As you move throughout your city everyday, taking buses or trains, consider that commute as a person with mobility impairments. Cities, particularly old ones, pose significant challenges to those in wheelchairs. Google has now added accessible routes to its Google Maps. Currently in six cities, users now have the option of selecting accessible routes through the public transportation directions. This thoughtful innovation will make our cities more friendly to all its residents.
This may have happened to you: you're late and you decide to take a risk and go through that yellow to red light, and then you get a ticket in the mail. Now, imagine that was for jaywalking. Shenzhen, China is using facial recognition technology to catch jaywalkers in the act. They're teaming up with social media platforms and mobile carriers to immediately text citations to offenders. Innovative? Absolutely. A little creepy? Yes. Maybe we should draw the line at red light cameras.
311 apps and sites are popping up in many cities across the country. They've proved useful for the delivery of city services and keeping city halls available to residents. A few cities are working on the next generation of 311. Boston is crowdsourcing more familiar and relevant terms and tags to feed a predictive model and sort through issues more efficiently. Atlanta is introducing a chatbot to their website. This will help residents navigate city services no matter what time of the day. In San Antonio, they're playing games. The city is gamifying their 311 by introducing badges that residents can earn by entering information.
Known for its canals and bridges, Copenhagen faces unique challenges as water levels rise across the planet. How are city planners preparing for this? With a very creative approach to landscape architecture. An outdoor park has been built with sunken tennis courts, which are designed to be reservoirs for heavy rainfall. Ultimately, planners are combining climate resiliency with urban upgrades that retain Copenhagen's cultural uniqueness.
Sierra Leone skipped a step. In their recent presidential election, Sierra Leonians benefited from the transparency of blockchain. Votes were cast through the Swiss company, Agora, which was approved by the Sierra Leone election commission, and then recorded in permissioned blockchain. This revolutionary and successful use of blockchain provided much-needed transparency. Vote totals are viewable by everyone, which increases trust. Next time you’re talking about elections with your friends, impress them with blockchain voting.
Let's have a little fun. We're moving to Wakanda. There's been so much written on Black Panther and its impact on our society. This article from CityLab is different, it goes full-on urban nerd. Without the fictional element vibranium we'll never have the fantastical technology of the movie, but what can we use for inspiration in the real world? Sure, Black Panther is fiction, but high-speed public transportation doesn't have to be. Can a future city without cars adopt the latest technology without losing its culture and spirit?
We're facing uncertainty when it comes to federal leadership. Washington has become beset by gridlock and regression. Enter mayors. They've stepped up to make sure their cities aren't left behind. Mayors have a lot of autonomy when it comes to solving their cities' most pressing problems. Moving from challenge to challenge, they don't always have the time to think far out. At the Civic I/O Summit at South by Southwest, mayors came together from across the country to stretch their thinking. They were challenged to look at their cities far in the future. Are drones ubiquitous, are autonomous cars the way of the road? If mayors and city councils can spend a little time thinking of the future and building for that future, they can ensure future residents will live in a prosperous city.
Streaming music in the park, reading the news while lunching in the local square, surfing the internet while waiting in line at city hall. These are all smartphone activities that are putting a strain on our cell data usage. Wouldn't it be great if we could use Wi-Fi to do all this all the time? Wouldn't it be great to take a trip to another country and not have to worry about roaming? WiFi4EU is a voucher system set up my the European Union. Its goal is to eventually connect all of Europe to Wi-Fi. Municipalities can sign up for a €15,000 voucher to offset the costs of installing public Wi-Fi. Imagine an entirely connected continent. Imagine what we could do in the US when cities work together to deliver this basic service.
For coastal cities, climate change is a very real and existential danger. Out of Virginia comes an innovative tool to predict flooding. It's called StormSense. It uses a series of multiple sensors across multiple municipalities to upload data on wind speed and water levels. The key to making this work lies in local governments working together to get these sensors installed and then to share their data. Virginia Beach is going even further by connecting the data to Amazon Alexa. A text alert system is next on the agenda. Perfecting this technology could have enormous benefits for not only residents, but for cities' emergency preparedness and resiliency.
