Trash cans are not emptied regularly, potholes never seem to get fixed, graffiti is never erased. For most people, small issues like those are the big issues.
The Connecticut Policy and Economic Council (CPEC) has an answer: harness technology to empower individuals and grass-roots civic organizations to document and publicize public spaces that need maintenance.
In a pilot program called City Scan, this summer, CPEC outfitted high school students and graduates and sent them to Hartford's city parks. Armed with handheld computers, custom software and digital cameras, they documented the state of the city's public spaces.
City Scan helps citizens "reshape their communities, and, to some extent, bring their skills as consumers into democracy and local government decision-making," said Michael Meotti, CPEC president.
City Scan uses Casio Inc. Pocket PCs donated by Microsoft Corp. and Greenwich, Conn.-based River Run Software Group's OnSite inspection application software.
After the fieldwork, the students will sort, categorize and analyze the data and images. The information will be converted into HTML for inclusion on a City Scan Web site to be posted this fall.
CPEC officials plan to present their findings to city officials at that time in hopes of developing a feedback process for future maintenance improvements.
Meotti, a former Connecticut state senator, says the smart politician will jump at this and other types of citizen-based performance evaluations. "I would want to know what my citizens feel about the nuts-and-bolts services. Because if I can increase their level of satisfaction, it will only be of benefit to me," Meotti said.
Next summer, the students will repeat their efforts, and the program will expand to Stamford.
CPEC received guidance from Fund for the City of New York, which runs a much more extensive neighborhood assessment program.