Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Memphis Community Member Creates Phone App to Help Fight Blight

Cities and neighborhoods experiencing blight are often facing a number of challenges, including poverty, job loss, financial instability and high rates of crime. In efforts to revitalize their neighborhood, many residents and stakeholders focus on trying to prevent foreclosures, advocating for improved social services and implementing community clean ups, among other activities. Yet, these efforts can be challenging as abandoned properties are often difficult to track.

The Heights neighborhood in Memphis, TN has been part of the Building Neighborhood Capacity Program since 2012. Comprised of residents, organizations and businesses in the Nutbush, Mitchell, Highland and Brinkley Heights neighborhoods, the Heights Coalition formed to mobilize residents and partners to work together to improve results in their community. As coalition members discussed their priorities, residents of the Heights neighborhood quickly identified blight as a major problem they wanted to address.

In response, Heights Coalition member Peter Van Wylen developed the Memphis Parcel Survey, a cell phone app that collects data on problem properties. The app allows users to identify the location of problem properties using a map feature; take a photo of the blighted area and abandoned units; indicate current conditions, with detailed options such as vacant property with papers covering windows and drug or gang activity; and take notes. The data collected is publicly available, making it possible to hold private and public property owners accountable.

The Heights Coalition members used the app to survey properties in the Shelby County Land Bank’s inventory. They reported twenty-five properties in need of revitalization. Two weeks later, the Coalition surveyed the properties again and reported sixteen properties had been addressed.

The Memphis Parcel Survey is an example of an innovative data tool developed by the community and for the community. The survey empowers neighborhood residents and stakeholders to generate real-time information about local conditions and provides an important platform to advocate for timely responses.

See the Heights community September newsletter for updates and ideas on community-based actions toward positive community change. To learn more about the power of local data to catalyze action, check out the “useable data” tools on the BNCP Resource Center.

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