What could be more romantic for Valentine’s Day than to take your date on a tour of the local wastewater plant? That’s how the New York City Department of Environmental Protection promotes its highly successful tours, now in their fifth year (1). In 2015, three Sunday tours of 100 people each were booked. Participants took home a commemorative card and lapel pin.(2)
During the tour, participants got a quick course on how the city treats its wastewater before they are taken around the plant. It all takes about 90 minutes. The event has developed a bit of a cult following and reservations for a spot fill up rapidly. The website tells people what to expect and – importantly – what to wear.(3)
The result of each tour is dozens of media articles, hundreds of tweets and Facebook posts, a couple of YouTube videos (4), all free publicity for the municipal water services. Plus, it creates a growing public appreciation of municipal water treatment and its infrastructure, which can only help recruitment.
Public understanding of utility services is at best sketchy. After all, most of the infrastructure is hidden below ground or behind walls. There’s a disconnect between what comes from the tap and how it gets to it, safely and cleanly. That can be changed.
A tour is an opportunity to open the doors and let people see what their tax dollars are spent on. And they get to put faces to the process, meeting the workers and seeing their environment, which helps them connect to the service better than any charts or numbers will.