Philadelphia’s 311 Open Data and City Priorities

Philadelphia has an excellent Open Data program (link) which provides incredible access to important data that can be used by community groups and others to help focus attention on critical issues.


Let’s see how we can use 311 request data to understand Philadelphia residents priorities.

Step 1: Get the 311 Service Request Data: The City has made it very easy to access the 311 data. This page provides access to near real time details of the City’s 311 service requests. If you scroll down to the detail table you will see the latest 311 service requests, like the image below:
                               (Click image to enlarge)311_sr_table

The 311 data table also includes a link to a resident submitted photo, if provided, as well as the latitude and longitude for mapping and spatial analysis.

Users can download the entire 1 million+ set of records or subset it by user selections by zip code, service request type (illegal dumping, graffiti as examples),  responsible agency or request status (open, closed). You can export the entire data set or subset to a CSV file for your own analysis.


I’ve downloaded both All Rows and Illegal Dumping Row to work directly with the full data set and the Illegal Dumping data set.

Summarizing City Wide 311 Service Data311_histogram

When you start looking at the service request details, the first thing that you see is that most of the requests are for information, 728,000 out of the 1.1 million requests were for information in the 12/8/14 to 12/2/16 period. This bar chart shows requests like Illegal Dumping are barely visible because of the high volume of info requests.

Let’s see what the work requests look like if we remove the information requests.


Now we can see the specific field service requests that Philadelphia residents have made. Maintenance Residential or Commercial, Rubbish/Recycle Collection and Illegal Dumping were the 3 top requests, followed by Abandoned vehicles, Street Defects (potholes!)  and Graffiti Removal.

Illegal Dumping and Vacant Lot Cleanup warrant  special mention because they both deal with trash dumping. Dumping in the public right-of-way is handled by the Streets Department while vacant lot dumping is handled by CLIP, that is why 311 classifies them separately.  The combined Illegal Dumping and Vacant Lot Cleanup requests (42,440) is the 2nd largest non-information service request.

Philadelphia residents are repeatedly asking for trash dumping cleanup services. We need to recognize this priority. Clearly we need to do more to prevent trash dumping, both on City streets and vacant lots.

Philadelphia’s Illegal Dumping Hot Spots

Philadelphia had 29,454 Illegal Dumping service requests (311 – OpenDataPhilly data) in the Jan., 2015 to Nov., 2016 period. Here is the breakdown by City Council District:


Council Districts 1 and 2 have the highest number of Illegal Dumping service requests, followed by Districts 5 and 8. District 10 has the lowest count, less than 10% of Districts 1 and 2.

There are nearly 41,000 street segments in Philadelphia, 71% had no illegal dumping reports, while 46 (0.1%), had 20 or more illegal dumping reports.illegal_dump_sr_by_seg_tbl

These 46 high illegal dumping street segments are mapped by Council District below


These high illegal dumping street segments are clustered in several Council illegal_dump_sr_gte_20_by_seg__by_cd_tblDistrict; Districts 2 and 3 had 14 and 11 hot spot segments,  Districts 7 and 8 had 6 each.

These 46 hot spot segments represent 0.1% of all City street segments and had 5% of all illegal dumping service requests.

Users can download a pdf file of the 46 hot spot segments here.



Is Philadelphia Winning or Loosing the Street Trash Problem?

Philadelphia has a major illegal dumping problem  that contributes to the

311 Photo District 8: Furniture Dumping

311 Photo District 8: Furniture Dumping

City’s street trash problem. I have written about it in several previous posts (here, here, here). Philadelphia’s TV broadcast stations 6ABC and NBC10 have both reported on the problem.

The City has been fighting street trash for years. Penn Future’s Next Great City identified trash as one of the major priorities in the 2015 mayoral election (link).

So how is Philadelphia doing in our efforts to “clean-up our City”? Good question, unfortunately we do not have a clear, valid answer.

City Illegal Dumping Programs

Philadelphia has several programs to tackle illegal dumping, including the Streets Departments 6 Sanitation Convenience Centers, 311 illegal dumping service request responses and the Community Life Improvement Program’s (CLIP) vacant lot clean-ups.

Let’s take a look at the 311 Illegal Dumping and Vacant Lot Cleanup service requests trends to see how often our citizens report street trash issues.311_11_30_16_trend

The trend does not look good. We clearly have a seasonal trend, with higher number of requests in the summer months and lower 311 calls in cooler months. The 2016 fall numbers are considerably higher than the fall, 2015 call count.

My personal observations of District 8 trash hot spots indicate indicates that as soon as the City cleans up an illegal dump, it is re-trashed. Clean-ups are essential, however, we must increase our prevention efforts if we hope to slow the illegal dumping wave that is filling many of our streets and vacant properties with trash.

Why is Illegal Dumping So Critical to Street Trash Control?

