Fort Worth, Texas, has a unique alleyway maintenance program with about half of the city’s alleyways maintained by the city. Previously under Neighborhood Services, the program has come under the purview of multiple departments over the years before coming to the parks department on Oct. 1, 2022. There are over 2,000 alleyway blocks throughout Fort Worth and half are in the maintenance program.
Debbie Branch, district superintendent park operations Fort Worth, Texas, Parks and Recreation, oversees contracted grounds maintenance. With over 200 parks, most of them are on maintenance contracts. This program was moved to the parks and recreation department, since her department was already handling mowing services and, this way, all mowing services would be under one department.
With the past year being the first year Branch was in charge of the alley maintenance program, she simply ran it the same way it had been run previously under Neighborhood Services. Since the grounds maintenance contractors are landscaping contractors, the maintenance referenced is primarily mowing. However, contractors will also do some low limb removal and debris removal from the alley when it hinders the mowing services.
Around five to 10 years ago, a group of people from various city departments, such as police and compliance, started a safe neighborhood initiative. If they selected an alley as a part of this initiative, it would get mowed a certain number of times a year. Previously, the alleyways were cleaned three times a year, but after receiving additional funding, they are now mowed four times a year. If someone calls in and states their alleyway needs help, the department has mowed it once for them.
The next steps have included meeting with the police department to determine what had previously been the criteria for selecting which alleys were included in the program and how neighborhoods were selected. Branch wants to ensure there is a specific selection criteria because “we want to be equitable and make resources go as far as they can,” she states. With a budget of $804,000, the city is only able to have half the city’s alleys in the program. It would take double that amount to include all the city’s alleys.
When a contractor is preparing to mow an alley, a flyer is put up on doors throughout the neighborhood saying they are going to mow. However, not all residents want their alley mowed. For instance, Branch has heard some residents state they are using the alley to host pollinator plants for bees. Previously, Fort Worth also had a program that allowed residents to take ownership of an alley, and they could put a gate up to keep others out. While that program did not really take off, there are still gates up on some alleys.
Branch mentioned there have been 504 requests documented for the alley maintenance program. The parks department hired someone in a temporary position to perform inspections of these alley requests. Since it takes time to go out and inspect each area, the work order system allows photographs to be attached to the request so staff members can look at it immediately, and it will save time so employees don’t have to go out and inspect it in person. For example, Branch mentioned that in one instance, an individual requested the alley not be mowed since their cable line had previously been mowed over. A photograph of the cable line was sent in with this request, and the parks department could reach out to the cable company about the issue. Many alleys also have utilities that can hide in the tall grass. In these instances, notes are placed for that alley and given to contractors for next time.
The city’s My Fort Worth app has also been extremely helpful for the alley maintenance program and is used by both residents and contractors. Residents can send in a request or concern using the app as well as photographs. Contractors are required to use the app to take before and after photos of their work.
“It creates a dashboard that staff works within,” Branch stated. “I don’t even have to touch it. Contractors use the app to take before and after pictures of their work. The city is big, and it’s hard to be everywhere and verify contractor’s work. We still do physical inspections, but it has been a huge help going through daily reports with the before and after photos. It is the cornerstone of communication with contractors. It is also a protection against complaints against contractors. It is a helpful tool to track and manage.”
This has become one of the primary methods of communication for residents to send in photos or requests on alley maintenance. When people call in to the parks department, it is suggested they take a photo and send it in through the app to specify what they want or are talking about. “Fort Worth is a big city with many alleyways to manage,” Branch said. “We try to balance and match different people’s expectations.”