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Hard Times, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Wade Morgen’s photostream

City Code violations such as disruptive parties, dilapidated houses, and over-occupancy are some of the biggest obstacles to high quality of life in our neighborhoods. The Bureau of Building Inspection, the primary enforcement agency for most of these violations, has been chronically understaffed and in many ways is stuck in the 1970s – using outdated equipment and lacking a clear mission and leadership. We have the tools to clean up our neighborhoods and enforce our important quality of life ordinances but we are not using those tools to their fullest potential.

1. Taking Advantage of Local Knowledge

No one knows what’s going on in a neighborhood better than the active and engaged members of the neighborhood’s community organizations. Yet, our Bureau of Building Inspection and police are often not in clear, frequent communication with these eyes on the street. In order to clean up our neighborhoods we have to activate this local knowledge and make a dedicated effort to working together to identify and solve the problems.

OakWatch, a partnership between Oakland residents and community organizations, the universities, police, the Bureau of Building Inspection, and City Council representatives is a wonderful model that must be spread throughout the city.

2. Forming Lasting Partnerships

The Pittsburgh Neighborhood CodeWatch program will select city officials from the departments of Public Works, Building Inspection, City Planning, and the police to attend community meetings around the city and set up neighborhood CodeWatches for each community or group of communities. These CodeWatches will be responsible for identifying problems through 311 data, direct conversations with residents, and coordination with each Council office and working collaboratively to solve them. The partnerships created through the CodeWatches will open clear and frequent lines of communication with city departments that don’t always exist and will put a human face on the city employees who are working to make our neighborhoods cleaner, safer, and more vibrant.

3. Shining a Light on Code Violations

Not only will CodeWatch solve existing problems but it will prevent code violations from occurring in the first place. If chronic abusers of City Code know someone is watching they will clean up their act before they become a public nuisance.