From handing families $50 to start college savings plans to creating open platforms for citizen participation, here are the best examples of innovation worth spreading that are coming from local government.
While Washington, D.C. continues to fight with itself, cities around the country are carrying on innovating. We’ve said it before: If you want to feel good–or at least better–about government, look to the metro areas, not the capital. Washington is only likely to depress you.
The Center for an Urban Future, a New York think tank, and NYU Wagner, a public policy school, have identified “proven and scalable reforms that can improve, and possibly transform, the city.” Their Innovation and the City report, based on interviews with 200 policy experts, is framed as a document for New York’s next mayor, who will be elected this November. But in reality, the 15 ideas apply to many cities, and perhaps a few towns as well. Below, a selection of 10 of the ideas.
Chicago and Boston have created open platforms that let citizens report issues, which are then tracked by local governments. For example, you can go to Chicago’s 311 Service Tracker (Boston’s equivalent is called Citizen’s Connect), and report graffiti or a fallen tree limb. You can then see that the relevant department has received the request, and get notified when something is (or isn’t) done about it. The openness is important (you can see anyone’s complaint), as it enables residents to work together, and for third-party developers to re-use the information.
San Francisco has a “Kindergarten to College” program aimed at incentivizing young people to go to college (not that this is the silver bullet it used to be). Every kid in public kindergarten gets $50 in seed money, and then private groups match deposits as families add to the account. The report says the idea not only improves college affordability, but also gives the “under-banked” access to financial services.
LOANS FOR IDEAS
Chicago has a “modern-day suggestion box” for city employees. If anyone in the bureaucracy has an idea for improving a public service, they can write up a short proposal for seed money. The city stipulates only that the proposal pays for itself in five years (funding is dropped if it doesn’t) and does not involve adding staff to the payroll.
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