Innovation News October 2012

CIVIC ACCELERATORS
Local governments of all sizes are assessing the benefits of applying technology to their operations. Support for civic start ups, through hackathons and app challenges, e.g. SeeClickFix, are spawning “civic accelerators” whose innovations lead to a wide range of local government improvements and benefits.

GREAT PLACES
The American Planning Association (APA) has a program that assesses and selects places of exemplary character, quality and planning, with locations being selected annually. Learn more about the Great Places in America choices for 2012.

CHICAGO’S USE OF BIG DATA
Chicago’s new Chief Information Officer (CIO), Brett Goldstein, is bringing his experience in overseeing the city Police Department’s Predictive Analytics Group to bear on a broader range of city services and programs. Priorities include assessing patterns resulting from 311 calls and renewing the city’s technology infrastructure.

VANCOUVER UNVEILS TRANSPORTATION PLAN
The City of Vancouver has released an aggressive transportation plan that foresees two thirds of all trips taken within the city by transit, cycling or walking by 2040. View the report to learn more about the proposed strategies.

POPULATION-WEIGHTED DENSITY
The traditional measure of population density, dividing population by area, can diminish core areas densities in a metropolitan area with large more sparsely populated hinterlands. A suggested method to overcome this problem is population-weighted density which calculates the local density and averages it over all residents within a municipal boundary.

CITIES AS DATA FACTORIES
The Economist has recently published an article that assesses the impacts of greater electronic connectivity in cities, the relationship intensity aspect of modern economies that requires more contact and the production of vast amounts of data by connected devices that are concentrated in cities. These developments are yielding both large projects and individual apps to improve urban life.

VANCOUVER ONLINE SURVEY PLATFORM
Metro Vancouver has developed a new app, called “Place-Speak ” that is designed to connect people with local issues. The platform links a citizen’s identity with a residential address to provide a broad perspective on how people in a specific area view a given issue. The app will also enable online dialogue between citizens and local government.

CHICAGO’S PLANNED MANUFACTURING DISTRICTS
Chicago’s Planned Manufacturing Districts (PMDs)  ensure that industry does not face undue competition from residential uses. Consequently, industrial companies are more likely to invest in their existing operations and to expand. The PMDs also provide for financing options such as Tax Increment Financing and infrastructure spending to support industry and greater access to industrial areas.

HARNESSING PRIVATE SECTOR GROWTH IN THE UK
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has released a new report, “The UK’s growth landscape - Harnessing private- sector potential across the country ,” highlighting the opportunities to stimulate private sector growth in the UK. The report focuses on more effective local government, more strategic decision making, key infrastructure projects, specific business incentives and greater understanding of business demographic and local labour markets.

HOW TECHNOLOGY CAN ENHANCE PUBLIC SAFETY
Interfacing, crowdsourcing, broadcasting and mapping/analysis are all examples of public safety information strategies enabled by greater connectivity. These new technologies capitalize on the knowledge of citizens to assist city officials in combatting crime and also enable the provision of the most current public safety information for communities.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

HOW MUCH LAND SHOULD CITIES DEVOTE TO URBAN FARMING?
As farms of 20 acres and larger begin to appear in urban areas, questions are being raised about whether bigger is really better. San Diego’s 140 acre Suzie’s Farm, Albuquerque’s 40 acre Skarsgard Farms, the Hantz Farms 200 acres tree farm in Detroit and the San Francisco conversion of the former Navy base to an urban agricultural park, all reflect the broad appeal of urban agriculture. Read about some perspectives on food system urban uses and more traditional urban development.

THE LEGACY OF NEW YORK’S HIGH LINE PARK
New York’s High Line park drew some 3.7 million visitors in 2011 and has generated $2 billion in private investment which is expected to yield $900 million in new tax revenue through the next 20 years. Learn more about some other examples of realizing the potential of forgotten urban spaces.

