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The Future of 311 Could Be Weird

Non-emergency city service hotlines are celebrating their 20th anniversary, and eyeing immersive new possibilities.
Street furniture, scourge of L.A. and frequent generator of 311 calls.
Street furniture, scourge of L.A. and frequent generator of 311 calls.Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Joel Epstein describes his personal journey from normal person to self-proclaimed “discarded furniture vigilante” thusly: As an ex-New Yorker in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, he dwells in one of the Southern California metropolis’s more illegal-dumping-intensive areas. “We have lots of renters. The result is, at the end of the month, we’re plagued with street furniture. The junkmen come through and pick out the good stuff, and the rest gets left there.”

To beat back the tide of abandoned couches, Epstein, a communications strategist and frequent Huffington Post contributor who often writes about urban issues, became an avid user of the city’s 311 non-emergency service request call center, which allows him to summon city trash trucks.