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How to be a better citizen in 2011

IN A TOWN FAMOUS for booing Santa, it may be no surprise to hear that Philadelphians are lacking in civililty, but a new report that says we are lacking in civics-ility- that we are pretty much as apatethic as the rest of the country -is a bit of a shock.

The Pennsylvania Civic Health Index released last week by the National Constitution Center showed that the state's voter registration is 70 percent, (71 for the nation) with a 51 percent voter turnout for ages 18-29 in the 2008 election (52.9 percent nationally.) But civics is not just about voting; it's about participating in our own and the larger community, and on this, while the state does slightly better than the national average, the numbers are also nothing to be proud of: 8 percent attended a meeting where political issues were discussed; 7 percent worked with neighbors to fix a community problem. Pennsylvanians are also better at joining and leading civic groups.

But we have to do better. Next year, instead of making resolutions about losing weight or being healthier, we should resolve to improve our civic health- to take advantage of the singular gift our democracy allows: participation.

Here are a few ways to get started:

1) Make sure your block has a block captain. If it doesn't, become one. The Streets Department relies on block captains to be its eyes and ears, and requires them for certain things like providing an extra trash can.

To become a block captain, you need to get a petition signed by at least 50 percent of the neighbors on your block. Deputy Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams says about a third of the city's 18,000 blocks have captains. He'd like to see half of Philadelphia's blocks organized that way, but that's going to take some time.

2) Join your local neighborhood association or park group. You can call the Philadelphia Park Alliance, at 215-879-8159, or the Parks and Recreation Department at 215-683-3600.

3. Get involved in education: For 16 years, the Notebook has been a nonprofit, independent source of information and news on quality public education. Whether or not you have kids in school, you should join the effort as a member (

4. If schools are not your interest, find an organization that needs volunteers. Philadelphia Cares is a clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities. (; 215-564-4544.)

5. Give to a food bank. Especially this week.

6. Communicate with the city. Report problems via 3-1-1 or on the seeclickfix widget on the city howl page ( You should also hold the city accountable for the quality of services it provides by posting a review on City Howl.

7. Don't litter. It costs the city money.

8. Recycle. It makes the city money.

9. Help the city plan its future. The Planning Commission is looking for citizen input on a new master plan. Go to or call the commission: 215-683-4615

10. Testify at City Council, now that the court has ruled that you must be allowed to speak. But only if you have something useful to say.

11. Pay your taxes. Don't abandon your property. We all are forced to clean up after you if you leave your property behind to become a dump. The city's civic, fiscal, and neighborhood health depends on you.

12. Act first, then complain. The city's leading sport, after the big four, is complaining. Next time you are about to spout off about how miserable everything is, and how soon you want to move away, ask yourself what action you've ever taken on the matter you're beefing about. If the answer is "nothing," then think twice before kvetching. *

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