THE GREENING OF WESTERN CANADIAN CITES
Cities in western Canada are undertaking a range of projects to reduce their carbon footprints and improve health and sustainability. A recent report by the Canada West Foundation outlines innovative green projects from Winnipeg to Victoria.

CHICAGO’S SMOG EATING STREET
The Chicago Department of Transportation has transformed a two-mile stretch of a street in an industrial section of the city by replacing the pavement with a new surface that actually cleans the road while removing pollution from the surrounding air. The photocatalytic cement removes nitrogen oxide gases from the air through a reaction driven by UV light.

LESSONS FROM NEW YORK’S BRYANT PARK
The multi-year redevelopment of New York City’s Bryant Park has been a major success in attracting people and is recognized as a key amenity for the local office market. With the park improvements and the removal of the drug trade, prostitution and overflowing trash cans, local office rents have increased and better building tenants have been attracted. The Bryant Park project and similar ones in other major centres demonstrate the value of public space as the focus of urban revitalization.


OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

TAX REFORM AND TRANSIT ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT
While transit infrastructure can spur economic growth and improve housing markets, property values often increase as a result, pricing some residents out the local housing market. These people may be forced to locate outside the city in areas without access to transit. Local jurisdictions in Pennsylvania are lowering property tax on building values and raising the property tax on land values to lower construction costs d making buildings more affordable.

SACRAMENTO RAILYARDS BROWNFIELD REDEVEOPMENT
The City of Sacramento has undertaken one of the country’s largest brownfield redevelopment projects, which will transform a 244 acre site into a new train and bus station, new homes, retail development, parks, a public market and a rail technology museum. Learn more about this downtown redevelopment project.

PEDESTRIAN FRIENDLY CITIES
While walking is the best way to appreciate and experience the sights and amenities of a city, this mode of transportation can be challenging given the lack of accessibility and traffic in many urban centres. Take a tour of some leading urban areas for walking.

OPEN DATA TOOLS
Learn more about some open data tools that relate to creating, publishing and using open data. The description of tools also has information on their advantages and disadvantages to inform the selection of the appropriate technology.

USING TECHNOLOGY TO COMBAT CRIME
Predictive analysis has been used in academia and in the banking industry since the 1980s to assist in statistical analysis. IBM was one of the first companies to apply software to law enforcement and is now working with ten cities in the U.S. and UK to apply its technology to reduce serious crime. The approach involves using aggregate data to identify trends and to search for hot spots, as a basis for more efficient deployment of resources to secure arrests or deter criminal activity.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

BOSTON’S CODMAN SQUARE REDEVELOPMENT
The non-profit, community-based Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation has been active on its own and in partnership with other community groups to secure a more sustainable future. Developments include a new rail transit station providing increased access to jobs and downtown Boston, LEED-based vacant lot renewal, community gardens and increased park space. Future projects include conversion of an abandoned school site to affordable rental accommodation and redevelopment of commercial strips.

U.S. CITIES INCREASE FEES
A recent Atlantic Cities article suggests that some U.S. local governments are following the lead of the airline industry in trying to balance their budgets. While airlines charge “bag fees” as extras, some municipalities are starting to charge residents for services, such as $300/hour fees for firefighters’ time, in addition to property taxes and other revenues.

STRATFORD’S “SMART CITY” QUEST
In a recent video, City of Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson outlines approaches that the city has pursued to expand Stratford, Ontario from a recognized cultural centre to one of the most innovative and intelligent communities in the world.

BENEFITS OF VERTICAL FARMING
Industry advocates claim that vertical farming has potential environmental benefits, including slowing climate change, through improved ecosystem function, carbon emission reduction and reduction in the use of pesticides. While the jury may still be out on the viability of vertical farming as a business model, Sweden’s Plantagon project offers insight into the nature of vertical farming.

