There’s something to be said for taking something terrible and turning it into something less terrible — along the lines of a sour cliche. Now, it seems, a local idea to soften the edges of bone-rattling, rim-bending potholes is catching.

On Monday, officials in Providence, Rhode Island, launched a pothole hunt wherein residents can report road hazards using a municipal app. Flagging potholes in need of repair will gain someone in the “PVD” entry into a drawing for prizes such as a gift card or tickets to local attractions.

All a resident of that city must do is report the pothole, sinkhole or failed effort to patch over utility work via local 3-1-1 or an app called “PVD311.” The pothole hunt is a “fun way to engage residents in building a better Providence,” a city official told the Providence Journal. Fun or not, it’s certainly bumpy.

A snipe hunt for potholes probably sounds familiar to people in Haverhill, where Mayor James Fiorentini has been known to build in incentives for calling in hazards. Last month he relaunched the city’s Pothole Contest, wherein entrants call 3-1-1 about so-called “roadway mines,” as Fiorentini refers to them, in exchange for entry into a drawing for a $25 gift card to Dunkin Donuts or another local business.

The freeze and thaw of an indecisive winter caused asphalt to crack, break and crumble more so than usual, the mayor noted. With Haverhill’s 228 centerline miles of road, the opportunities for holes to open up are many. In fact, in the first quarter of the year, the city had logged 300 requests to fill potholes and had seen to 250 of them.

The search for potholes — which can be a serious business, especially where highways are cratered and pose a risk to cars traveling at high speed — is nothing new. Neither are technological advances like iPhone and Android apps allowing people to report them quickly and efficiently.

The latest trend are the financial incentives.

Who knows why it takes a gift card for a coffee or Coolatta to motivate a citizen to call the city’s attention to a road hazard? Maybe it’s about appealing to younger generations with their dual need for instant gratification and to make a game of everything. Doing one’s civic duty is boring. Playing the “Pothole Contest” is fun.

Or maybe it’s that people have always needed a little prompting to do the right thing. Crime fighters have often relied on the power of a fat reward to make the telephones ring with leads and tips.

Is it too much to expect citizens to take pothole reporting into their own hands? It shouldn’t take gimmickry or the lure of awards to make that happen. Picking up litter, cleaning your yard and calling public works about potholes are just basic functions of neighborhood life.

That said, there’s no reason city and town halls can’t have a little fun with this tedious ritual of spring. Doing so is not a new idea, either

The Baltimore Sun recently dusted off a story from its archives about how the city, in the early ’80s, encouraged residents to “adopt a pothole” for Valentine’s Day. Donations ranging from $2 to $100 would not only get a pothole in one’s neighborhood filled, city crews would draw Valentines next to the finished product and name it in honor of someone.

Pretty easy to assess why that didn’t last. Few gestures say “I love you” like painting your sweetheart’s name on a city street adjacent to a patched, adopted pothole. It has all the romance of a brand new toaster.

Then again, if any of these ideas serve to protect our tires, rims and suspensions, maybe that’s a good thing.


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