Residents in Orem, Utah who are interested in learning more about their city and how it is run can now participate in periodic online social media conversations with representatives from city departments. Under “Chat With a Bureaucrat,” residents who have difficulty attending city council or other meetings, or want to learn more about their government, can engage in real time with city officials from select departments, starting with water and sewer systems and planning. Down the road, department representatives from building permits/inspections, finance, parks, recreation, economic development, or the library may log on. The chats are being scheduled during the weekday lunch hour so the maximum number of people can attend. In a further move to increase transparency, the city also recently started streaming its city council meetings on YouTube.
Boston’s Housing Innovation Lab, launched last fall, will pilot four new programs to help create and sustain middle-income housing in the city. With funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the city will (1) test a density bonus policy that would relax height restrictions to increase the number of affordable units, (2) approve more “innovation units” that have lower square-foot minimums than are currently mandated by the city, (3) create a home-buying portal that helps new home-buyers choose neighborhoods, loans, and types of government assistance, and (4) aid the proliferation of community land trusts, nonprofits formed to take over parcels of land to create beneficial uses. The success of the pilots will determine whether they will be expanded to other neighborhoods.
As San Francisco’s population mushrooms and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (“BART”) system is getting more crowded, transportation officials are exploring “fun and games” to entice people to take off-peak trains. Under the federally funded six-month pilot called “BART Perks,” which will start this spring, passengers who shift their commuter trips away from busy periods will receive points that can be redeemed for small cash payments or the chance to play games like spin-the-wheel or Snakes and Ladders for a chance at cash prizes of up to $100. Officials note that if only 1,250 people can be persuaded to commute just a little earlier or later, crowding on trains and station platforms can be significantly reduced. The pilot is based on successful programs operating in Singapore and Bangalore, India.
The Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) has partnered with the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security to ensure eligible offenders released from prison have a valid state identification card or driver's license. Over 90 percent of the state’s inmates are released back into the community, and lacking proper identification can be a barrier, as newly released prisoners look for a job and a place to live, leading to recidivism. The TDOC will install driver’s license issuance equipment in its facilities and will process ID applications and renewals as eligible offenders near release. Officials note that aside from helping offenders, this intervention benefits society by both reducing tax burdens for housing returning inmates and increasing public safety in general.
Israel is becoming the first country to integrate video calling into its emergency response call system. Many such systems only take voice calls and are not able to determine locations or witness the scene of events, leading to slower responses, miscommunication, and wasted resources. Under the new nationwide platform, victims or bystanders can use an app on their phone to communicate by video with emergency services, allowing first responders to see live video of the victim, chat via text, and determine the exact location of the incident. The system is downloaded via an app created by a startup. If successful, it could be replicated among other emergency services systems worldwide.