From potholes to streetlights, Minneapolis’ 311 calls expose a land of 10,000 urban gripes. Actually, it's quite a bit more than that.
The Star Tribune requested and analyzed three years of calls to the city’s non-emergency 311 line, broken down by category and address, to illustrate trends across the city. The database includes more than 154,000 calls for service between September 2011 and September 2014, spread out over about 60 different categories.
Some of the results are logical: Commercial food safety calls match relatively well with the density of restaurants along different corridors in the city. Others are more surprising, such as fewer graffiti calls lodged in high-crime areas of north Minneapolis compared to other segments of the city – the calls are more prevalent in areas with large artist populations, staffers said.
Former Mayor R.T. Rybak pushed for the 311 system ten years ago this January, in the first days of his second term. He said it has allowed the city to see the need for service in new ways that weren’t possible before.
“There are about 4,000 people who work for this city, but there are about 400,000 people who live here,” Rybak said. “And if we can all help figure out where the potholes are, where the abandoned buildings are, we can get things done a lot better.”
The top service requests over the three-year time frame involved graffiti, parking and abandoned vehicles, as well as sidewalk snow and ice complaints.
Scott Wellan, the city’s interim 311 director, said they receive about 360,000 contacts per year via phone, the Web and e-mail. Most of those are informational in nature, which is why the number of 311 contacts has dropped as the city has put more information online, Wellan said.
Not all of the requests come from residents. Some are generated by city staffers in the field, including snowy sidewalk complaints and problems encountered during multi-unit apartment building inspections.
Below are some other trends in the data. See the graphic for more detailed explanations, including interviews with city staffers.
- Complaints about contractors not abiding by their permits ("Permitted Work") were most prevalent in southwest Minneapolis, where homes are being built at a steady clip and construction has irritated neighbors.
- Bikes are most frequently reported abandoned in downtown and along the Hennepin Avenue spine of Uptown.
- Calls about sports equipment in the streets were all limited to north Minneapolis, particularly an area northwest of Wirth Lake.
- Air pollution complaints are slightly more common on the city's upper riverfront, where residents live close to heavy industry.
- Calls for debris left in the roadway and on private property ("Illegal Dumping") are more common in some lower-income neighborhoods of the North Side.
- Nearly all calls about broken or empty newspaper boxes pertain to problems downtown.
- Noise pollution from things like construction, block events and loud parties are most common along the Hennepin Avenue spine of Uptown.
- Parking complaints were most concentrated in Uptown, an area where parking density is especially high.
- While complaints about 1-4 unit buildings ("Residential Conditions") were spread across the city, they are being reported heavily on nearly every block of the North Side. Many rental properties on the North Side are duplexes.
- Traffic signal timing problems were spread across the city, but about a dozen intersections along Hiawatha Avenue claimed some of the most consistent calls. Hiawatha is also a hotbed of "Traffic Signal Trouble" calls, which mean the lights aren't working.