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Accela Insights

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Guest Blog: Building a Better Palo Alto with Civic Insight

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Civic Insight, one of Accela’s app partners.

Picture this: you’re an entrepreneur who’s just signed the lease on your new storefront. You’re itching to knock down some walls, to make the space embody your vision. Or maybe you’re a homeowner looking to remodel your kitchen, or finally finish out that basement.

These folks are vital to a thriving city: the ones launching new businesses, fixing up old buildings, investing in their homes and creating new places for residents to live, work and play.

As a public servant looking to foster economic development, you want to make it as easy as possible for people to build in your city. But you also need to make sure that they’re building up to code.

Unfortunately, securing a building permit is often a daunting experience—especially for first-time builders. Figuring out which permits you need for your project can be tricky. But keeping track of which departments have checked your plans, what revisions they’ve asked for and when your permit will be ready can be downright perplexing.

This uncertainty produces delays. Delays drive up the cost of construction. And when construction costs soar, fewer projects break ground. These dreams deferred can ultimately put a dent in your city’s economy.

Palo Alto: Leading the Way

Smart municipalities understand that streamlining the permit approval process can lead to more prosperous cities.

The City of Palo Alto, for example, has setup a one-stop shop for permits—all City departments that review permit applications now live under one roof. This has made it much easier for aspiring builders to get the process started.

We’re working with the City to make the rest of the process just as smooth: with Civic Insight, applicants can immediately see the status of their permit application with just a quick search.

Permit status

Whether the project involves dozens of permits or just one, our simple visualizations guide applicants through every phase of the process, from initial plan reviews to final inspection.

"What they've done very successfully is taken a very complicated process and broken it down into three easy steps: where am I in the process, what’s coming next and when am I going to be done," explains Peter Pirnejad, Director of Palo Alto’s Development Services Center.

Say Hello to Push Notifications

Has the Planning Department given you the green light? Did Public Works shoot you down? Permit finally ready for pickup? With one click, applicants can sign up for real-time email alerts, so that the minute their permit moves forward, they’ll know.

Push notifications

Gone are the days of wondering whether it’s time to call the City for an update, and then ringing six different departments to get the news. In Palo Alto, applicants no longer have to ping the City at all—the City reaches out to them.

With information at their fingertips, applicants are less likely to miss the City’s feedback on their plans, and can respond faster. This speeds up the permitting process for both the builder and the City, saving everyone precious time and money.

The Road Ahead

In Palo Alto, we help people build. In New Orleans, we help them fight blight. These cities are wildly different, but the role Civic Insight plays is the same: by opening up how cities interact with their built environment—whether through building permitting or code enforcement—we make it easier for people to improve their communities.

But this is just the beginning. We’re expanding and improving the technology behind Civic Insight to make it even simpler for residents to get the information they need to fix abandoned buildings and build new ones.

And we’re building internal tools for government, too: from dashboards that reveal how permit departments are performing, to predictive models that help code enforcement target the highest-risk buildings.

Join us, as we harness the power of information to build thriving communities. Get started today at civicinsight.com.

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