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Making neighbors, integrating cities, fast: in the palm of our hands


It only takes a small incident -a minor street accident, moving to a new neighborhood, calling 311 or 911, challenging a wrong charge- to spend an entire day in frustrating obstacles and endless red tape.



Neighbors and residents get a “triple hit” on their heads and pockets: endless waits, poorer services and higher bills. Sidewalks take forever to fix because they get broken over and over for different, uncoordinated “fixers”. And neighbors get billed each time, until they leave for a cheaper neighborhood with longer commutes. 311 and 911 get to waits, endless menu options and a tour of bureaucracy’s silos. Until we get disconnected.





Some 21st century cities are getting smart, putting the solution on the hands of every neighbor. The same smart phone that get us an Uber ride or a WhatsApp call faster and cheaper can give them safer neighborhoods, real jobs and better, affordable housing.





Cities around the world -from Boston, New York and Chicago to Rio de Janeiro, Chennai and now, Buenos Aires- are leading a revolutionary wave of change.


Stephen Goldsmith and Susan Crawford, from Harvard Data-Smart City Solutions and our City Doctors’ program at the Performance Improvement Institute have collected a series of success stories that show the way to the future at our fingertips:










Let’s review some success stories:



Boston Citizen’s connect


Chris Osgood and Nigel Jacob an idea: What if the city offered an app that allowed people to report graffiti, potholes, or other problems just by taking pictures with their iPhones? That was the seed of Citizens Connect, the first “mobile 311” app.


Citizens Connect also allowed the reporting of more useful and actionable information about each complaint or request. For example, a geocoded picture allows a viewer to zero in on an exact location and determine exactly the source of a citizen's problem. That is a great deal more precise than a phone call about a “light out,” Now if somebody using Citizens Connect takes a picture of that, and it goes to the person whose job it is to know what the difference between all those different things is, and who might be responsible for this light, we get a much better higher-quality service.



Rio de Janeiro: from smart cities to digital “agoras”


Rio de Janeiro Favelas—the shantytowns that hug the sides of the steep hills above Rio de Janeiro—house 1.3 million of the city's 6.3 million residents. In the favela of Vidigal, on the Dois Irmãos mountain overlooking the Leblon and Ipanema beaches, two young Harvard graduates are determined to design and build spaces where citizens both make things and work on data about their communities.









New York – 596 Acres – involving neighbors in reclaiming and recovering brownfields


Like many other successful digital-activist projects, the 596 Acres website provides information—much more accurate, contextualized, and relevant data about public vacant lots than activists could get on their own—and the means to get together with others who care about that information. The site's activism isn't confined to the Web. 596 Acres.


Neighbors who have been worrying about vacant land for decades now have a locus for action. 596 Acres has prompted more than a hundred efforts by communities to work with city agencies to license public land for a wide variety of community uses. Almost twenty of these campaigns have resulted in the land being converted to community-owned spaces.





Transparent Chennai – Water and sanitation: 


Transparent Chennai aims to improve the lives of those living in the city's slums. The problems are fundamental: Chennai has only 714 public toilets for a population of 4.6 million, meaning that each seat is used by around 6,442—well over the established National Urban Sanitation Policy's limit of sixty persons per seat. Transparent Chennai, which has been called a “collective of maptivists,” started off with pens and paper, giving volunteers printouts from Google Maps with different sections of the city to mark up. The sheets were then loaded into a computer to create a master map that showed the services and basic amenities available to slum dwellers. Now the group has made the transition to digital, using open-source tools to collect data and create interactive maps about communal toilets, water supplies, garbage collection (or lack thereof), and sewage facilities.


The group sends out reports in both English and Tamil aimed at catalyzing government responses and prodding community members to attend public meetings with local government officials. Just as Children's Optimal Health discovered in Austin, Transparent Chennai has found that politicians react better to maps than data in charts or graphs.





Here are some keys functions for developing safe, livable and thriving neighborhoods:


1. Security: Putting eyes on the street, neighbors on the map: making neighborhoods visible & safe:


Vigilante / Citizen


These Apps, developed and tested in New York city allow neighbors form awareness and early warning networks to prevent crime and violence by N2N support and communication through smart phones. Each connected neighbor can warn all others (and police) about incidents or signals instantly, locating the alarm with GPS and sending image, voice or video information about the incident.











Task Rabbit


Helps users offer or find services online, enrolling in a shared e-commerce and e-performance platform that provides vetting, customer feedback and satisfaction ratings and online payment.














Habitat for Humanity App


Helps apply for HfH self-construction services and volunteer for the different activities -such as barn-raising- and communal construction.
















Collaborative Design Apps


Social designers Marsha Simon and Tessa Steenkamp, from Netherlands, have developed concepts and tools for collaborative and communal design.
















The next step in evolution is already on the works: integrating all four key functions to turn around and transform communities in one App: Neighbors / Vecinos.


Neighbors™ / Vecinos™ (Bernardez M. , January-February 2003, Volume 43, Number 1) is a new concept developed by the City Doctors team at the Performance Improvement Institute that has been proposed for Barrio 31 in Buenos Aires and other cities in Argentina.


Neighbors / Vecinos provides those living in the neighborhood and its adjacent neighbors with:  




Visibility & digital address:


All neighbors get a digital address in a GPS map (like in the cases of New York and Chennai), where visitors or potential customers and employers can see their pictures, profiles, skills and legal status vetted by the City.



Safety & prevention:


With features similar to Vigilante and Citizens (already tested in NYC and Chicago), this App allows neighbors to connect, providing early-warning and extra vigilance 24/7, in a N2N / V2V (Neighbor-to-Neighbor, Vecino-a-Vecino) direct way that includes 911 and traditional policing, but prevents violence, crime and domestic violence escalation.


Jobs 4 Services (and vice versa)



The App allows neighbors to offer their services and skills to other neighbors and adjacent neighborhoods, in the manner of Task Rabbit. Households and small businesses can demand and offer products and services and pay or receive payments through electronic means.



Re-Housing & smart self-construction


“The App helps developers, builders and neighbors to collaborate in remodeling, retro-fitting or building housing that is safe, livable and affordable in a faster, smarter way.


It also helps neighbors get work in self-construction and “barn-raising”, communal construction in the model of Habitat for Humanity or others.





Mariano Bernardez, PhD., CPT


Mariano Bernardez is Executive Director of the Performance Improvement Institute (, an international PhD and MBI program in social and organizational performance, focused on graduating new organizations and entrepreneurial ecosystems.


Since 2005, PII has helped create more than 60 new organizations and 15,000 jobs in Mexico and a similar number in Panama through its "City Doctors" program.


During his 38-years career as an international consultant, Bernardez has developed projects for wide range of organizations -from Fortune 500 to startups, NGOs, social businesses, governments and communities in United States, EMEA and Latin America.

He is director of the Performance Improvement Global Network (, first virtual and bilingual chapter of ISPI that he founded in 1998.


Bernardez is author of six books in this specialty as well as multiple peer-reviewed and professional articles in the field.

He is member for life of the International Society for Performance Improvement and a regular presenter at ISPI, ATD and other international forums.


Based in Chicago, Buenos Aires and Barcelona, Bernardez can be reached at and at the Performance Improvement Institute,








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