The Guardian lists SFpark as one of top 5 city innovations
Five innovative city programmes from north America
From parking sensors to smart waste, these successful projects have a lot to teach other cities
Adam Forman, Guardian Professional
Thursday, September 5, 2013
The world’s cities face similar challenges: an ageing infrastructure, rising healthcare costs, increased congestion and global competition. While this convergence appears daunting, it also provides an opportunity because it means cities can share solutions and learn from each other. Unfortunately, outside a few prominent policies, the vast majority of successful municipal experiments never reach a national or international audience.
To help bridge this gap, the Centre for an Urban Future and New York University Wagner published two reports in August on city innovation. Drawing upon hundreds of interviews with mayors, agency chiefs, policy institutes, corporations, unions and philanthropic foundations, we identified the most inventive urban policies of the past decade. Together, they provide 40 tested and scalable reforms that can improve, and possibly transform, our cities.
The first report, Innovation and the City, features 15 policies tailored specifically (though not exclusively) to New York City’s needs. It was conceived as an agenda for New York’s next mayor. The follow-up report highlights an additional 25 policies that, while not necessarily appropriate for New York, are important enough to merit replication in other cities. It is from this report that I’d like to draw some examples.
1. San Francisco: Sensors under parking spots in the city reduce congestion
The SFpark program uses new technologies to make parking easier and faster. Sensors have been installed beneath parking spots throughout the city. The Department of Transportation computers track open spots and set prices according to availability and turnover.
A mobile phone app is also used to direct drivers to open spots and allows them to refill meters remotely. By expanding payment options, the number of parking citations has markedly decreased. Environmental benefits are also evident. The program reduces circling and double parking, cutting down on the noise, pollution and frustration that accompany traffic congestion.
2. Memphis: Looking at the relationship between the police and people with mental health conditions
Memphis’ Crisis Intervention programme addresses the relationship between police and people with mental health conditions. Crisis intervention teams are responsible for interactions at each stage of the policing process.
Dispatchers are taught how to recognise calls from people with mental health conditions and deploy only those officers who are trained to recognise symptoms. In the three years before the programme was instituted in Memphis, calls from people with mental health issues led to injuries in 35 out of every 100,000 cases.
In the three years after Crisis intervention teams were introduced, the rate dropped to seven injuries for every 100,000 calls. The programme has since been adopted in major cities like Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle and Chicago.
3. Chicago: Mentor programme invites low-income parents to serve as teaching assistants
Chicago’s parent mentor programme invites foreign-born and low-income parents to serve as teaching assistants in elementary school classrooms. Parent mentors receive workforce experience and language training, in addition to a modest regular salary. They also serve as ambassadors to their school district, organising after-school community learning centres that offer adult education, tutoring and childcare.
Today, the programme is featured in 41 Chicago schools with 20 more located throughout Illinois and the United States. Over 2,000 parent mentors have graduated from the programme, with 80% going on to jobs or further education. For these parents, the programme’s rigorous interview process, language and leadership training, work experience, and networking provide a necessary stepping stone to full-time employment and integration into their community.
4. Toronto: Employment scheme helps educated immigrants find jobs
The Toronto regional immigrant employment council assembled a group of local employers, community-based organisations and government officials to help highly educated immigrants find jobs.
Three- to six-month paid internships offer work experience for highly skilled immigrants, while introducing them to mentors and networking opportunities. These foreign professionals will often require additional certification and training in order to practice in their adopted home. Bridge loans help them finance necessary licensing exams and training courses.
5. California: Smart waste collection helps bridge inequality gaps
The Smart Riverside facility in Riverside, California, collects reusable “waste” and converts it into hands-on education tools. Disadvantaged youths are taught how to refurbish computers and all low-income residents receive eight hours of instruction and a refurbished computer with software and a modem.
The programme finances itself, using sales of non-salvageable materials to cover their extensive activities. So far, the Smart Riverside programme has served over 5,000 households.
San Francisco, Memphis, Chicago, Toronto, and Riverside are not anomalies. Cities across the country and around the globe are generating novel solutions to common challenges. Cities must learn from one another’s successes and failures. In an age of ingenuity, we mustn’t forego imitation.
Adam Forman, research associate for New York-based Center for an Urban Future, a NYC-based policy institute, is co-author of Innovation and the City, Part II