Ohio has become the first state to ban the use of plywood to board up vacant and abandoned houses. Plywood affixed to windows and doors is synonymous with urban blight and often attracts vandalism, is vulnerable to break-ins, and obstructs visibility for first responders. As an alternative, boarding panels made of a clear polycarbonate will be used to improve aesthetics and help prevent vandalism. Fannie Mae, the federal government-sponsored mortgage association, has been using the clear polycarbonate on windows and doors for several years.
Illinois has established the Illinois Blockchain Initiative, a public-private, multiagency working group aimed at investigating the potential of blockchain technology in the state and removing barriers for the government to build with blockchain. Blockchain technology uses high security cryptographic protocols within a shared, decentralized ledger that keeps a record of each transaction across a fully distributed or peer-to-peer network. The transparency of the system can counteract the manipulation of records, which can help to deliver more efficient, integrated, and trusted state services.
Beijing is creating an environmental police force to tackle the city’s long-standing smog problem. The police will look for local sources of air pollution, including open-air barbecues, garbage incineration, biomass burning, and dusty roads, and will enforce existing regulations aimed at controlling pollutant dispersal. The city will also work to phase out high-polluting older vehicles, close some dirty factories, and upgrade others to meet higher emission standards.
On the heels of a long-term practice from Finland, New Jersey has become the first state to offer a universal baby box program to help prevent premature infant deaths from causes such as unsafe sleep environments. The state’s Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board has partnered with the Baby Box Company to provide a safe sleeping cardboard box with mini mattress to newborns for the first few months of their lives. The boxes are filled with essentials like diapers, clothing, and baby wipes and are provided to parents who register online, review a curriculum on newborn care and safety, and take a short quiz to measure comprehension. Officials expect to distribute about 105,000 boxes to families statewide in 2017.
The French village of Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy has opened what appears to be the world’s first solar road. The one-kilometer section of road is inlaid with 2,800 square meters of electricity-generating panels, and will be piloted to see if it can generate enough energy to power the village's streetlamps. Critics observe that the high cost to construct the road may not be worth the benefits gained, especially as northern France has limited sunshine.