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version: October 2001

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2. Citizens and Government

Fund For The City Of New York has a program called Computerized Neighborhood Environment Tracking (ComNET). ComNET enables community residents to quickly, accurately and simply survey their neighborhoods and produce reports without paperwork. ComNET allows citizens to report street level conditions (the presence or absence of abandoned vehicles, littered vacant lots, rodents, working street and traffic lights, clean streets, potholes, noise and air pollution, etc.) directly to local government officials. Because the data is computerized and archived, changes can be compared and monitored over time. Community representatives are trained in a two-hour orientation session to use the hand-held computer and learn the principles of ComNET. Teams of at least two people each assess a predetermined area and work systematically along a predetermined route. The Fund for the City of New York provides technical assistance. All street level environment data are collected in a uniform, verifiable and replicable manner. Data collected in the handheld computers are loaded into desktop computers, and reports -- sorted by agency, location of condition, type of condition -- are created within minutes for review by the community and for transmission to government agencies when appropriate. Community representatives perform follow-up assessments to track agency responses to prior ComNET reports and to identify any new problems. After government representatives review ComNET reports, they have an opportunity to provide explanations and information of interest to local residents concerning the situations that have been reported.

The Connecticut Policy and Economic Council (CPEC) has a similar program called City Scan. In this program, city residents use hand-held computers to record specific neighborhood conditions (for instance, graffiti, tripping hazards and potholes, etc.) into electronic databases. Mapping software is used to convert the data into maps of communities that show precisely where specific conditions exist. An example: CPEC is working in cooperation with a local revitalization association and a variety of local community and business interests for an assessment of conditions throughout that venerable Hartford neighborhood. Residents and interested citizens of all ages are volunteering to conduct the survey. City Scan's findings will be formally presented to City officials in the fall, with the goal of providing a resource and blueprint for maintenance and future improvements.

There are similar programs in cities across the U.S., including San Diego, and at least one outside the U.S. (in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada). This use of handhelds by volunteers is, by far, the most common use at present.


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