You Might Know The City of Houston's Department of Neighborhoods
In this blog series, we'll introduce you to the City of Houston's Department of Neighborhoods, and show you how the department is using social media to connect to the great folks of Houston. Even if you don't care about the social media aspect, this blog series will give you insights about some little-known city programs that improve neighborhood safety and quality of life.
For the last several months, YMKM Agency and WeSLGT have worked to develop a social media strategy with Mark Cueva, Education Liaison to Mayor Annise Parker and Social Media Contributor in Department of Neighborhoods at the Mayor's Office, City of Houston.
The Department of Neighborhoods is unique in that it is just as focused on connecting communities to resources as they are driven by internally connecting their own programs. Essentially, it all comes down to connectivity and being able to build opportunities for Houstonians to work together.
What is the Department of Neighborhoods?
In August 2011, Mayor Annise Parker established a Department of Neighborhoods in the City of Houston to create a "one stop shop" for citizens to find assistance with neighborhood issues. This department combines various divisions of the Mayor's Office and Houston Police Department each with a different focus on certain populations or functions in the community.
- City of Houston Inspections & Public Services - CHIPS (formerly Neighborhood Protection Corps)
- Mayor's Anti-Gang Office
- Mayor's Citizens' Assistance Office
- Mayor's Office of Education Initiatives
- Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities
- Mayor's Office of International Communities (formerly the Mayor's Office of Immigration & Refugee Affairs)
- Mayor's Volunteer Initiatives Prograrm
How do they get citizens engaged?
Technology is an important part of the department's ability to succeed. Social media can help "reduce distances" by educating people about neighborhood resources and services, creating a more transparent and effective government. It can also connect the City to civically-engaged residents who support many of the same issues the City tries to address. The question then becomes, how do we create online communities to mirror our work in neighborhoods? Social media has done this and is a system that many people are already comfortable using.
The Challenges Being Met By the Department of Neighborhoods' Mapping Efforts
Demographic Shift to Diversity
Houston in the midst of a changing workforce. We are experiencing a demographic shift where almost 70% of Houston residents 65 and older are Anglo, and 77% of Houston residents 30 and younger are not. We must focus on equality of opportunity, availability and participation in order to grow Houston. This requires access to key resources that support the healthy development of our growing, younger population.
Accessible Public Transportation
Houston is over 600 square miles and most of our 16,000 miles of streets are "local streets" so this creates challenges for developing a comprehensive public transit system to provide students and families easy access to the resources that address their unmet needs. Our challenge many times is not a lack of resources but a lack of transportation. A map that simplifies the search for resources and public transportation options can make a complicated process streamlined and more convenient.
Easy Collaboration Between City Departments and Services Provided to Citizens A Geographic Information Systems (GIS) helps citizens see what activities and projects are occurring based on a map. The Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Health and Human Services Department and Houston Public Library list services including after school/summer programs, educational classes and recreational activities, summer food program, social, health and family supports, youth and family activities, internet access and skills training, mobile health clinics, libraries and college prep resources.
A comprehensive source from which the public can access information about all of the services that would benefit students and families is needed. This would allow better coordination of services, duplicate fewer efforts and align our services with the needs of communities.
Rice Student Internship:
One of the Department's initial partnerships has been with Rice University. A team of students worked over the summer to create a useful and functional prototype interface for citizens into the wealth of City of Houston services in neighborhoods using the familiar Google platform. We would like to see how we can incorporate some of the other applications and tools that Google has, such as the chat function of Google+ that can help us connect this resource to users.