Blockboard's map of where most civic complaints come from in the Mission. Courtesy of Stephen Hood.

Our neighbors over at Blockboard have a trash report.

Recently they crunched some numbers from their app’s “Cityfix” category, which is gathered when people who’ve downloaded the app use it to report things like graffiti, litter, and potholes to the city through the 311 Customer Service Center (using their implementation of the Open311 standard). Since Blockboard became available a few months ago, CityFix has been one of the app’s most popular uses.

But just because you’ve taken a photo of something and geolocated it for the city doesn’t mean that anything has actually been done about it. And so: Blockboard co-founder Stephen Hood took a look at 100 valid (that is, sent to the right department, etc.) issues that the city was able to process.

The findings:
– 65 were resolved
– 35 were still open

He looked at the data more closely, and built this:

These aren’t exactly the categories the city uses, because, as Hood puts it, the way the city aggregates these complaints “reflects the bureaucratic structure of the city rather than the way people think of the city.” Writing the app required collaboration with the 311 department in the initial stages, in part to make sure that Blockboard wouldn’t clog up the 311 system with mis-categorized or spam complaints. Open311, which aims to integrate new technology with pre-existing 311 systems, was an eager collaborator.

Even the most casual observer will note, as Hood did, that the “issues related to litter and trash are by far the most common, and the city resolves the vast majority of them (over 96%).” Trash and litter complaints, on average, are resolved in 2.5 days.

Graffiti and vandalism, though, were the second most commonly reported issue, but had the worst resolution rate, just 12 percent. In the Mission, 25 incidents were reported, but only 3 were resolved.

Moving right along….

Another chart! Hood drew up of the city’s average time-to-resolution for each category:

Most categories of issues are resolved within one to three days, which is in keeping with the city’s stated goals. You will note, though, that graffiti and vandalism are the real bad characters, with an average time-to-resolution of over 23 days.

Why is this? Hood has one theory: While the city can cover graffiti on public or city property, things quickly get complicated when it comes to private property. Writes Hood:

In such cases, the city’s graffiti abatement law (Article 23 of the San Francisco Public Works Code) determines what happens next. Once the city has been notified, it sends out an inspector to confirm the report. The city then notifies the owner, who then has 30 days to “abate” the graffiti (i.e. paint over it). If the owner does not comply, additional warnings and then fines may apply. If the owner prefers, they can grant the city permission to take care of the problem on their behalf, but without this permission the city can’t take action until much later on.

This entire process can take a great deal of time and appears to be the cause of the low (and slow) resolution rates we’ve observed. We plan to track these issues over a longer time period in order to better understand the true rate of resolution.

This means that buildings like 3246 18th Street and 18886 Mission Street are the type that people complain about often, while the city trudges through the process of dealing with them.

When graffiti is left out of the equation, the city’s resolution rate rises to 83 percent. Not bad.

Blockboard’s report concludes with this: A heat map (created with OpenHeatMap) that shows where most of the issues reported in the Mission are clustered.

Writes Hood, “You’ll notice some “hotspots” along Valencia between roughly 18th and 21st, as well as 22nd and Shotwell, and the area around 16th and Mission.

“It would be interesting to correlate this with other sources such as crime or demographics. If you’re reading this and have ideas, please free free to reach out!”

You can read Hood’s own write-up of the process here.

Heather Smith

Heather Smith covers a beat that spans health, food, and the environment, as well as shootings, stabbings, various small fires, and shouting matches at public meetings. She is a 2007 Middlebury Fellow...

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