As inconvenience and an inability to get to the polls are often reasons why low voter turnout occurs, Boise, Idaho, is looking to bring the ballot where the voters are by unveiling a mobile polling place, akin to a food truck. In the weeks leading up to the presidential election, the mobile voting unit will travel to large business offices to allow employees to come out during lunch or on a break, get a ballot, stand in a pop-up cardboard voting booth, and cast their vote. Tallying equipment and security will be inside the mobile unit. The unit will also be deployed as a stand-in if there is an unexpected problem at a polling location on election day. Officials hope to expand the use of “voting trucks” and inspire other cities.
Oslo, Norway, is using a new app that crowdsources observations about traffic and road conditions from young people walking to school to effect change. With the app, children and others become “secret agents” for the city, snapping pictures and documenting what they see from their vantage points to be dangerous intersections, poor roads, and other hazards, and allowing them to suggest better walking routes. Locations where information is recorded are tracked by GPS so officials can see exactly where the issue is, and improvements and other interventions have already been made in response to feedback from the app. Part of the goal of the app is to help more people cycle, walk, or use public transit, as well as to allay parents’ concerns when their children walk to school.
A growing number of states, including Alabama and Minnesota, are bringing in doulas to assist pregnant inmates through their pregnancy, attending to their physical and emotional well-being before, during, and after giving birth. Giving birth in prison can be a traumatic experience, as many inmates are under restraint during delivery and then must give up their babies shortly after they are born. Successful models have helped lead to higher rates of healthy pregnancies and healthy babies, as well as lead to policy changes that assist women during this time. At least ten other states have contacted Minnesota to study their approach and possibly implement something similar.
Over the past year, Albuquerque, New Mexico, has created a program designed to both curb panhandling and give those in need the chance to earn money. Under “There’s a Better Way,” the city hires panhandlers for day jobs beautifying the city. Several days a week, a van is dispatched around the city to pick up those panhandlers (about ten per day) interested in working for $9 an hour plus lunch. Overnight shelter services are provided as needed at the end of the shift. The city estimates that it has not only provided over 900 jobs clearing tens of thousands of pounds of litter and weeds, but that the program has connected people to permanent employment as well as other services. Other cities have reached out to Albuquerque officials to learn more about the program.
New York City’s Bryant Park is the latest entity to take advantage of the big data wave to learn about its visitors to attract potential sponsors. The park has partnered with a data analytics firm to gather anonymized data from visitors' mobile phones that can inform the park about where the person is visiting from and the stores and services they are likely to frequent. Armed with this information, Bryant Park can solicit sponsors for film nights or morning yoga. Bryant Park was the first publicly owned park in the nation to become privately managed, and continues to operate as a collaboration between the city of New York, the New York Public Library, real estate owners, corporations, and philanthropists who have worked to restore, maintain, and operate the park. It was recognized as a Bright Idea in 2011 by the Innovations in American Government Awards. London’s Hyde Park also has collected data to inform park management.
Commuters in France can take some musical time out of their busy lives to play pianos installed in various railway stations. A subsidiary of SNCF, the French transit operator, has installed pianos in over 100 railway stations in recent years, allowing passers-by to sit and play, and those walking or sitting nearby to listen to some free live music. The pianos are rented from Yamaha, who maintains and tunes them. None of the pianos have been vandalized or even damaged yet.