Looking to residents for solutions to problems with vacant housing

Name: Ann Marie Salmon

Title: Deputy Commissioner of Administrative Services

City: Albany, N.Y.

Three years ago, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan sparked a unique conversation about blight by filling hundreds of vacant houses with pulsing lights — an art installation that made the buildings look as if they were breathing. Now, as a participant in the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, Sheehan is pushing for solutions to the vacant-housing challenge — and she’s put Ann Marie Salmon in charge of the human-centered design process underlying the effort.

Salmon has assembled a cross-functional team of civil servants from the Mayor’s office, Fire, Police, and other departments, to research the problem and collaborate with residents to generate potential solutions.

One idea is to create an “Adopt-a-Vacant Building” program that would encourage residents to keep an eye on empty buildings in their neighborhood and alert the city in case of trouble. Another idea up for consideration is “walkabouts,” where city staff and residents walk through neighborhoods together so that the blight can be pointed out — and discussed — in person.

The team’s next step will be to prototype some of these initiatives to help generate even more citizen feedback. “From day one, we knew we wanted to work with the community on this, and to be in touch with them at every stage,” Salmon said. “We know it’s residents who will, ultimately, drive us toward the best solutions.”

“It’s so important to be able to tell the story of how these innovative projects tie back to what we’re here to do, which is serve the community.”

Celebrating public sector progress and innovation in cities around the world. Run by @BloombergDotOrg’s Government Innovation program. bloombergcities.org

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