The opioid epidemic is ravaging communities nationwide. It's hard to ease the epidemic; to know precisely how to fight it in the most compassionate way possible. But fight it we must. And this fight can no longer be reactionary; spending more and more dollars on naloxone and the tracking of overdoses after they happen. Enter Biobot. This startup is approaching the epidemic in a very different way. Specifically, they're screening wastewater by testing, ahem, urine. They collect and analyze urine every two weeks and determine which areas show higher signs of abuse. The screening will also help to measure abuse before and after new opioid legislation to help lawmakers know what is and isn't working. The startup is already working in Cambridge, MA and will soon expand to Cary, NC.
Children who grow up in low income households start off with a word gap of 30 million fewer words. They walk into kindergarten at a significant disadvantage, already behind their peers in high and medium income homes. The negative impact of this lack of readiness is a nearly insurmountable hurdle. The 0-3 years are the most important years for brain development. Providence Talks developed a tool that helps parents measure the words their children are hearing. Monthly check-ins provide tips to parents on how to increase their children's exposure to vocabulary. From the site, "Providence Talks proposes to do something never before attempted at the municipal level: to intervene at a critically early age, from birth to age four, to close the 30 million word gap at a city-wide scale and ensure that every child in Providence enters a kindergarten classroom ready to achieve at extraordinary levels."
In 2014, Barcelona won Bloomberg's European Mayor's Challenge. Their problem was an elderly population who felt lonely and isolated. As we learn more about the option of aging in place, it's important to make sure we're not letting seniors in our communities feel forgotten. Barcelona's solution is called Vincles. The simple-to-use digital platform creates a customized network of adult children, family, friends, and care providers. From health checks to grocery store runs, this platform is making sure seniors continue to be cared for in a faster-paced world. It's easy to feel lost in big cities, especially for those with mobility challenges. Vincles shows us a smart and repeatable solution.
This emerging technology is still hard to understand for many. But, make no mistake, it will change how our local governments operate. Dictionary.com most succinctly defines blockchain as "a digital ledger in which transactions made in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency are recorded chronologically and publicly." The real strength of blockchain is its decentralized system. This makes it incredibly hard to hack and is seen as massively more secure than traditional banks. Before blockchain emerges more prominently, Tennessee is taking steps to accommodate its use. The state's General Assembly is giving electronic signatures through the platform the same legal standing as physical signatures. Tennessee joins a growing list of states who are legitimizing blockchain value to local governments.
Across the country, many community leaders, elected officials, and invested residents are struggling to effectively fight the opioid epidemic. This crisis is multi-faceted, emotional, and far too widespread. Traditional ways of fighting it aren't working. Now cities are looking toward other countries for ideas. One idea is the safe injection site. These sites include sterile injection equipment and trained staff. If an overdose occurs, staff are immediately present to administer the overdose reversing drug naloxone. Many have bristled at this idea. Is providing a safe place to inject illegal substances one step too far? Not according to studies coming out of Canada, Europe, and Australia. According to Vox's linked article, the data shows "drops in drug overdoses, related emergency care calls, risky behaviors that lead to HIV or hepatitis C transmissions, and general public disorder and nuisance associated with drugs." This epidemic has damaged a staggering amount of communities and affected the lives of valuable people. Safe injection sites are a radical idea, but one that is humane and sympathetic.
In episode 24 of his Boston-based podcast, City Councilor Matt O'Malley sits down with his former boss at MassEquality, Marc Solomon. Marc breaks down the recent history of marriage equality in the US and the pivotal steps taken in Massachusetts. Those steps included micro-targeting of state legislators and personal lobbying efforts. Marc gives a look behind the curtain and reveals how he helped Massachusetts become the first state with marriage equality. Marc's book "Winning Marriage" delves deeper into marriage equality efforts.