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November 3, 2010 7:42 AM   Subscribe

What a Hundred Million Calls to 311 Reveal about New York. Data from New York City's 311 service helped track down the source of the maple syrup smell; private sector models attempt to crowdsource quality of life issues in other municipalities as well.
posted by availablelight (26 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Those middle-of-the-night noise complaints don't reflect MTA construction noise, as soon as you mention "MTA" the 311 operator sends you to telephone limbo, they circle the wagons in some quasi-governmental sweetheart arrangement.

That said, this is otherwise really interesting, thanks! I liked the spikes after lunch- and dinnertime.
posted by breezeway at 7:53 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Even the biggest cities have small towns buried within them.

Love that line. And the idea that analysis of massive amounts of data might let us know where those small towns are and who lives in them.

(Also love the charts. Thanks.)
posted by Ahab at 8:01 AM on November 3, 2010


I really like the 311 idea (which not being from NY, I've never heard of before). And I really like the SeeClickFix idea too, but I'm less enamored of the idea of corporations inserting themselves between people and government. (They've already added themselves as another "person", but now they want to be the go-betweens for regular people too? No.)
posted by DU at 8:08 AM on November 3, 2010


And I really like the SeeClickFix idea too, but I'm less enamored of the idea of corporations inserting themselves between people and government. (They've already added themselves as another "person", but now they want to be the go-betweens for regular people too? No.)

Phone networks are often a middle man between people and government. Same with internet, and both are usually provided by the private sector. Same with any sort of municipal complaint-tracking software not developed in-house. Do you have a problem with those?

I'd frame this as "providing an easy way to communicate with government" instead of the much more ominous "inserting themselves between people and government".
posted by ripley_ at 8:16 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love 311. It feels great to be able to call one number to get info (Fosterhood was recently unable to find the status of one of our former foster children, until she called 311 and got what she needed right away) or make stuff happen. The clearest example I recall was when they had done some digging in the road outside our apartment to lay cables or something, and covered the open ground with metal plates. After a week or so, the plates became loose and would make a loud THUD anytime a car drove over them, which was all day, every day. Called 311 to complain- the road was paved the next day. Maybe that's a coincidence, but I prefer to believe it was the power of 311.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:21 AM on November 3, 2010


helped track down the source of the maple syrup smell

Northrax.

But yes: 311 is awesome, and the Wired article is very interesting. Thanks!
posted by SpiffyRob at 8:36 AM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Speaking up for my town once again - NYC is not the only place with 311. They actually have a conference for 311 managers, there are so many places with the concept.

We have a target pothole turnaround time of 48 hours. I wouldn't be surprised if something similar was in place in NY. Call 311! They want to help!
posted by SMPA at 8:37 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


My city's 311 complaint line has as its official name, "Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's Response Line - 311". A call to it does exactly nothing. Usually when I've called, I get no answer but sometimes I've gotten an answering machine that says that it's full and can I call back later? Sometimes the line just rings forever until I give up. I do know people who say that they have actually talked to a real person in the mayor's office using this line but that nothing ever happened with their complaint.

I did get a response from the form on the website once. I complained about the gross garbage on a pedestrian bridge that I use to walk to work that has not been cleaned up in years. About a month later, I got a response telling me that the state DOT was responsible for that walkway and the city wouldn't clean it.
posted by octothorpe at 8:38 AM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I had no idea the maple syrup thing was solved. Cool.
posted by nevercalm at 9:22 AM on November 3, 2010


And I really like the SeeClickFix idea too, but I'm less enamored of the idea of corporations inserting themselves between people and government.

They use this in New Haven, and I agree but I do appreciate that it is a much better interface than anything a local government could come up with. What's regrettable is how many responses come down to "we don't have the money to fix that" or "that is a state road so we can't help." It does work well for easy stuff like street lights being out, or broken parking meters.
posted by smackfu at 9:26 AM on November 3, 2010


One of the reasons 311 works well in NYC is that New York City (the municipality) has been delegated many state-government powers and duties and almost all county government functions. The schools and even part of the state college / community college system are under effective Mayoral control, if not formally integrated with the municaplity.
posted by MattD at 9:40 AM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I find it kind of suspicious that as soon as the source of the maple syrup smell was discovered, it disappeared forever. I AM WATCHING YOU, JERSEY.
posted by elizardbits at 9:51 AM on November 3, 2010


If it's just software written by a company but under city control, that's probably not too big a problem. But if I call a corporate-controlled person who then passes my message on to a public person, that's a potentially big, big problem. Look at how well the health insurance industry communicates customer needs and desires to the gov't for an example.
posted by DU at 9:53 AM on November 3, 2010


I am floored that New Yorkers, regularly accosted by the effluvia of the city--car exhaust, dumpsters and the great unwashed--complained about the smell of maple syrup.

