Effective Engagement Combines Innovation with Public Outreach
The city of South Bend, Ind., tackled urban blight in short order, rehabilitating or demolishing 1,000 abandoned properties two months ahead of the 1,000-day goal set by Mayor Pete Buttigieg. However, resolving the blight issue created a new problem: What to do with hundreds of now-vacant lots scattered throughout the city? To answer this question, South Bend paired the power of public outreach with innovative technology.

The city sent municipal employees and University of Notre Dame students into the field to understand what features community members wanted to see in their neighborhoods. “We had people working with neighborhood groups, creating makeshift policy labs through which we could understand issues from residents’ perspectives,” explained Santiago Garces, South Bend’s chief innovation officer. To ensure the process would garner effective and representative public input, the city relied on its relationship with the university to construct methodologies and survey instruments.

To make sense of the data gathered, South Bend then paired this tried-and-true method of public outreach with cutting-edge mapping technology. The city used ArcGIS Hub, an Esri platform that clusters data sets and tools around specific citywide initiatives, in order to improve public input. Anthony Puzzo of Esri described the hub as “a two-way engagement platform to help connect the government to its citizens and create a digital conversation about the initiative at hand.”

The first element of this platform is a visualization of resident input that takes information gathered on the ground and maps it lot by lot across the city. For example, the map might show that residents see one lot as an ideal place for affordable housing and another as a good spot for green infrastructure. The other element is a channel of communication that allows residents to comment on the information displayed in the map. “We are using the hub to create a modern way of organizing open data, presenting the information in a consumable fashion, and creating a digital conversation to listen to those interested,” explained Puzzo. With respect to blight, the hub provides “a way of understanding which lots are right for which uses,” said Garces. And opening the platform to the public has allowed the city to publicize its successes and gain buy-in for construction and renovation projects.