Crowdsourcing City Improvement

When L.A. wanted to spend $10 million to study broken sidewalks, 70-year-old Angeleno Peter Griswald thought the price tag was too high and decided to do something about it. According to the Los Angeles Times, that included doing the job himself. For free:

As I surveyed the chaos, Griswold, a 70-year-old retiree, sped up on a Schwinn bike and hopped off, wearing shorts and a floppy blue Coast Guard Auxiliary hat, reporting for duty. He grabbed a portable GPS out of a bag and began punching the controls as he stood over a spot where tree roots had lifted the sidewalk 10 inches.

“You hit this here,” he said, “and you go over there.”

Anyone of average intelligence, he said, could be taught in one hour how to use a GPS to record the precise location of bad sidewalk.

In a nutshell, Griswald’s idea is to organize a brigade to inspect sidewalks. Though city officials in L.A. apparently said implementing the idea could be complicated, Griswald thinks it could work and people would be willing to pitch in.

In a smaller city like Provo with a lot of volunteering and, I think it’s fair to say, a somewhat less diverse and far flung population, there’s no reason to assume Griswald’s idea wouldn’t work even better. And though Provo has fewer miles of crumbling sidewalk this concept could be deployed for all sorts of tasks, all the while saving taxpayer money.

And the obvious financial benefits for cities are really just the tip of the iceberg here. In addition, residents who use spaces again and again are likely to know more about those spaces, offering greater efficiency and insight than professionals who may only show up for inspections. On top of that, there are less quantifiable benefits; if a lot of people get out in the community inspecting things and making suggestions, it’s fair to say that they’ll acquire an even greater appreciation and admiration for their city.

This empty lot was recently the subject of a discussion in a Provo Facebook group. People obviously have ideas, so it makes sense to capitalize on the community’s creativity and willingness to pitch in when seeking solutions. The same is true for all sorts of city problems.

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4 Comments

Filed under community, economics

4 responses to “Crowdsourcing City Improvement

  1. Paul

    Regarding the empty Center Street lot in your photo: the City’s Redevelopment Agency solicited bids earlier this year for constructing a minipark on the lot, to make it more presentable until it is ready to be redeveloped. Bids came in considerably higher than expected, which has forestalled the park improvements.

    In the mean time, completion of the Convention Center, and other projects currently under way, have accelerated interest in the Downtown to the point that Redevelopment is entertaining at least three proposals for redeveloping this lot and neighboring property. Working with the Parks Dept., we are getting ready to make it more presentable in a manner and at a cost which is reasonable assuming construction will be under way there in 9-12 months. We are open to ideas on what to do and will make a decision within a couple of weeks.

    • I would work on that lot for free. I think a lot of other would as well. Why don’t we all just get together on a saturday and do it? There’d be some costs (sod? concrete?) but they’d be pretty low compared to getting bids from companies.

      • Paul

        Because of the expense of installing sprinklers, at this point we are leaning toward non-plant materials. (I know, that will make for a pretty austere site, but I don’t know that we can justify much more cost for just a year.) We are thinking gravel and –?? At least gravel could be re-used somewhere else afterward. If someone wanted to come up with some more ad hoc furniture similar to what appeared on the lot next to the Convention Center, that might be a nice addition. Any other thoughts on what to do or who to involve?

  2. Pingback: A Zen Garden in the Middle of Downtown | (pro(vo)cation)

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