Innovation News June 2012

THE CASE FOR DRIVERLESS TRANSIT SYSTEMS
While European and Asian transit agencies have adopted driverless transit technology, the U.S. and Canada, beyond Vancouver, lack the operation of fully automated train systems. While upgrading to driverless technology requires major upfront investment, the clear advantage is that transit agencies would no longer have to pay drivers.  Money saved can then be redirected to other initiatives to improve transit service.  

USING TECHNOLOGY TO PREDICT CRIME
New technology available to cities is enabling more effective law enforcement and emergency response management to improve public safety.  A focus on the “Three I’s,” i.e. instrumentation (increasing communications devices); interconnection (shifting information from point to point); and intelligence (focusing on analytical capacity) in small, medium and large sized cities, can reduce the level of public safety spending and increase the overall level of public safety to attract investment.

UK COMMISSION ON THE FUTURE OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT
The UK Commission on the Future of Local Government , recently released a report after receiving a variety of public submissions from local councils, commissions, businesses and the voluntary sector.  The central objective of the Commission was to identify how local government can take control of local growth and prosperity and assist in meeting the economic, social, environmental and democratic challenges confronting the UK in the 21st century.
 
HOUSING AFFORDABILITY IN VANCOUVER
As part of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability, 68 submissions have been made to the city’s ideas competition.  These housing ideas will be voted on by city residents, prior to a jury deciding on preferred designs at the end of July.  Designs were submitted by local architects and from others around the world.  The city’s housing plan is likely to include increased residential density, housing diversity and a new city agency to oversee development.

DEFINING MIXED-USE DEVELOPMENT
While mixed-use has been associated with walkable neighbourhoods, many people think that it relates to a shop front on any street or in any context.  While the term mixed-use has had various meanings over the last few decades, it can be categorized as a) vertical mixed-use buildings; b) horizontal mixed-use blocks; or c) mixed-use walkable neighbourhoods.  Learn more about the elements of mixed-use development.

SUPPORTING INFILL DEVELOPMENT
Infill development typically brings change to a neighbourhood, often viewed suspiciously by current residents.  Many communities have developed transferable approaches to encourage support for infill development by increasing understanding of how it will look in a neighbourhood context, by focusing on the quality of the design and by clear statements of the benefits of infill projects. 
   
THE TOP U.S. CITY PARKS SYSTEMS
ParkScore is a rating system based on more than a year’s data from cities and parks departments across the U.S.  The scores are a composite of five factors:  median park size; acreage as a percentage of city area; percentage of residents living within a ten minute walk of a park; park system spending per resident; and the number of playgrounds per 10,000 residents. The best cities were San Francisco and Sacramento of the forty cites that were ranked.

HANTZ FARMS PLAN NEARS REALITY IN DETROIT  
After years of discussion, an agreement is in the works to sell vacant city owned land parcels on Detroit’s east side to the Hantz Farms agricultural project.  The lots totaling about 175 acres could be used to grow and harvest timber.  Hantz Farms would clean up the blighted lots, remove waste, cut the grass and plant hardwood trees for future harvesting. The city’s Detroit Works long term planning team is expected to support such reforestation and urban agricultural projects and other nontraditional uses in  a report to the Mayor later this summer.

LINKING SUSTAINABILITY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
The U.S. National League of Cities has produced a guide that highlights the sustainability efforts that Denver, Boston, Chattanooga, Tenn. and Grand Rapids, Mich. have developed to spur economic growth.  While these cities have all made commitments to integrating sustainability principles into local economic development activities, their approaches are different.   Learn more  about encouraging green business practices, supporting green energy sectors, quality of life strategies and business attraction through sustainability initiatives.

SOUTHEAST FLORIDA COUNTIES DRAFT 50 YEAR DEVELOPMENT PLAN
The South Florida Regional Planning Council, the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council and a range of urban planners, local officials, the public and interest groups are working collectively to achieve Southeast Florida’s multiple regional development goals . The process, currently in its initial phase, will lead to a plan that addresses common issues and provide for growth through the next 50 years.

THE ONTARIO GREEN POLICY HUB
The Ontario Green Policy Hub (OGPH)  is an initiative of the Greater Toronto Area Chapter of the Canada Green Building Council, as the one-stop, searchable on-line resource for sustainability policies for use by Ontario municipalities.  The GTA Chapter of the Canada Green Building Council is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting knowledge and advancement of green building policies, technologies and community design. 

UK CITIES BENEFIT FROM RADICAL POWER SHIFT
The UK Government has agreed to devolve new powers  to the country’s eight largest cities (Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester) to assist in investing in growth, improving labour skills, supporting local businesses, controlling local budgets and improving infrastructure.   In return, the cities have agreed to adopt stronger, more accountable leadership and to spend more efficiently. 

