Shortly after taking office last year, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz set up a link on the city website called "Anchorage Innovates" to gather ideas, suggestions and comments from residents.
Since then, Berkowitz's suggestion box has received more than 460 tips — some serious, some comical, some nonsensical.
The submissions range from complaints about city service, speed bumps and left-hand turn lanes to proposals about employee work hours and a community of tiny houses. Some weighed in on long-standing community debates, while others emailed links to novel programs in different states or countries.
One person wanted to change the name of Anchorage City Hall to "Kitty Hall" as a way to make the place more adorable.
Some suggestions addressed issues beyond the city's authority, like snowplowing on state roads. One submission called for new rules favoring more alcohol sales at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, though with all the trouble airlines have had with inebriated passengers, it's unclear how great an idea it was. ("I was recently in Portland and they have a rule that if you have a ticket for that day, they are allowed to serve you beginning at 5 a.m. I think this is a wonderful idea.")
City spokesman Myer Hutchinson said the mayor's office divided each of the suggestions among staff members for follow-up. In some cases, a staff member will email the person back with more information, or explain that the problem isn't in the city's jurisdiction, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson also said many of the ideas reinforced existing initiatives by the administration, including those around homelessness, police staffing, recycling and bicycle safety.
"Do those things necessarily fit under the word 'innovative'? Maybe not," Hutchinson said. "But they do fit under things that are important to people, and that's really, I think, the impetus of the idea."
Here's a sampling of what people said. Suggestions have been edited for brevity and clarity. Alaska Dispatch News also asked the city for responses.
Do a better job picking up trash and beautifying the city.
"I would ask APD to step up the ticketing of people for throwing trash on the ground and not in the proper receptacles."
Hutchinson's response: "A properly staffed and supported police department will have a greater ability to enforce all local laws and regulations, including littering. We will continue to work on our efforts to recruit, train, and place more officers on the streets."
"Establish an incentive for homeowners to maintain their homes. There are fences falling on properties, paint chipping off of homes, moss growing on roofs."
Hutchinson: "Most Anchorage property owners take pride in maintaining their home and being a good neighbor. However, in some extreme instances that is not the case and neglected structures, buildings, or homes are negatively impacting neighborhoods. With Assembly support, the Administration passed an ordinance to create a vacant property registry with baseline standards for property cleanliness, appearance, and safety."
Crack down on unlicensed dogs.
"Many dog owners are scofflaws in that they do not license them. The muni should have a webpage with pictures of the dogs that are licensed. There could be licensing attempts with city employees sitting at a dog park with a laptop."
Hutchinson: "While the municipality does not have the resources to directly monitor daily activities at dog parks, our Animal Care and Control Center prioritizes community education and outreach, including providing the public information on how to license a dog."
Make changes to the property tax system.
"Our property tax structure encourages sprawl and for dilapidated properties to remain unabated. I believe that the city should transition to a tax structure that factors in the cost of property to the city instead of simply the appraised value."
A vacant building registration ordinance passed the Assembly.
Rename City Hall "Kitty Hall."
"Reasons: 1) Kitties are adorable. 2) They will no doubt raise the workplace morale of city hall. 3) They will also keep away any mice and/or small birds. It's a classic win, win, win idea."
The submission included a link to an article about the Seattle mayor doing the same thing for a day.
Hutchinson said the city doesn't have plans to rename City Hall.
"We do not dispute that kitties are adorable," he added.
Start a mattress recycling program at the landfill.
"It would be a win-win for Anchorage to have a way to recycle mattresses and other usable items, reduce the strain on the landfill, and create a revenue source to address some of our social problems."
Hutchinson said Berkowitz is not considering a mattress recycling program but is exploring ways to increase commercial recycling. He also pointed to a pilot composting program the administration launched in July.
Create a commune of tiny houses.
"The tiny home communities would require residents to engage in services and do work-service projects within the city. The home would be paid for (sliding scale) by the occupants with 25% going into a 'savings' account for the client and 25% to a 'slush fund' to pay for utilities and the remaining 50% to fund the next community. These communities could build on the concept currently in place at Karluk Manor."
Hutchinson: "The Administration is continuing to examine tiny homes and their potential application in Anchorage."
Replicate the CicLAvia event in Los Angeles, where thousands of walkers, bikers and skateboarders shut down a major thoroughfare for a daylong festival supported by the city.
"Northern Lights is kind of a nightmare to bike along and it would be awesome to see bicyclists and pedestrians claim it for an afternoon."
