LAST MONTH we got an email with the subject line: "PGW aka Philadelphia Ground Wreckers." Naturally, we were intrigued.
The email, from frustrated Fairmount resident Michael Lynn, told the story of the city-owned Philadelphia Gas Works leaving his sidewalk a wreck.
It was last spring, Lynn said, that PGW came out to fix his neighbor's gas leak. The workers got the job done, but in the process, they tore up the red-brick sidewalk on Lynn's block. Then they used blacktop to patch up the holes.
Bricks? What bricks?
Lynn spent the better part of a year calling PGW and asking the utility to - please - fix his sidewalk. PGW never came.
To some people, this request might sound trivial. As long as it works, who cares what the sidewalk looks like?
But Lynn, who's lived in his house for almost four years now, actually gives a damn. He sweeps his sidewalk and picks up the errant litter. He takes pride in his stoop.
As for PGW?
"It feels like they couldn't care less," Lynn said.
WHAT A GAS: We called PGW spokeswoman Melanie McCottry last week to find out if the utility intended to fix Lynn's sidewalk. McCottry said she'd look into it.
The next day, Lynn's sidewalk was as good as new. Blacktop gone, bricks replaced.
Lynn was so pleased, he didn't even mind when we told him that PGW had lost all his complaints.
That's right - McCottry initially couldn't find any record of Lynn's calls. She eventually did find them, after we provided more information, and said that PGW had been looking into his requests right around when we called.
What a happy coincidence. At least Lynn's got his sidewalk back.
NO MORE PARKING ON THIS PARKWAY: As long as we're regaling you with tales of Help Desk victories, listen to this happy story: The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is a parking lot no more. Two weeks ago, we wrote about how city vehicles were illegally parking on the parkway median, despite repeated warnings from the Managing Director's Office.
A few days after our column ran, the parkway median was empty.
We've heard from other people that the parkway has been in good shape ever since.
First Deputy Managing Director David Wilson, who oversees city-vehicle parking, told us that he cracked down by announcing that cars parked on the parkway median would be towed.
Introducing 3-1-1 WATCH: This week we're introducing a new feature called 3-1-1 Watch. Last year, 3-1-1 received more than 90,000 requests for city services, about graffiti, illegal dumping, broken streetlights and lots else. We wondered what would happen if we randomly followed up on some of those requests.
We're choosing complaints that 3-1-1 classifies as "resolved," then checking them out to see if neighbors are happy with the city's response. It's Our Money reporter Ashley Nguyen investigated this first entry.
The complaint: Illegal dumping in West Philly's Mill Creek neighborhood.
3-1-1 says: A caller reported illegal dumping to the city in mid-November, and the Streets Department picked up the garbage two days later.
Neighbors say: In Mill Creek we found Joan Walker, who had reported the problem to 3-1-1. She told us that she was pleased with the city's response. City workers cleaned up the mess shortly after Walker reported it, she said. She even slipped the workers some cash because "they were nice guys."
(P.S.: Has anyone else out there tipped city workers?)
Unfortunately, the site where the dumping occurred - outside of Aspen Village, a severely run-down housing development across the street from Walker's house - got messed up again pretty quickly. It's not hard to see why. The "village," owned by SBG Management Services, is a wreck. Garages no longer have doors, and rubbish is scattered throughout the complex. (SBG has not returned our calls.) Walker said that no one's lived there for years. It's (another) 3-1-1 call waiting to happen.
Follow us on Twitter and review city services on our sister site, City Howl.