INSOURCING CITY EXPENSES
The City of Austin recently completed an analysis of the costs to bring hundreds of municipal workers in-house. The study, which was conducted to revisit the rationale for using contractors instead of full-time employees, found that the costs “insourcing” were staggering.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

NEW VANCOUVER APPROACH TO PROVIDING SOCIAL HOUSING
Vancouver is proceeding with a condominium project that will require a private developer to build and turn over a percentage of the project apartments to the city for low cost rental accommodation. The Wall Financial development on former industrial land, is expected to lead to similar projects where the city provides increased density to achieve social housing units.

BUILDING BETTER PARKING GARAGES
While the City if Miami is recognized for its progressive parking design, where structures are viewed as opportunities for both mixed uses and attractive design, there are other examples  of creative designs that are integrated successfully into surrounding neighbourhoods.

HOW FORM-BASED CODES WORK
A question often asked is,” Why use form-based codes, rather than traditional zoning?” These codes reflect a variety of more flexible design approaches focusing specific community or neighbourhod needs and ideas. Take a visual tour of some form-based code developments and learn more about how they work.

THE FUTURE OF 27 CITIES CENTRAL TO THE WORLD ECONOMY
The Cities of Opportunity 2012 report is the fifth iteration of the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the Partnership of New York City examination of social and economic performance in the world’s leading cities. The report also looks forward to the shape of economies to come.

REDEVELOPING DENVER’S OLD AIRPORT
In 1990, the Stapleton Development Foundation was established to partner with the City of Denver to produce the Green Book , a framework that has guided the redevelopment of the city’s 4700 acre former airport site. Stapleton, now ten years old, is a mixed-use community of homes, restaurants, commercial and industrial space, where every home is within a ten minute walk from open space.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS COLORADO STUDY LOOKS AT TRANSIT’S “FINAL MILE” PROBLEM
Broomfield, Colorado transit advocates have undertaken a study to examine the “first and final mile” phenomenon that has perplexed transit advocates through the years. The problem relates to how to get people from their home or workplace to the bus stop and back, the “first and final mile.” The study is focused on the U.S. 36 highway corridor and is being led by a Denver-based planning and engineering consultancy and is expected to be completed by the end of 2012.

“OPEN URBANISM” AND SUSTAINABLE CITIES
IBM Executive Architect, Rick Robinson, who specializes in emerging technologies and Smarter Cities, contends that transparency or “Open Urbanism,” is required to enable citizens to make sustainable choices, that collectively, improve the way cities operate. Learn more about his perspectives on “Open Thinking, Open Data, Open Systems and Open Markets.”

IMPROVING CITIES THROUGH PUBLIC SPACE
The Project for Public Spaces (PPS) recently released a handbook, “Placemaking and the Future of Cities,” that serves as a best practices guide to the improvement of community economic, environmental and social health, through successful public space. The document sets out 10 principles  which are key to vibrant, safe and attractive public space.

NEW APP ASSISTS COMMUNITIES TO DO THEIR OWN PLANNING
Three Code For America  fellows have developed an app that provides expert tools to communities to enable them to control, analyze and visualize their own data. The free digital toolkit called LocalData, provides for both data surveying and analysis through a user-friendly interface. TOP SEVEN WEBSITES FOR CREATING THE FUTURE CITY Explore seven websites that can provide for the collection of data and knowledge from city residents at various geographic scales, to lead to smarter, future cities.

ASSESSING SUBURBAN CHANGE
Lee Epstein, attorney and land use planner, has written an article for the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) outlining his perspectives on sustainable cities and neighbourhoods, in the context of the lifestyle preferences of city dwellers and suburban residents. While suburbs are changing, in light of the movement of the millennial generation away from the suburbs and the evolution of “edge cities,” that are neither city nor suburb, Epstein suggests some considerations for local governments in managing these changes.

WHY GERMANS RIDE MASS TRANSIT
While automobile use in Germany and North America is similar, transit use varies significantly. Recent research reported in the journal, Transport Reviews, concludes that Germans are five times more likely to travel by mass transit. Learn more about some of the reasons for this difference.

