#WeBuiltThisCity: Rappin’ About Your #2

Posted on April 16, 2015

Rap video shares importance of San Francisco’s sewer system 

You’ve seen the John Oliver video, you’ve watched the 60 Minutes feature, and you know our infrastructure is failing. ELGL is launching #WeBuiltThisCity to highlight our perspective of the infrastructure woes facing our country. We will highlight the complexities involved in fixing our infrastructure through a series of webinars and articles, and we will showcase creative strategies being used to highlight infrastructure needs.

We start by highlighting a recent sewer rap video dropped by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s (SFPUC). Juliet Ellis, Assistant General Manager for External Affairs at SFPUC, takes us behind the making of the video. This video has us envisioning a day that Drake and Jay Z are rapping about trails, water pipes, and potholes.

Lightning Round


What I Am Watching:  Game of Thrones

What I Am Reading:  Yes Please. By Amy Poehler

What I Want From ELGL: More of the same

What I Wish Local Government Did Better: Move faster

What I Am Afraid Of:



What I Wish I Was Doing (Instead of Completing This Questionnaire): Off this airplane on land

What I Consider As My Career Accomplishments: Adoption of environmental justice and community benefits policies at SFPUC.

What I Am Listening To:



What I Wish Would Go Away: California drought

What I Think of Professional Associations: Haven’t given much thought to them

What I Wished You Asked Me:  What I am most excited about?

The Interview

download (1)
Describe the process for creating the video. 
The process for creating the video happened organically. We are always looking for ways to reach San Francisco audiences that are young, new to the city, renters and increasingly rely on alternative mediums for information. Our surveys and focus groups show relatively low levels of awareness about the City’s sewer system and what happens to water that flows down consumer pipes and storm drains, or what challenges the system faces.
sewerrapAt a staff development session, Leamon Abrams, a communications consultant on the Sewer System Improvement Program (SSIP) led a team-building exercise using a song he wrote “Where Does Wastewater Go?” Participants really got into the song as a way to talk about their work, and that led to him thinking of the song as a way to connect more and diverse stakeholders to the SSIP.  Building on the success of the Voice of the Sewer Campaign (which used expressions such as “nobody deals with more crap than I do”) Sheena Johnson, a SFPUC Analyst, suggested the SSIP interns use the song as a basis for their summer capstone projects and to also create a video.
A critical element was involving the interns (high school and college) and our agency personnel.  The interns deserve full credit for translating our technical jargon into language and phrases they understand and use.  In addition, every organization is full of people who have passions –runners, gardeners, cooks, and some even sing.  The “sewer girls” are engineers, customer service managers and communications specialists who also happen to sing and perform; they contributed lyrics and enthusiastically volunteered their talents in the project.
Did it take much convincing for people to buy into the idea of a rap video?
Not at all, the SFPUC management constantly pushes for creative approaches; the communications department is very receptive.  Management is genuinely interested in hearing from diverse opinions and trying alternative means to engage those who do not normally attend public meetings.  We did have to convince a few senior executives that they would not be allowed to rap in the video.
What resources were involved in creating the video?
Screen-Shot-2015-04-09-at-9.37.53-AM-e1428599460199The song was written by SFPUC SSIP interns and performed by agency staff (who volunteered most of their time). The video was directed by a local non-profit organization that trains youth for jobs in the digital technology industry called BAYCAT. The partnership with BAYCAT allowed them to produce the video at a discount for a public agency at about $6000 for production.  There was also a small amount of staff time that went into providing access to the plant (as we do for many media inquiries).
What feedback have you received?
showimageThe feedback has been overwhelmingly positive; we have received over 10,000 views in the first weeks. The video received tons of media mentions from local and national news channels. We also received a tremendous amount of positive feedback on social media.

  • Great video… who knew the sewers could be cool 🙂
  • A shout out to BAYCAT (filmmaking academy for youth 11-18) for collaborating with the SFPUC on the making of this cool video. Such professional work by these young filmmakers from the community where the water treatment plant resides.
  • I watched this and loved it. It’s whimsical and informative. . .nicely done we love to see this kind of use of art and youth to tell community stories and share information.
  • I loved this so much I just watched it for the fourth time.
  • This is fantastic!. . . . .going way above and beyond in terms of advocacy and creating a positive image and appeal for something that is very hard to communicate with the general public.
  • Great Rap Video about our job!!!!!

What should people takeaway from the video?download (2)
Lyric: silent as a period ending a sentence; just as important…every time you do the dishes, flush, shower, rinse brush ya teeth I bet you’re using it…
Takeaway: The SF Sewers work 24/7/365 to protect people and wildlife.
Lyric: there a problem, its aging, it’s just too old, It belongs in an old folks home….
Takeaway: Our sewer system is old, the Southeast Treatment Plant needs upgrading.
Lyric: The City is gonna answer the call (True) 2022 we’ll be out with the old and in with the new….Southeast will be a hit for you.
Takeaway: Working with the neighborhood, the Sewer System Improvement Program is underway and will benefit the community.
Did you come across other local governments taking a unique approach to communicating with citizens?
King County produced a video called “Flushing Awesome!

We were also inspired by the Oregon Dental Association “Get Brushy.”

How will you measure whether the effort was successful?
In the short-term we want to build awareness and involvement by stakeholders in our projects and activities.  The long-term goal is to educate, change behaviors (e.g. about fat, oils and grease and other items not being put down drains) and build watershed stewards.

  • Raise Awareness. Increase awareness of the Sewer System Improvement Program measured by increase traffic to SSIP website, music downloads, social media traffic, and print media mentions.
  • Involvement. Increase sign-ups for SFPUC activities, such as treatment plant tours, green infrastructure bike rides, environmental reviews & public meetings, etc. We also want community interest and participation in our workforce development and local business enterprise initiatives.

There were a number of cameos in the video, including Ronnie Lott. If you could add a couple of more stars to the video, who would you invite?
We wanted the video to portray the broad spectrum of San Francisco personalities and its diverse neighborhoods; perhaps a member from the World Champion SF Giants!
What’s next? 
First we want to integrate the video into our on-going outreach.  Secondly, we will continue to look for ways to involve our diverse stakeholder base; we have a concept about educating the public about the three P’s (pee-pee, toilet paper and poop) and being responsible about what to not flush down a toilet.

Supplemental Reading

Watch San Francisco’s Catchy Sewer Rap Video

SFPUC releases rap video about San Francisco’s sewer

SFPUC and BAYCAT Team Up on Music Video

SF Sewers Rap Video: You Can’t Live a Day Without Me

Close window