NEW YORK CITY AFFORDABLE HOUSING PLAN
With three years remaining in New York City’s ten year New Marketplace Housing Plan, a new report shows that the plan to create and preserve 165,000 affordable housing units by 2014 remains on target.  While the original objective was to construct the majority of units from scratch, the recession and housing market collapse have led to a new focus on preserving affordable housing units, rather than building new ones.

CHICAGO ASSESSES DOWNTOWN WI-FI PLAN
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has directed city officials to examine the technical and financial impacts of making the entire downtown area wireless.   Under the plan, the city’s traffic and street lights would be turned into smart poles, enabling uninterrupted internet access throughout the city centre.  The initiative is one in a series of innovations taken by the Mayor’s administration to secure Chicago’s future as a global megacity. 

TRENDS IN RENTING URBAN APARTMENTS
Urban renters, who are for the most part Gen Y-ers or Millennials, are looking at renting accommodation as a long term lifestyle choice and not as a temporary step to buying a property.  Learn more  about how developers are responding to this trend.

STRATFORD, ONTARIO RECOGNIZED AS A TOP WORLD CITY
For the second year in a row, the Intelligent Community Forum has recognized Stratford as one of the top seven cities in the world for social and economic development.  The city operates its own network connecting residents, businesses and public services, the University of Waterloo has opened a satellite campus providing business entrepreneurship and technology instruction and the city has established partnerships with Toshiba, Cisco and Research in Motion.

THE “MANHATTANIZATION” OF TORONTO  
recent CBC news story predicts that condo living in central Toronto will soon become the default option for families, as the supply of detached homes dwindles and the remaining housing stock soars in price.  Real estate experts predict that prices for single detached homes and townhomes will increase thirty to fifty per cent in the next decade.  Condominium prices are expected to increase more moderately.  This trend, typical of other large cities such as Hong Kong, Tokyo, London and Paris, will force families wanting to live in central Toronto to contemplate high density living.

NYC PREDICTIVE DATA ANALYTICS SAVES MONEY AND LIVES 
Local governments are facing increased demand for services in the face of decreasing resources and are relying on quality data and analysis to make better informed decisions.  Shifting government resources to match needs, quickly and accurately, can lead to major positive outcomes for citizens.  According to Mike Flowers of the New York City data analytics team, applying predictive data analytics to discover and act on patterns in databases can lead to “preemptive government.” 

U.S. CENTRAL CITIES GROWING FASTER THAN SUBURBS
According to a recent Associated Press (AP) story reviewed by Kaid Benfield, new 2011 census estimates show a marked change from the previous growth pattern of suburban dominance, with the largest cities in the U.S. growing faster than their surrounding suburbs for the first time in a century.  Is this shift temporary, driven by unemployment, or is it the result of recent fundamental central city trends that reflect desires for greater walkability and shorter commutes?

A DESIGN TO SAVE AMERICAN CITIES 
In his new book, “Design after Decline: How America Rebuilds Shrinking Cities”, Professor Brent Ryan, MIT School of Architecture and Planning, calls for reviving troubled metropolises through a combination of improved urban planning and innovative architecture.  Using Detroit and Philadelphia as case studies, Ryan maintains that cities should stop emulating suburbs and pursue bolder, distinctive city projects that demonstrate urban diversity. 

SAN FRANCISCO WEBSITE SUPPORTS STREET IMPROVEMENTS
The City of San Francisco has launched a new website, sponsored by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the city departments, to enable residents to access city resources and programs for neighbourhood scale street improvements.

CITIZENS OFFER PLANNING INPUT VIA 3D MAP     
Gothenburg, Sweden has initiated a new approach to involving local citizens in the planning process using an interactive, photorealistic 3D map that residents can use to submit ideas.  MinStad or “MyCity,” is a localized version of Google Earth where residents can zoom in and around city locations to determine where better services are needed or where development should occur.

VANCOUVER EXPLORES NEW HOUSING AGENCY           
A City of Vancouver task force on affordable housing  has recommended that the city set up a separate agency to negotiate with private developers on projects to build units on discounted city land.  Recommendations also include creating new “transition zones,” geared to different forms of housing and inclusion of more affordable housing options in major projects.

GREEN TECHNOLOGY AND HISTORICAL BUILDINGS
Historical buildings were typically built with attention to climate and locally sourced materials, resulting in environmentally sensitive characteristics as a matter of design.  However, historic buildings rarely have the latest green technology, even though some forms of this technology can improve the environmental profile of older buildings. Learn more about the values and perspectives that often clash when green improvements are viewed in the context of historic preservation standards.
   
“CITY:  A GUIDEBOOK FOR THE URBAN AGE”
A new book, “City:  A Guidebook for the Urban Age,” explores various facets of urbanism and the history of urban elements, their development through time and the cultural shifts they have created, reminiscent of urban historical narrative created by Lewis Mumford in “The City in History.” 