SHOULD CITIES PRIVATIZE WATER SERVICES?
To manage fiscal challenges, a number of U.S. local governments are reconsidering their roles in in funding water operations and infrastructure upgrades and are now assessing the benefits of using private companies to run water services. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article presenting the views of two policy experts on this issue.

THE RISE OF MEGACITIES
Latest UN estimates predict that by 2025, the projected growth of the developing world will be accommodated in 29 of the world’s megacities. Learn more about the challenges and opportunities that this growth presents for these cities.

LOS ANGELES UTILITY APPROVES “REVENUE DECOUPLING” REFORM
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) approved a proposal that doubles the utility’s energy efficiency incentives, to move closer to parity with investor-owned facilities and that establishes a new revenue decoupling mechanism to ensure that the LADWP’s financial health no longer relies on increased electricity sales. If consumption decreases, rates will adjust to prevent a shortfall in non-fuel costs.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS MINNESOTA CITES ADDRESS CROSSWALK DANGER
To counter the rising number of pedestrian deaths, Minnesota cities are exploring new, high tech ways to keep cars and pedestrians from colliding in crosswalks. Cities are melting asphalt and brightly coloured plastic in distinct markings stamped into the pavement, installing countdown timers and embedding blinking lights in street pavement to catch drivers’ attention.

EUROPE 2020
Europe 2020 is the European Union’s (EU) ten year growth strategy, developed to create the conditions for smarter, more sustainable and inclusive growth. The strategy sets key targets related to employment, education, research and innovation, social inclusion and poverty reduction and climate and energy. These targets are supported by “flagship initiatives” developed by the EU and national authorities.

SMART GRIDS AND SUSTAINABILITY
In a recent paper, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) assesses the benefits of grid modernization and the role of smart grid technologies in assisting in a transition to sustainable energy. “The Promise of the Smart Grid: Goals, Policies and Measurement Must Support Sustainability Benefits,” suggests that while smart grid technologies provide a platform for potential benefits, greater attention to program design and implementation is required to realize those benefits.

“FINANCING GREEN URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE”
Local governments have responsibilities for infrastructure renewal and expansion as a key way to meet the goals of greener and more sustainable cities. While there is a range of municipal financial instruments available for infrastructure renewal, a recent OECD publication, “Financing Green Urban Infrastructure,” argues for a mobilization of the private sector to fill funding gaps.

IMPACTS OF ZONING REFORM
Reform of municipal zoning by-laws is often viewed as a very political and divisive process given that it affects residential property values, investments of developers and the responsibilities of elected officials.  Working with these separate interests requires clear communications and simplification of technical language.  Learn more  about some tools to convey specific impacts of zoning reform.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

VANCOUVER PILOTS “THIN STREETS” PROJECT
Vancouver’s Affordable Housing Task Force is proposing “thinner streets”and greater density in a report to City Council.  The report argues that cutting wide, low traffic residential streets into “thin streets,” can increase neighbourhood accessibility.  The concept will be piloted in specific city neighbourhoods, in addition to more laneway housing and increased density along transit corridors.

EDMONTON ENVIRONMENTAL PLAN WINS PROVINCIAL AWARD
The City of Edmonton environmental strategic plan, “The Way We Green,” has earned the Minister of Municipal Affairs’ Award for Municipal Excellence in the Outstanding Achievement category.  The strategic plan guides decision making in areas of environmental policy and implementation and sets priorities for city air, energy and climate change, food, land, waste and water. 

THE TOP TEN TRENDS IN GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS
While the advent of social media has heightened the importance of government communications and expectations of delivery of real-time information to citizens, there are other trends that are impacting government communications.  Learn more about these trends in the GovLoop “State of Government Communications Report.”

ENERGY RETROFITS IN INNER CITY NEIGHBOURHOODS 
The Boston Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) has established a green building retrofit program focusing on the city’s affordable housing stock. The initiative has been undertaken with eleven neighbourhood non-profit community development corporations and to date, over 2,000 apartments have been retrofitted, with an average of 19 percent savings in energy costs.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

 

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