In 2013, the Code for America fellowship team advised the City of South Bend on the creation of their open data portal and policy. That year, the city’s Hack Michiana Brigade was also created in response to the February 2013 Code Across South Bend event. For more on how you can get involved in this Brigade visit HackMichiana.org.
The City of South Bend has made a concerted effort to become a more innovative and technologically creative city. Good government starts with being a smarter and more efficient operation. As a Code for America 2013 city partner, we are putting South Bend in high gear as we strive to better serve the people of our community.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg
In a city marked by the de-industrialization and population decline that characterizes so many of the cities in the Midwest and Rust Belt, South Bend is focussed on improving the quality of life of its citizens.
Fellowship team members Tamara Manik-Perlman, Dave Guarino and Reed Duecy Gibbs were asked to develop a project that serves current residents, retains college graduates and attract young professionals. Taking those concerns into consideration, the fellows focussed on the Vacant and Abandoned Property initiative, which Mayor Peter Buttigieg had announced in early 2013.
The economic shocks of past decades, combined with population shifts and changes in the housing market, left South Bend with more homes than families could fill. Many teetered on the brink between demolition and rehabilitation and on February 27, 2013, Buttigieg announced the Vacant and Abandoned Property Initiative calling for 1,000 abandoned homes to be addressed in 1,000 days. Led by the Cities Chief of Staff Kathryn Roos, and technology consultant Kris Priemer the fellows set out to support the Mayor’s Office in this aggressive goal.
The fellows recognized that in order to help the city would need a better system for both data collection and property assessment. They found that Code Enforcement inspectors were making the bulk of their property notes on paper with staff transcribing the notes after an inspection. But organizing data was only half of the work, citizens needed to be engaged in the process as well.
After doing in depth user research with neighborhood organizations, they found that both web applications as well as SMS-based systems would create barriers to participation. They decided instead on standard telephones as the primary means of engagement and created CityVoice.
The application works by by placing a sign on a vacant property along with a property ID and call-in number. Once community members call in they’re asked to enter a structured poll on whether a property should be repaired or demolished. They can then leave a voice message explaining their views. In addition, residents can then listen to other neighborhood feedback and opt-in to leave their number with the city for follow-up.
The quantitative data is used in a prioritization model allowing the city to focus its resources for vacant and abandoned properties more effectively. While some of the data points had already been collected, the fellowship team assembled the remaining data—including days on the list, proximity to neighborhood assets, density of 911 calls and block group-level vacancy rate. These preliminary elements combine to form a score between 0-100 for each property with 100 representing the top priority.
Public feedback (via voice messages) coupled with these property scores will form the basis of the city’s action plan. The fellows are currently developing a plan to increase transparency and engagement around this data.
Judd Leighton Foundation
Teachers Credit Union
St. Joseph Regional Medical Center
Community Foundation of St. Joseph County
Memorial Health System
First Source Bank