Sometimes we’ve got to stop to recognize the small as significant. Today: Project information.
Walking down 12th Street late last week my heart skipped a nerdy beat at Chestnut. Here Brickstone is working to convert several derelict properties back to mixed-use life. That alone is a good sign for a struggling stretch of Chestnut. But that’s not what made me jump on this particular day: On the chain link fence was the first project information sign.
Ziptied to the fence is a big board that explains the basics of what Brickstone is doing: Owner, contractor, type of work, permits, anticipated completion date, and a rendering of what it might look like when its done.
It was as though the sky opened and the better angels of common sense had descended on the Department of Licenses and Inspections with a revelation: Information.
I was perhaps inappropriately excited when I saw the newly required project information sign up at 1112 Chestnut. But it's a big deal when it comes to public awareness and site safety. Now anyone can see essential project information. Hopefully that will mean less head-scratching by passers by, wondering just what's being built. Or - and this is really important – if something looks unsafe it’s got all of the information you need to report your concerns to the city.
Clear signage is such a common sense requirement, and yet this kind of info has never been so boldly displayed on Philly projects. Since the fatal demolition-related buidling collapse last June at 22nd and Market, however, the city recognized that it could do more to increase safety and awareness by putting key information at sidewalk level.
We often gripe about open data in the context of digital information access, but this lo-fi and smart solution is probably more useful. This is open government too.
Here’s how the new project signs work:
By providing basic information about a project the public is empowered to ask questions of owners or contractors, get valuable information about what to expect when its done, and report activities on site that look questionable or unsafe. If you don’t see a sign up and you see significant work underway, that’s a signal to call 311 and report it – it might be a fly-by-night contractor or someone trying to do major work without the right permits. L&I can’t be and isn’t everywhere. It’s on the public to be the city's eyes sometimes. These signs will enable more of us to help out.
Project info signs are almost sensible that I can’t believe this hasn’t been the standard. In a way, it’s the least a city can do. But most American cities don't bother. (New York City has similar project signs, which were used as the model for Philly's new signs.)
Now if only major projects could get similar info signs detailing proposals and giving notice of important public meetings, we’d be in really good shape.