Block Association Teams Collect Environmental Data

By David L. Reich

In cooperation with the ComNET (Computerized Neighborhood Environment Tracking) project of the Fund
for the City of New York (FCNY), your Block Association joined with the W. 104th St. Block Association to
collect data on street-level problems in our neighborhood. Cynthia Doty, Kathy Ralph and David Reich and
three residents of the St. Luke’s House (Jimmy, Philip and Greg) were joined by three neighbors from W. 104th
Street at a training session on June 24th in the Master Apartments lobby.

Barbara Cohn, a vice president at FCNY, led off with an overview of ComNET. The program was developed
so that government officials could find out about the priorities for fixing street-level problems from the
people who live in the neighborhoods. Several schools and community groups in New York City are already
participating. The program is also being used in other cities in the US.

Joyce Klemperer, also from FCNY, went into the details of data collection. On the basis of earlier discussions, the
routes of our survey had been mapped out and entered into the computers. About 300 categories of problems
such as sidewalk trip hazards, potholes, and damaged tree guards were also programmed into the computers.
Did you know that a bollard is a short metal post embedded in the sidewalk to protect a fire hydrant from
damage by errant parkers? Did you know that ponding is the term to describe water near the curb that doesn’t
drain away after it rains? Or that the hole in the street through which rainwater should drain away is a catch basin?
We quickly learned the nomenclature and then heard from an FCNY technical representative on the procedures
to be followed in using the hand-held computers supplied by FCNY for the survey.

Then it was out on the street in three teams covering W. 102nd, 103rd and 104th Streets from the Riverside Drive
service road to Broadway and West End Avenue and the service road betweenthose streets. The idea was to
precisely record the problems we found by type and location. We traded off the responsibilities of spotting,
categorizing and recording the problems and occasionally took a photo of the problem area with the camera in
the computer.

The team on W. 103rd Street encountered some kids while doing the survey. At first it looked as if the kids might
interfere with the data collection but soon they were asking questions and offering to help. Environmentalists
in the making!

After two hours, the teams returned to our training location to upload the data into FCNY’s laptop. There had
been many more problems to record than we expected so parts of our routes had not been completed. We
scheduled an additional session on the street to finish the survey two days later. When that was done, Cynthia returned
all the computers to FCNY headquarters downtown where the final data were uploaded.

The remaining process involves updating the data to correct errors or to reflect changes that occurred after the
survey. Perhaps it was just coincidence, but several of the broken and hazardous sidewalks that we recorded
have already been fixed even though we have not yet put our data to use. Once the data are confirmed, we will
be able to produce reports to alert appropriate New York City agencies to the problems that need repair in our
neighborhood.

If you are interested in participating in the follow-up to this survey or in future surveys, please contact Cynthia
Doty at cldoty@aol.com or (212) 749-4085.