Addressing a chronic Philadelphia problem

Posted: October 07, 2012

When a fire at one of their Kensington properties killed two firefighters in April, the Lichtenstein family of Brooklyn quickly became one of the highest-profile property owners in Philadelphia.

So does the city, which has been pursuing the Lichtensteins for violations of the city code, know how to find the family? Sometimes, yes. And sometimes, um, no.

Heard in the Hall brings you this update courtesy of http://www.philadelinquency.com/, a blog that describes itself as a "unique place that covers the ceaseless battle of property vacancy, real estate tax delinquency, blight and the struggle to correct these problems and heal Philadelphia."

Shortly after the fire at the former Thomas Buck hosiery factory that the Lichtensteins said they wanted to turn into apartments in Kensington, the city reviewed all the properties the family owned here and cited them for mostly minor violations of city code.

One of those cases involved a missing downspout at a Lichtenstein property at 5217 Rodman St. But the city's writ service contractor was unable to serve the family with court papers, so the case was dismissed.

The thing is, the world learned exactly where the Lichtensteins lived in Brooklyn. After the fire, reporters flocked there after finding the address in Nexis. It should have been easy for the city to serve them with papers.

The service failed because of a long-standing problem: inaccurate addresses in city databases. In this case, the service tried to serve the papers at the Rodman Street property, a rental, rather than in Brooklyn.

Mark McDonald, a spokesman for the Nutter administration, said the city had been working hard to get more accurate addresses. "We are dealing with thousands of cases per year," he said.

In another case involving a property the Lichtensteins own in Philadelphia, papers were served at the correct address, he noted. - Miriam Hill

Pending new office will solicit innovative ideas

Philadelphia now has an Office of New Urban Mechanics. And no, it's not a cool place to get your bicycle fixed.

It's the latest effort by the Nutter administration to foster innovation in the city.

"We are looking to engage a new group of people in solving problems across the City of Philadelphia," said Story Bellows, codirector of the office with Jeff Friedman.

They are looking for ideas from businesses, universities, and really just about anyone who will help make the city better.

Although the office is not yet official - Mayor Nutter has yet to sign an executive order establishing it - Bellows and Friedman are already contemplating ideas such as setting up Neighborhow, a wiki - a website to which people could contribute information.

On Neighborhow, Philadelphians could share stories about how they got things done, such as getting a bike rack in their neighborhood.

Philadelphia took the idea from Boston, where the Office of New Urban Mechanics has, for example, helped create an online service that tracks school buses so parents know when to pick up their children. - Miriam Hill

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