter.  The last time the crime statistics page was updated was the first quarter of 2009; the link from their main page to crime watch meetings just brings you to the city calendar, which isn’t helpful in the least.  I think that the WorcesterPD should be providing crime alerts via Twitter (similar to the Boston Police, which also uses CrimeReports for statistics), providing crime statistics in a format (and frequency) similar to the Hartford Police, and a better-formatted calendar of neighborhood watch meetings.

As for the city in general, I think it would be great to have a Twitter/Facebook account for each precinct in the city, which would let residents know about traffic delays/construction projects, crime alerts, public meetings affecting that precinct (Planning Board, Historical Commission, ZBA, etc.), school meetings, etc.  Right now, there is no good way for someone to know everything that is affecting their area of the city in one click/link.

3) –I’ll update this post when I think about that further; stay tuned–

Input Requested

I know I’ve asked for post ideas before, and I haven’t followed up on any of the ideas.  (To recap, “Lost Villages of Worcester” won, and I’ve been doing intermittent research for that.  Emily wanted me to discuss making the city more walkable, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading on urban design and walkability, which is, of course, belied by my lack of posting on the subject.  Someone — probably my husband — recommended an ‘in-depth exploration of area strip clubs,’ which I will leave for another blogger to tackle.)

Along with dog parks, we’d been discussing how to get citizens more involved in the city.  T-traveler recommended that the virtual community pick two or three ideas, and prioritize one to really push/work with city government to address.

There are no existing government-sanctioned vehicles for this kind of discussion, but I think this might be an experiment worth pursuing.  Here’s how we’ll do it:

1) In the comments section of this post, leave one or more ideas you’d like to see the government work on with the help of citizens.  They could be tech-focused (i.e., create a City of Worcester suggestion website similar to Manor Labs).  They could be variations on something you heard a city councilor talk about (i.e., at the last City Council meeting, Kate Toomey talked about colleges paying students to work at the public library via workstudy; what if we approached colleges with early childhood education programs and asked if students would be interested in volunteering to do some storytimes?).  They could be small (fix the swings in Elm Park) or large (pick a park a year for a volunteer team to improve). 

2)  On Tuesday, I’ll compile the ideas and put up a poll (because the real point of all this is for me to have another poll; I should just apply to work for the T&G web team).  We’ll give people a couple of days to vote.

3)  A blue-ribbon panel (me and my cats) will select an idea from the top three vote-getters for us to pursue as a virtual community.  (I have no idea what that will entail, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.)

I look forward to reading your ideas!

Yes, Virginia, Worcester is Pretty Safe

I’d been a bit bothered by this article, and the lack of comparison to other cities of similar size.  I was inspired to look a little bit at other cities’ crime stats:

  Worcester Providence Hartford
Murder 7 24 33
Rape n/a 46 56
Robbery 425 426 603
Agg. Assault 2847 n/a 927
Burglary 1721 1847 1145
Larceny 2483 5185 4160
Auto Theft 786 1100 1011
Arrests 7189 n/a 16433
Shooting Incidents 17 n/a 178
Sworn Officers 330ish n/a 460

The Hartford statistics are from this great webpage.  (Please compare to the Worcester statistics site, which has not been updated in a year.)  It’s unclear whether “sworn officers” includes all or just those actively patrolling.

The Providence statistics are from this Projo article.  Worcester’s are from this T&G article, because the agenda attachments aren’t up on the city website.  Two items of interest:

1) Worcester has a lot fewer shooting incidents than Hartford, but it’s unclear how many stabbing incidents there are in either Hartford or Providence.

2) Seriously, the crime statistics page for Hartford is awesome.  It just goes to show that you don’t need to make use of fancy tools like CrimeReports to inform your citizens.  Hartford is just putting together data that they already send to the FBI and making it available to their residents.  Why aren’t we?

(When that FBI site is updated for all of 2009, it would be interesting to continue the comparison and include Springfield.)