Your Parks Department Department is booked solid for weeks. And your Public Works staff can just barely keep up with their work orders. But trash is still littering your downtown sidewalks, graffiti is still stained under your bridges, and the neighborhood community garden has yet to be built.
For many towns with limited resources, this is an all too familiar story.
In Huntsville, Alabama, they have developed Green Team, an innovative approach to addressing this issue that utilizes technology to engage citizens in public services. And they are seeing tremendous results.
Founded in 1977, Green Team is a city-funded organization overseen by an all-volunteer board of directors. Affiliated with Keep America Beautiful, Inc., a national non-profit organization dedicated to improving waste handling practices in American communities, Green Team aims to make Huntsville a role model for the state, region, and nation in terms of landscape beauty, cleanliness, and environmental consciousness.
"We get graffiti. We get illegal dumpsites. We get yards that are very much in disrepair." said Joy McKee, Green Team Director. Most of the jobs come directly from SeeClickFix, which the City of Huntsville uses as their citizen reporting and issue management platform. When citizens see a problem in their neighborhood (such as graffiti or illegally dumped trash) they can report the issue using "Huntsville Connect", a mobile app and web tools powered by SeeClickFix.
The City of Huntsville partnered with SeeClickFix to allow multiple departments to manage and address citizen service requests more efficiently. "The app a is dream for our department, because when the citizens submits a service request it's already sorted by category and it goes to the correct department," said Huntsville Communications Director Kelly Schrimsher. And now, the Green Team has been using SeeClickFix to complete their work better as well.
"[Green Team] works under the Public Works Department and they also help with landscape management," says Schrimsher, "So they wear multiple hats in the city." According to Schrimsher, the SeeClickFix issues the Green Team tackle are everything from planting flowers in downtown to cleaning up parks -- all in efforts to "Keep Huntsville Beautiful".
"It's interesting because they actually do some things that you would assume our Parks and Recreation Department would do or perhaps even some of our workers in Public Works," Schrimsher continues, "But they have cobbled together a niche and an expertise." Not only does the Green Team take work off the city departments' plates, but the Green Team citizen volunteers also have the added time and flexibility to make these city spaces beautiful too. The citizen volunteers from the Green Team will go out to trim weeds from around sidewalks or creeks "with a bit more of an aesthetic eye", according to Schrimsher.
The amount of citizen volunteers the Green Team recruits is impressive: "We had over 56,000 volunteers last year," said McKee. And after a citizen volunteers, they are given the tools to continue cleaning even outside of volunteer hours. "We don't mind giving them tools like bags and can catchers and gloves," McKee notes, "So that if on a regular basis, people want to be able to help out in their own community when they see something small, just pick it up for us." In addition, the Green Team partners with environmental groups and community gardens to receive free plant give-aways to incentivize and reward volunteers. "People will come out in droves for a free tomato or cucumber plant," said Schrimsher.
The citizen volunteer numbers are not only astounding, but they can be used by Huntsville to receive helpful donations to keep the program running on low-cost. "[Keep America Beautiful] has partnerships with corporate entities like GLAD that will literally give these big boxes of garbage bags," said Schrimsher. All the Green Team needs to do is send in the number of volunteers to Keep America Beautiful; last year, Huntsville received $100,000 worth of trash bags donated.
Huntsville is tracking the work of the Green Team closely using SeeClickFix's data analytics tools. The city's target turnaround time from when issues are posted to when they're cleaned up is two days. The data analytics tools not only can track the city's performance, but also allow them to discover and address patterns or problem areas. If the Green Team is receiving an influx of SeeClickFix issues in a neighborhood, the city can plan accordingly to both fix and prevent the issues from occurring. "We're trying to be more proactive instead of reactive," said Schrimsher.
These efforts to engage citizens in the work of the city through technology is part of Huntsville's philosophy. As it says on the City of Huntsville Green Team's website: "Huntsville belongs to all of us, and it's up to all of us to Keep Huntsville Beautiful".
And it's working. Huntsville has been ranked in "America's Top 50 Greenest Cities", as well as one of the nation's top 10 "Green Cities". With thousands of citizen volunteers and equipment donations, the City of Huntsville is getting more done for much less. Tools are helping the city better understand the problems areas in their community to better plan for the future. And all along the way, citizens are engaged in the process of helping to make their city more beautiful. "We think it's working well in the community," said McKee. "We think people are excited about using SeeClickFix, and we hope things are being addressed in a timely manner."
Check out more photos of the City of Huntsville's Green Team here.
Download and explore the City of Huntsville's app "Huntsville Connect" below: