Ready or not, driverless cars are coming, and Bloomberg Philanthropies in partnership with 10 cities is working to ensure that all are prepared for what will be an urban planning reformation. Austin, Los Angeles, Nashville, Buenos Aires, and Paris will serve as the first five participants in conversations to forge policy recommendations concerning how cities maintain their roads, tackle pedestrian safety, train their workers, plan their use of land, and even address economic mobility as vehicle automation becomes a part of city life.
Portugal has unveiled the first national participatory budget. This January, citizens can submit ideas for what the government should spend its money on in the areas of science, culture, agriculture, and lifelong learning, and citizens will then vote on which ideas to adopt. Events will also be held for people to present their ideas. Among the potential voting places being explored are ATM machines, which are within reach of even the most rural and low-income areas. Organizers note that participatory budgets can help people feel they have a stake in their society, increasing citizen engagement, as well as building trust between people and democratic institutions.
New York City has taken a step beyond the traditional suicide-prevention hotline by unveiling a citywide hotline to provide support for issues related to mental illness, reachable 24/7, and online, by phone, or through text. It estimated that one in five New Yorkers have mental health issues. NYC Well, part of a broader initiative to destigmatize mental illness, seeks to intervene structurally in issues facing New Yorkers to aid them before a crisis develops, and will also include follow-up services, short-term counseling, and peer-support counseling.
The federal government recently unveiled Code.gov, an online hub of open-source code for federal agencies and the public to utilize to everyone’s shared benefit. Reflecting a new policy that requires 20 percent of the federal government’s software projects to be open source, the repository launched with open-source code from 50 projects across more than 10 agencies. Officials hope that state and local governments will also use the federal code to create and deliver services, and when implementing policy.
The NYC Parks Department has released its “tree census” of the city, which helps both officials and citizens understand the health and distribution of urban trees. With the help of thousands of volunteers, the department surveyed street trees across all five boroughs, taking photos and recording information on species, bark health, trunk width, ecological value, and GPS coordinates. This data has been compiled and placed on a publicly available interactive map. It is hoped that residents will learn about their nearby trees and will be encouraged to maintain their small part of the urban forest canopy.