To address some of the unique safety issues presented by the smartphone age, the city of Augsburg, Germany, has embedded traffic lights in sidewalks in two of the city’s rail stations to warn people who text and walk about oncoming trains. When the street is safe to cross, the traffic lights flash green, and when a train is approaching, the lights flash red to get the attention of pedestrians. Some observers question how much technology and public funding should be devoted to accommodating risky behavior.
To address the needs and problems of the homeless that police encounter on their shifts, Seattle recently began embedding social workers with law enforcement as they walk their beat. The social workers, who are employed by nonprofits, might approach those persons needing assistance and provide small services, such as dry socks and snacks, as well as work to connect them to resources or facilitate other interventions. At the same time, officers are generally very familiar with the area they patrol and persons they regularly encounter, and can provide the needed security and authority for services to be administered. Officials believe that the approach can serve as a model for other cities.
San Francisco has become the first US city to guarantee all new parents fully paid parental leave for a new child. Under the legislation, employers with 20 or more employees must provide fathers and mothers with a minimum of six weeks of leave. Elsewhere, New York is phasing in paid family leave for private sector workers by 2021, and California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island provide partial paid parental leave. Critics assert that the measure could harm businesses and employment.
With input from policymakers, government officials, and the general public, the MIT Media Lab has created Data USA, an online visualization engine of federal government data. The website takes huge compilations of available, but difficult to parse, public data and transforms them into accessible graphics and charts for a wider audience. The site, developed in partnership with Deloitte and Datawheel, is free, and its open source software code will allow other developers to build custom applications.
Several Cambridge, Massachusetts, public elementary schools have partnered with the nonprofit Food for Free to target family hunger by opening markets offering fresh dairy and produce inside the schools. Unlike a typical food pantry where people sometimes wait in a line or enter through a back door, the markets are located where parents already come and is open to all families to reduce any stigma. A pilot effort to send home frozen meals launched at one of the schools in December.
The San Francisco suburb of Richmond is employing several radical methods to reduce violence in its neighborhoods. The city has hired ex-convicts to mentor its most violent offenders, and does not require the mentors to always share what they learn about possible criminal conduct with law enforcement. Trips have been funded for rival gang members to other countries in an effort to foster shared experiences that will reduce tensions. And the program involves a life-improvement fellowship component that pays participants a monthly stipend if they are actively engaged. City leaders credit the program with decreasing Richmond’s homicide rate. Despite the policy and practical challenges of the program, more than a dozen cities are studying how to replicate the program.