In July, Atlanta was among five cities to be awarded multimillion-dollar grants from New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's private philanthropic foundation to create "Innovation Delivery Teams." But what sounds like something straight from Office Space could actually be quite cool. The group's goal: Develop strategies across all levels of municipal government to solve problems specific to large cities. The recipients, which include Louisville, Ky., Chicago, New Orleans, and Memphis, plan to tackle everything from energy efficiency to violence.
Atlanta plans to use its $3.3 million grant to improve the city's customer service response — possibly by following hundreds of other cities' examples and finally creating a 311 nonemergency hotline — and reducing chronic homelessness.
Leading the effort is Kristin Canavan Wilson, a graduate of Stanford and Dartmouth universities who, prior to taking the job, served as a vice president of market planning at information powerhouse LexisNexis in Alpharetta. She knows full well how important the homeless initiative is. "There are a lot of populations that are newly homeless. Women and children, families coming out of foreclosures, veterans," she says. "These are new populations, from a street level."
The hope is that the funds can help get homeless people off the street and into supportive housing. Successful strategies will be shared with other cities as part of Bloomberg's Mayors Project. And, in the process, make Atlanta a better place to live.
That includes a new 311 system. Such a system has been needed in the city for decades to help prevent the considerable amount of nonemergency phone calls to 911 for trivial calls about city services. It would be the place to report things like potholes, difficulties getting building permits for your new bedroom, or finding out when sanitation workers pick up your trash.
Though Wilson has barely unpacked her boxes at City Hall, she is already talking to city department heads, nonprofit organizations, and faith-based organizations to identify gaps in the processes. At the same time, she's interviewing potential hires to round out her team of approximately five staffers.
"It's very rare when you're working in business community and an opportunity opens up that represents public service and you have the skills that match up immediately," says Wilson. "This is an incredible opportunity."