Illegal dumping control is absolutely critical to an effective street trash control. Dumping is so rampant that many City agencies and others avoid proving trash receptacles in highly littered locations because past experience has taught them that trash receptacles are often attract residential and construction trash dumping.

Residential trash dumping does not make sense in a City with “free” weekly residential trash collection. yet we see residential trash across our City.  Residents can bring bulky items to one of the 6 Convenience Centers, yet we see many bulky trash items left along our roads.

I ask the Mayor and City Council to re-assess our street trash programs and see what we need to do to increase dumping prevention efforts, including increased camera and police surveillance in known trash dumping areas.

Mapping Chronic Illegal Dump Sites

District 8 has 4,049 street segments, 33.5% of them had 1 or more 311 Illegal Dumping Service Requests. 29 of these segments had 11 – 43 requests.

These chronic illegal dumping hot spots need enforcement attention. Removing the latest illegal dump just gives the dumper proof that his/her dumping will be handled by the City at no cost to the law breaker.

Click here or on the map image to see how Philadelphia’s 311 OpenDataPhilly files can be used by civic groups, City Councilors and others to identify critical hot spot problems in their neighborhood.


Mapping District 8’s 311 Illegal Dumping Service Requests

Philadelphia’s 311 system allows users to submit photos related to their service requests. Click on the map below or (link) to see the 304 photos for District 8 Illegal Dumping Service requests between 12/8/14 and 11/16/16.


You can view details of the Illegal Dumping Service Request by clicking on the black dot symbol for the service request.


By pressing the More info link, you can see the submitted illegal dumping image.


Philadelphia’s Open Data Can Help Tackle City’s Illegal Dumping

Philadelphia has an excellent open data program (link) and a very serious illegal dumping problem (link). I have previously written about how Philadelphia’s 311 open data can be used to pinpoint illegal dumping hot spots (here).

In this post I want to show how local community groups, concerned citizens and City agencies can use readily available city open data to assess illegal dumping in local areas. I’ll use 5 open data sets for this example:

  1. City 311 complaints (Dec., 2014 – Nov., 2016)
  2. Vacant Property Building Indicators (CSV – 11/16/16)
  3. Vacant Property Land Indicators (CSV – 11/16/16)
  4. CLIP Vacant Lot Cleanups (CSV – 2016)
  5. Landcare Program (CSV)

The 311 data file is quite large (over 1 million records)because it includes all City service requests, including information requests. The first step is to extract only those records of interest, in our case Illegal Dumping Service Requests.  I did this with a simple R script.

I use ESRI’s Arcmap 10.4 to do my GIS  work, including clipping to my geographic areas, District 8 and neighborhoods in District 8. Community groups could use a similar approach to subset into CDC areas, Police Districts, Council Districts, Planning District  or census tracts.

Here is a slideshow illegal dumping, CLIP cleanups, LandCare and Vacant Property Indicator Land & Buildings data for each of the 20 neighborhoods in District 8.

Here is a PDF   of the 20 maps.




Philadelphia’s 311 Data Helps Pinpoint District 8 Trash Problem Areas

Philadelphia, like many cities, has a 311 system that lets residents submit service requests for City services. Philadelphia’s OpenDataPhilly provides easy access to the City’s 311 service request data.

The 311 data is an excellent tool for assessing trash issues for several reasons:

  • Service requests include date, address and service request type
  • Latitude & longitude provided to assist in data mapping

I downloaded the OpenData Philly 311 data file (11/16/16 version) to assess how it could be used by neighborhood groups and others to assess trash trends  in their neighborhoods.

The raw data includes 1,127,523 records, a large data set for the period from 12/8/14 to 11/16/16. Since I am interested in trash, I prepared a data subset of just those service requests related to trash, 116,587 records,  10.3% of all the 311 records. I then extracted only those trash requests in District 8, 17,021 to allow me to study District 8 trash issues.

District 8 Trash Photos

Philadelphia’s 311 system allows users to submit photos, a significant advantage when assessing trash conditions.  242 trash photos are included in the District 8 311 trash records, here are a few examples:

District 8 Trash Service Requests

Here’s a summary of District 8’s 17,021 trash service requests by category:

  • Maintenance Residential & Commercial: 5,753
  • Rubbish/ Recyclable Collection:                  3,608
  • Illegal Dumping:                                                   3,420
  • Vacant Lot clean-up:                                            1,667
  • Vacant House:                                                         1,610
  • Sanitation/dumpster violation:                          768
  • Boarding Room House:                                          195

Illegal dumping is the 3rd most frequent 311 trash service request, after Maintenance Residential Commercial and Rubbish/Recyclable Collection calls. Clearly 8 residents are calling the City to report illegal dumping District 8. Neighborhood groups, CDCs and elected officials need to assess how we are handling the trash dumping issue, are we making progress or are we being inundated with a flood of illegal dumping. The 311 data can help us to understand the situation.