Hutchinson: "We would welcome and be excited to work with a local nonprofit to support a similar event in Anchorage."
Plant more fruit trees on city property.
"It is healthy and feeds people at the same time. It helps feed the homeless too."
Hutchinson: "Moose present a challenge for edible fruit trees in Anchorage. Fruit trees in public spaces need fencing, or moose consume all the fruit. Currently we are installing fencing for fruit trees in the Bragaw community gardens and the master plan for Muldoon Town Square Park also includes fruit trees (and fencing)."
Move the administration of the city libraries to the Anchorage School District.
"Their mission aligns much better with an educational facility than the rest of the general government."
Hutchinson said the city is generally looking at sharing more services with the School District, though not specifically library administration.
Replicate a program in Sweden where tourists can dial up random locals and talk to them about the city.
"I think this is a great idea for summer visitors and not expensive."
On the administration's spreadsheet: "Very cool idea — maybe in the future."
Allow golf carts on the trail system.
"In short distances with proper street markings, Golf Carts could be used to go shopping, play golf, other activities, and allow the elderly to have more access to and use the trails. It may be even a health benefit for them."
Hutchinson said the administration isn't considering this change. Earlier this year, the Anchorage Assembly passed an ordinance allowing electric bikes on paved bike paths, sidewalks and trails.
Hold a community contest for a "mini mayor."
"The City host a contest where young kids ages 5-10 can share what they would do if they were mayor, the community votes, and the child can spend the day or half a day with the Mayor of Anchorage and get full treatment."
Hutchinson said that while there's no talk of a contest, a 7-year-old who wrote a handwritten letter to Berkowitz earlier this year saying he was "very interested" in becoming mayor was allowed to shadow Berkowitz for a few hours.
Put a police substation at the former site of the fountain in Town Square Park.
"When the Fountain goes, how about replacing it by next year with a small 24-7 Log Cabin Police Substation — Similar in size and design to the Chamber's attractive log cabin on 4th Avenue? The back end — behind an interior wall — could be a pair of holding cells with a back door to escort miscreants to a community service van. The front end could be manned by both a Chamber volunteer with public information, and by a police officer who can handle 'issues' that would come up."
Hutchinson pointed to the administration's general efforts to add more police officers. He said the city will be evaluating ideas about the future location of substations, though those may not be specific to Town Square Park.
Allow a different work schedule at City Hall.
"Please implement the four-day, 10-hour workweek for employees at City Hall. The shortened workweek could give employees more time to handle family and personal business, making it less likely that they would need to miss work for doctor's visits or other personal matters."
Hutchinson said the administration is exploring allowing nine-day, 80-hour workweeks for some employees, though not four-day, 10-hour workweeks.
More "sun days" for city employees
"Pretty much like a 2-hour holiday to allow employees to enjoy extra sun on days with a really good weather."
Hutchinson said the administration isn't considering this policy right now.
Install movement-sensing lights in conference and break rooms at City Hall so the lights will go off if the rooms are empty.
"Too many times people leave without remembering to switch off the lights. Kind of like having a bunch of teenagers around!"
Hutchinson said most rooms already have the technology but it's being installed as other lights fail.
Do something about the easy-to-miss parking lot entrance for the city permit center on Elmore Road.
"Put the address of the MOA Permit Building/Building Safety building at 4700 Elmore ON the building in large letters that can be seen from Elmore Road."
Hutchinson said general access improvements were being considered for the area, though he couldn't immediately say if that included signage.
Build a better gathering space in City Hall.
"I have noticed the primary community gathering space in City Hall for employees is … the elevator, or even the weird windowless vending machine rooms distributed among the 8 floors of our building. Outside of interacting with our direct departments, there is also the offchance that you bump into someone (most likely jaywalking and in a hurry) to the 6th Street parking garage or grabbing a coffee in one of the four frequented espresso shops within a 200 foot walk of the building. As a landscape architect, park planner, community organizer, and advocate for knowing your neighbors I think it would be amazing to formalize a community space on the roof of City Hall that could be open to the public (even seasonally)."
Hutchinson: "We do not currently have plans to create a community space on the roof at City Hall (a privately owned building). The Administration did support the creation of a 5th Ave rooftop deck by the Anchorage Community Development Authority this past summer and hopes that space will see increased usage next summer."
One person who lived in Anchorage for 35 years said Anchorage had turned into an "unfriendly, penal city."
"How about we just get back to talking to each other first."