Turning the Lights on Little Rock

April 11, 2019 by Melissa Crowe

Turning the Lights on Little Rock

Photo Source: Predo Pacheco/Flickr

Little Rock’s 12th Street Corridor has long been known as a blighted space, a food desert, and a high-crime area. But today, the streets are cleaner, the buildings are newer, and the lights are on.

This change is improving the way residents feel about their neighborhood, and in time, may show a positive, replicable transformation.

The pilot program, dubbed Lights On, was hatched from a Socrata Data Academy workshop focused on issues around economic development, public safety, quality of life, and infrastructure.

One team who participated — with staff from the zoo, public works, code enforcement, and planning — analyzed Census data, 311 data, police data, and the city’s Citizen Connect portal. They saw a trend. Why were 311 calls so low in this particular part of town, about 10 blocks south of 12th Street?

Faith Mullins, the recycling and sustainability educator in the city’s Sustainability Office, said it was a ‘chicken and egg’ problem. Residents had lost confidence in city employees to fix the problems so they weren’t reporting issues, and city officials couldn’t fix the issues because they weren’t being reported. The Midtown neighborhood has about 296 streetlights, of which, 12.5 percent were either non-working and another 9 percent were blocked by tree limbs, according to city data.

Mullins presented to the city manager a proposal that would improve trust in government, foster inter-departmental collaboration, and ultimately, provide immediate and measurable improvements to the neighborhood.

They picked a night, rallied neighborhood groups and volunteers, divvied up streets, and walked. While they traveled block-by-block, they used the city’s 311 mobile device app to submit service requests for blocked lights and lights that were burnt out.

In a single night, this team increased the number of streetlight repair tickets by 68 percent in the neighborhood.

“Residents felt like their neighborhood was dark and because of that they didn’t feel safe going from Point A to Point B after dark,” said Melissa Bridges, performance and innovation coordinator at the City of Little Rock. This work “has an immediate impact on this neighborhood.”

City of Little Rock Performance and Innovation Coordinator, Melissa Bridges

Since its start, two more neighborhoods have canvassed their streets, and three others are positioned to conduct similar surveys for streetlight outages.

“I know this is a cool project,” Bridges said. “I’m waiting to see what the data looks like six months or a year from now. Did it have the impact on the neighborhoods we want it to? I don’t know if we’ll see the kind of tip we want of crime going down, but even if it’s the feeling from neighbors that they can walk from block A to Block B and feel safe, it’s a success.”

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