Can “Civic Hackers” Help the City of Detroit Make Business Run Smoother?

At last Saturday’s National Day of Civic Hacking pain pitch event, held at the Boll YMCA in downtown Detroit, I was hoping to see the place flooded with representatives from Detroit city government. After all, it was an event where government and nonprofit entities were invited to get up in front of a room full of software developers and ask for help in solving their technology dilemmas.

As many Detroit residents know, dealing with the city on property or permitting or business matters can lead to a labyrinthine process that is mostly conducted offline, where you’re often at the mercy of the person you talk to on any given day to move your project forward. This is partly because budget cuts and attrition have resulted in understaffed city offices, but it’s also because Detroit, compared to other American cities of similar size, is woefully behind the times when it comes to automating and streamlining services online.

So I figured the chance for budget-beleaguered city offices to work with private sector whiz kids on fixing their technology ills would draw I big crowd. I was wrong. Only one city department was at the pain pitch event, the Building, Safety, Engineering, and Environmental Department (BSEED). But it’s an office vital to startups and Detroit property developers, so their presence should be considered good news for the business community.

BSEED is charged with regulating the construction and environmental codes associated with new construction or building renovations. The department also handles business licensing, zoning, plan reviews, demolition, property maintenance, and various other related licenses and permits.

Dave Bell, who pitched the software developers on behalf of the department, said due to cutbacks and retirement, the department is not adequately staffed to answer phone calls from the public. Every time a permit  is issued, three inspections are required, which keeps employees out in the field and mostly unavailable for clerical work like answering phones, which means if you have an inspection coming up but are unsure exactly when it is, calling the office will likely be a fruitless endeavor.

Bell said the property development community has been asking for other changes for “15 or 20 years,” particularly in the way plan reviews are handled. So, in addition … Next Page »

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One response to “Can “Civic Hackers” Help the City of Detroit Make Business Run Smoother?”

  1. Very cool writeup — nice shout out to the Ringcatch team who could easily help solve the cust. service issues experienced by BSEED.