Sometimes it’s endearing when very smart people have gaps in basic knowledge. Let’s say, for instance, that a MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient still has a VHS player and doesn’t know how to program it to tape a show, let alone how to replace it with a DVD player. That’s eccentric. It’s even kind of cute.
In Philadelphia, this kind of knowledge gap is de rigueur for smart people in city government. Putting aside the number of middling intellects who work in City Hall, there are plenty of folks who are really bright. Yet sometimes they say things that indicate a lack of familiarity with the city that suggests they still have “Save Billy Penn” buttons pinned to their canvas tote bags.
On CBS Philly today, Mike Dunn reports that 2014 is going to be the year for a crackdown on retail slumlords, whose properties "have vacant, boarded up apartments above the store." This is a new initiative, and it is, to L&I, a progression from the current muddled 8-track-tape prosecution of vacant-property slumlords to a brand! new! cassette-style approach to a problem that has actually existed since the age of the Victrola.
L&I spokeswoman Rebecca Swanson told Dunn:
“We are hearing that there are hundreds, maybe thousands [of these kinds of properties] throughout the city. And we’ve been working with community organizations and groups to identify some real problem properties. We’ve seen them everywhere — from Center City to South Philadelphia, to the Northwest and Northeast. There are many commercial corridors that have these.”
They've been hearing? It is decidedly not endearing to learn that the smart people at L&I never noticed this before now, even though this is the first time they are officially empowered, by City Council, to act on it. Take a walk down any street and the problem is manifestly obvious, but L&I is relying heavily on community groups to point them in the right direction. Which is not a bad idea, as community groups know best what's happening in a given neighborhood. But don't L&I inspectors who canvas the streets also see things? Or do they just hear about them?
At any rate, Swanson is asking for your help:
“These are harder properties for us to identify, so if people ones in their neighborhood, please call 311 and report it.”
Now, for more headlines...
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• That $100 million price tag for Philly's empty school buildings? It actually makes sense. [PlanPhilly]
• Demolition coming for historic St. Bonaventure. It's too dangerous to be saved. [Hidden City]
• Getting rich off your spare room: Secrets of running a six-figure Airbnb business [Fast Company]