NOT NEWYORK-IST! All big cities have these smells.
posted by misha at 10:06 AM on November 3, 2010


I once called 311 to ask if I could legally take a bottle service bottle out of a club. They were no help at all.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:15 AM on November 3, 2010


The schools and even part of the state college / community college system are under effective Mayoral control, if not formally integrated with the municaplity [sic].

Community College is a small part of it. It's a full blown University system independent of SUNY: The City University of New York (CUNY).
The City University of New York is the nation's leading urban public university serving more than 480,000 students at 23 colleges and institutions in New York City. The University’s 23 institutions include 11 senior colleges, six community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the Graduate School and University Center, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY School of Law, the CUNY School of Professional Studies, and the CUNY School of Public Health.
posted by wcfields at 10:27 AM on November 3, 2010


I am floored that New Yorkers, regularly accosted by the effluvia of the city--car exhaust, dumpsters and the great unwashed--complained about the smell of maple syrup.

If you smell something... Say something?
posted by wcfields at 10:27 AM on November 3, 2010


misha, the maple smell was in January; we NYCers only take bad smells for granted in the summer.
posted by nicwolff at 10:42 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am floored that New Yorkers, regularly accosted by the effluvia of the city--car exhaust, dumpsters and the great unwashed--complained about the smell of maple syrup.

I can only speak for myself, but it was the pervasiveness of the smell that made it so disconcerting. I remember I was standing in front of my apartment on West 63rd when I first smelled it, and didn't think much of it beyond "Hey alright! Waffles!"* But it stuck around for a few hours, and I think I could still smell it up by like 72nd or so, and it was just so weird to have such a strong smell follow you around like that, regardless of how pleasant the odor was.

I don't think people were complaining, per se, but even though nobody was thinking ZOMG TERRORISTS or anything, it was a bit unsettling, all the more so when it disappeared without explanation and it took a few waves of it before we ever got an answer.

*Truthfully, I was more like "Hey alright! Waffles! Too bad they covered them in bullshit fake maple syrup instead of the real stuff." But that's because I'm from New Hampshire and I'm a dick about maple syrup.
posted by SpiffyRob at 10:46 AM on November 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


The first rule of Pancake Club is, you do not talk about Pancake Club.
posted by cazoo at 11:25 AM on November 3, 2010


I am floored that New Yorkers, regularly accosted by the effluvia of the city--car exhaust, dumpsters and the great unwashed--complained about the smell of maple syrup.

It's kind of like how when visiting other cities, New Yorkers are often suspicious of seemingly unwarranted cheerfulness and politeness from the residents. Just as the friendly smile and nonsarcastic "have a nice day, ma'am!" from that midwestern gas station clerk clearly hides the fevered mind of a serial killer, so are mysterious good smells surely a harbinger of Great Evil.
posted by elizardbits at 11:38 AM on November 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't want to make my 311 / New York / Brooklyn issue too public, but I'll bite here.

I live on a crazily busy intersection by my own choice, in by the way the greatest neighborhood in the WORLD -- 11201... (sarcasm)

The only problem I have with this crummy overpriced apartment is noise by honking cars trying to do the impossible -- get the person ahead of them to realize they can pull a Right on Red.

I've been tempted to setup a script on my Imac to record prolonged horn honking at some decibel threshold, but am too stupid to know how. Generally speaking though, at all hours of the night every asshole that thinks honking does something abuses my sleep and eardrum in every manner possible

--the repeated short horn honker
--the trucker whos horn sounds like a fog horn
--the 'rider' horn honker
--the preemptive honker who honks a block (or two) away

short notes, long notes, albert ayler like improv...ive heard it all.

The problem is that ONE BIG SIGN in front of people or a yellow arrow would fix EVERYTHING or reduce the problem. How can I make this dream a reality? Am I cursed to live in a purgatory between smart traffic enforcement and lazy city administrators?

Anyone that wants to help I will them a beer at Monteros -- reply privately.
posted by lslelel at 11:39 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


The state/county/city thing is a huge problem, especially in very large cities that cross county lines, states where, e.g., the state is the only one with statutory authority over bridges, etc. If someone in government tells you someone else is responsible, there's a decent chance they have never been told who at the other agency they need to send you to. This is one of the great things about the better 311 centers - it isn't a random secretary answering, it's someone with lots of resources devoted to helping answer questions like that. My local 311 has a map that will pinpoint exactly which municipality or township needs to be called, and the number you need to use to reach them.
posted by SMPA at 1:01 PM on November 3, 2010


The problem is that ONE BIG SIGN in front of people

So there is a small sign? I am always paranoid about making rights-on-red in NYC.
posted by smackfu at 1:33 PM on November 3, 2010


Turning on red is illegal everywhere in New York City -- unless there's a sign saying otherwise.
posted by monospace at 1:52 PM on November 3, 2010


Funny just got back from a trip to NY and left my iPhone in a cab, used 311 and a few phone transfers to track it down and got it dripped off at my hotel.

ProTip - take cab receipts since they have the medallion number of the cab in case you lose something...
posted by bitdamaged at 10:06 PM on November 3, 2010


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