Judy Taylor, 78, calls 311 often to report the dirty alley behind her rowhome in Southwest BaltimoreÕs Carrollton Ridge neighborhood. Hardly any requests for service are completed on-time in this part of the city.
Judy Taylor, 78, calls 311 often to report the dirty alley behind her rowhome in Southwest BaltimoreÕs Carrollton Ridge neighborhood. Hardly any requests for service are completed on-time in this part of the city. (Talia Richman/Baltimore Sun)

In most instances, the telling of a strong story depends largely on one’s ability to use words to paint a picture.

But then there are moments when a string of letters just won’t cut it.


This point was driven home for me over the summer.

Shortly after I was sworn-in as mayor, I attended a routine briefing on our progress in cleaning up trash with staffers from CitiStat, our in-house data-crunchers and accountability team. A series of graphics and other statistics caught my attention. The data delivered a message that was unmistakable, and, quite frankly, it knocked the wind out of me.

A few weeks prior, I’d delivered a mandate to the staffers to “go wherever the data took them.” Our administration would be guided, I assured them, by an unflinching commitment to use data to target areas where our agencies and departments might be lagging behind. We would focus our remedies on an open and honest process that identified our shortcomings and encouraged us to work collectively to improve performance in ways that the public could easily measure.

Measuring the cleanliness of city streets and alleys seemed like a good place to start.

I’d made reducing grime a centerpiece of my administration and we quickly came up with a name for our effort: CleanStat. Our focus would be to improve the efficiency and equity of how we cleaned our city’s neighborhoods, alleys and streets..

In September, shortly after launching CleanStat, we discovered that some sections of the city were faring better than others. There was also a backlog of 311 service requests that numbered in the hundreds, further complicating our work.

The findings were sobering but we quickly got to work and crews from the Department of Public Works were directed to respond to this issue of why some neighborhoods were getting better service than others.

Since then, we’ve made changes that are already leading to improvements. We’ve assigned extra sanitation crews to the Southwest portion of the city where the backlog of service requests was the greatest. In addition, we’ve brought on sanitation crews, and workers from other agencies, including the departments of Recreation and Parks and General Services, to help and added weekend hours.

Our focus on equity is leading to results.

In Southwest Baltimore — an area the research found needed more attention — The Department of Public Works completed 87% more property cleaning requests and 274% more street and alley cleanings in October than September. We were also able to reduce the number of past due cleaning work orders by 25% in Southwest Baltimore in the month after our review of CleanStat data raised questions.

I know we’ve got a lot more work to do but progress is being made. Citywide, in October public works crews completed more street and alley cleaning requests than in any month for the past three years. Since September, the Department of Public Works has reduced the citywide cleaning backlog by about 50%.

We're also using data to tackle cleaning in new ways. CitiStat's analysis identified the blocks in Baltimore where the most illegal dumping is happening. We're bringing agencies within city government together with community groups to develop targeted responses in those neighborhoods. And we’re using statistics to evaluate and improve the routes that our sanitation crews follow. In addition, we’re renewing our focus on individuals and business that receive multiple sanitation citations.

This is an all hands on deck effort.

While the progress to date has been real and measurable, I want to help residents and business owners keep a scorecard and hold us accountable for our delivery of city services.


That’s why we’ve launched a public-facing, first-of-its-kind for Baltimore portal to help people easily chart our progress. Our “CleanStat” dashboard — a user-friendly website that easily identifies our goals and clearly measures our performance in real time and is the kind of transparent tool that will go a long way toward ending disparities in the delivery of city services.

While we have a long way to go, we’re all in this together and are working toward a common goal of reducing trash and litter in our city.

By giving residents the ability to measure our progress, and more easily identify our shortcomings, we’re looking to turn a corner in Baltimore and take a major step toward building a more transparent government for every resident and visitor.

Bernard C. “Jack” Young is Mayor of Baltimore. His email is mayor@baltimorecity.gov and his Twitter handle is @mayorbcyoung.