HOW DATA CAN TRANSFORM CITY MANAGEMENT
Improving technology and resulting data is transforming how cites are viewed and managed.  New data is now freely available from government agencies, institutions, telecom networks and social media and this information has spawned new research to compare and contrast urban patterns and to predict new trends.  Learn more   about the implications of new data on how cities can be managed.

REBUILDING CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND
Following a series of earthquakes and aftershocks that began in 2010, the City of Christchurch is tackling headlong, the massive challenge  of rebuilding and replacing and repairing securely damaged infrastructure. The city’s recovery strategy   includes the designation of “green zones” where rebuilding is being assisted and “red  zones” where the government is buying up property from landowners because of the unlikelihood of near term redevelopment. 

TOP 25 GREENEST CITIES IN THE U.S.
Corporate Knights, a publication that promotes “clean capitalism,” examined the 54 largest U.S. cities and their policies and programs, to select the top 25 leaders in urban sustainability.

CITIES SELLING NAMING RIGHTS
Baltimore has joined the ranks of financially struggling cities, transit systems and school districts that are seeking new revenue  from  the sale of advertisements, naming rights and sponsorships . These kinds of marketing schemes, which  have been used by sports teams and arts organizations, offer an approach to increase revenue without increasing fee or tax structures.

ENCOURAGING MIXED-INCOME HOUSING
Mixed-income housing has been increasing in popularity as local governments use creative financing and community outreach to encourage affordable housing for lower income residents alongside more affluent ones.  Local government incentives such as density bonuses, subsidies or grants and tax abatement programs, attract both for-profit and nonprofit developers.

MILAN’S VERTICAL FOREST 
A new kind of urban eco-architecture is under construction in Milan, Italy, as a result of a collaboration among architects, engineers and botanists.  The Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest), residential high rise complex, is a project designed to create a microclimate by producing humidity and oxygen, while protecting residences from solar radiation and acoustical pollution.

CHINA’S PEARL RIVER DELTA REGION
The densely populated Pearl River Delta is home to about one million people and constitutes China’s wealthiest region, with a total GDP of over $800 billion.  Some view the region as the largest city in the world, but the Pearl River Delta region is actually a mega-cluster of a diversity of regulatory districts that are physically linked but act as micro-states with a variety of policies and political systems.

MEASURING COMMUNITY SUSTAINABILITY    
In a recent article, Kaid Benfield  of the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council, explores some new developments in measuring community sustainability and determining effectiveness in moving cities and regions to healthier futures.  While sustainability measurement is a new and evolving field, some community leaders are pioneering approaches that have application more broadly.

ON THE FRONT LINE OF CLIMATE CHANGE
Climate change has the potential to cause major damage and loss of life in urban areas and a variety of local governments have shown leadership in taking decisive local initiatives.  CNN has partnered with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and the Disclosure Project to identify climate change risks in five major global cities and the remedial steps that are being taken.

WEST VANCOUVER POLICE UNVEIL NEW CRIME APP    
The West Vancouver Police Department has unveiled a new crime fighting tool called RAIDS, a free crime-mapping app for mobile devices.  The app warns users of break-ins or thefts in their home or business neighbourhoods and enables users to compare crime trends among different neighbourhoods. Users can sign up for regular neighbourhood watch reports.

MUNICIPAL INCENTIVES FOR BROWNFIELD REDEVELOPMENT        
The Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has released a document, “Municipal Financial Incentives for Brownfield Redevelopment – Trends Among Ontario Municipalities,” to provide information and analysis on the municipal use of planning and financial tools to encourage brownfield redevelopment.

NEW “rethink urban” WEBSITE
A new website “rethink urban” has been launched, featuring news and postings on community engagement, creative urban change and guest posts on a variety of urban issues and perspectives.

MONITORING A CITY’S VITAL SIGNS
According to Robert A. Beauregard, Professor of Urban Planning at Columbia University, even though cities can decline, the actual death of a city is more unlikely than most think.  Declining cities do come back as witnessed by Los Angeles after the early 1990’s, San Francisco and Chicago.  Currently the focus is on Detroit, with its dilapidated theatres, railway stations and other formerly grand buildings.  Learn more  about the signs that a city is in decline.  
  
ALBERTA PARTNERS WITH CALGARY AND EDMONTON ON BIG CITY CHARTER  Calgary
The Government of Alberta and the Cities of Calgary and Edmonton have signed a memorandum of understanding that formalizes the development of a big city charter to help in meeting the challenges of growth.  The memorandum provides for the drafting of a legislative framework to enable the cities to meet future infrastructure needs and demands for urban services and will also provide for a review of the operating and legislative responsibilities of the parties.   

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

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Bruce McLeod
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