Photos of River Pollution in Greensboro, NC by Brian higgins

Neighbors helping Neighbors make Greensboro more walkable

An early Greensboro SCF user makes the case for restoring his neighborhood. 

In our quest to highlight awesome neighbors helping to make their communities a better place to live we find ourselves in the Glenwood Neighborhood of Greensboro, North Carolina. Brian Higgins, the SeeClickFixer who brings us to Greensboro describes his neighborhood of Glenwood as a place recovering from the neglect that comes to many close-in neighborhoods when the first generation of residents move to the suburbs. Abandoned homes are becoming less common but they are still evident in a neighborhood that has the kind of patina that has attracted folks like Brian back to the community to try and help improve it.

Brian was attracted to the neighborhood five years ago when he moved there from Seattle for its diversity and its older homes. Geographically, Glenwood is next door to UNC Greensboro and while less than 1 mile from downtown, just on the other side of the tracks.

We stumbled upon Brian through his photos of a stream polluted with a mysterious white substance. Brian tells of following the pollution up stream as if it were part of an environmental stewardship story and part of a kid detective story. The stream led him to a grocery store where one hypothesis is that it was just old milk being dumped in the river. Regardless the pollution is gone for now but not without documentation. The story reminded me of the 311 calls of a funny smell in Manhattan that led to a similar mystery recounted by Steven B Johnson in Future Perfect.

Brian was led to SeeClickFix because of an article he read in Governing Magazine. He didn’t know if his neighbors were using the platform but he thought he would give it a shot. Brian was slightly surprised that the City of Greensboro was quickly responding to his requests for assistance.

113 reported issues later and Brian has become a steward for his neighborhood and a liaison for his neighbors to City Hall.

In Greensboro you can also call 373-CITY Monday-Friday 8AM-6PM but Brian found that he was mostly wanting to report issues on the weekend. By the time Monday rolled around he would be at work and would have forgotten to call. For Brian it was much easier to snap a photo and post it from his Blackberry or back at home from his computer. Most importantly the transparency of his complaints made the tool feel immediately useful and made Brian feel helpful. His previous experience was that many citizens are very quick to view the city as a one way street.

How can the City do anything to help if they don’t know what we need? We could complain or we could try to take advantage of the tools we have to help.

Brian says that he’s,

More interested in a final solution than pointing fingers at someone. Living in a city is not about just being a tax payer -it’s about building relationship with one’s government. Our neighborhood has a lot of challenges and we need to help each other out. We chose to live in the neighborhood because we wanted to make it better.

As Brian recalls its not an easy choice to improve one’s neighborhood. People feel like you might be talking above them when you talk about wanting to make things better; however, for many Brian is the person they call to ask for help and in turn he uses SeeClickFix to ask the City for help. Recently he’s been increasingly focused on walkability for older folks in the neighborhood. He’s documented collapsing retaining walls, hedges growing over the sidewalk and lack of sidewalks. Things that are easily avoidable to the able-walker yet as effective as a road-block to someone in a wheelchair or enabled by a walker.

Currently Brian’s neighborhood is the most active in Greensboro but that will soon have competition as SeeClickFix has become an official partner with City Hall. SeeClickFix has partnered with the City to develop an app for the Solid Waste department to identify places that need to have bulk trash picked up and has built a dedicated Greensboro app that will have additional features for residents.

Brian is curious about using SeeClickFix to suggest location- based ideas and solutions as well as repairs. Hopefully this is something that both the City and Brian will be able to encourage other citizens to do. While Brian has seen the beauty in restoring his old neighborhood it feels like its time to be proactive and talk about creating the future as well.

In the spirit of encouraging more open government, if you want to say thank you to Greensboro City Hall for being so accountable click the thank you button on this issue where the City relit a dark underpass.