Public libraries are transforming into indispensable tools for the manufacturing age. They are investing in machines like 3-D printers, laser cutters, and milling machines, that can help make anyone with a library card become an inventor or creator. Applications range from the sophisticated, such as surgeons using the library’s printer to create a 3-D replica of a patient’s skull, to entrepreneurial, such as for those who need a cheap prototype of their first product to get their fledgling business off the ground. Libraries are also creating and expanding “makerspaces,” where people can go to access resources and exchange ideas in order to create and invent. Support for these changes is coming from public, private, and foundation support.
In January 2016, the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands will conduct a social experiment by paying welfare recipients a “basic income” stipend without the usual restrictions, in addition to any government assistance people already receive. The idea behind the plan is to see if those who receive public money would actually be inclined not to work or whether the supplemental assistance works in tandem with traditional income sources to lead to better outcomes. Under the plan, in partnership with the University of Utrecht, around 300 residents may be eligible, and 50 would continue to receive disbursements even if they obtain employment that fully covers their costs. Other control groups will also be established for comparison purposes.
To help building owners visualize how green building infrastructure can become a useful modification that pays back, the Philadelphia Water Department has created Credits Explorer, an app that lets users virtually modify their properties with green storm-water infrastructure. These modifications, which users can mix and match on the app, include green roofs, rain gardens, permeable pavement, underground basins, and other tools such as plants, soil, and stone that absorb storm water. The app then calculates how much property owners will save on their current storm water utility fees through credits. The city currently spends $110 million per year managing storm water, which is underwritten by a storm water fee to businesses.
To avoid the chore of changing signs to reflect coming events or restrictions based on different hours of the day, the Australian city of Sydney has adopted e-ink-equipped parking signs. Around 100 of the signs, which use a similar type of low-power display as an e-book reader, have been installed in the city; they are hitched to a solar panel, equipped with wireless broadband, and updated remotely. Supporters note that the signs can ultimately save money by avoiding the need to install temporary signage.
To both encourage thinking about college at an early age and to jumpstart saving for it, Vermont will set aside $250 for post-secondary education for every child born to Vermont residents, or $500 for children born into families earning less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level. While Vermont has top high school graduate rates, college rates are low. About 6,000 children are born in Vermont each year, and every child through the law would receive an account with an initial deposit of money. The Vermont program is modeled after a similar program in Maine.