Public Meetings Thwart Housing Reform Where It Is Needed Most

Interview with Katherine Levine Einstein by Jake Blumgart: “Public engagement can have downsides. Neighborhood participation in the housing permitting process makes existing political inequalities worse, limits housing supply and contributes to the affordability crisis….

In 2019, Katherine Levine Einstein and her co-authors at Boston University produced the first in-depth study of this dynamic, Neighborhood Defenders, providing a unique insight into how hyper-local democracy can produce warped land-use outcomes. Governing talked with her about the politics of delay, what kind of regulations hamper growth and when community meetings can still be an effective means of public feedback.

Governing: What could be wrong with a neighborhood meeting? Isn’t this democracy in its purest form? 

Katherine Levine Einstein: In this book, rather than look at things in their ideal form, we actually evaluated how they are working on the ground. We bring data to the question of whether neighborhood meetings are really providing community voice. One of the reasons that we think of them as this important cornerstone of American democracy is because they are supposedly providing us perspectives that are not widely heard, really amplifying the voices of neighborhood residents.

What we’re able to do in the book is to really bring home the idea that the people who are showing up are not actually representative of their broader communities and they are unrepresentative in really important ways. They’re much more likely to be opposed to new housing, and they’re demographically privileged on a number of dimensions….

What we find happens in practice is that even in less privileged places, these neighborhood meetings are actually amplifying more privileged voices. We study a variety of more disadvantaged places and what the dynamics of these meetings look like. The principles that hold in more affluent communities still play out in these less privileged places. You still hear from voices that are overwhelmingly opposed to new housing. The voices that are heard are much more likely to be homeowners, white and older…(More)”.

Befriending Trees to Lower a City’s Temperature

Peter Wilson at the New York Times: “New York, Denver, Shanghai, Ottawa and Los Angeles have all unveiled Million Tree Initiatives aimed at greatly increasing their urban forests because of the ability of trees to reduce city temperatures, absorb carbon dioxide and soak up excess rainfall.

Central Melbourne, on the other hand, lacks those cities’ financial firepower and is planning to plant a little more than 3,000 trees a year over the next decade. Yet it has gained the interest of other cities by using its extensive data to shore up the community engagement and political commitment required to sustain the decades-long work of building urban forests.

A small municipality covering just 14.5 square miles in the center of the greater Melbourne metropolitan area — which sprawls for 3,860 square miles and houses 5.2 million people in 31 municipalities — the city of Melbourne introduced its online map in 2013.

Called the Urban Forest Visual, the map displayed each of the 80,000 trees in its parks and streets, and showed each tree’s age, species and health. It also gave each tree its own email address so that people could help to monitor them and alert council workers to any specific problems.

That is when the magic happened.

City officials were surprised to see the trees receiving thousands of love letters. They ranged from jaunty greetings — “good luck with the photosynthesis” — to love poems and emotional tributes about how much joy the trees brought to people’s lives….(More)”.

Urban Creativity Now

Playbook by Urban Change Academy: “The coronavirus pandemic has changed city life almost beyond recognition. Many people are struggling with loss, financial insecurity, and loneliness. At the same time, the crisis has made many things possible that were previously unthinkable or difficult to imagine – parks became open-air fitness studios, car parks turned into playgrounds, exhibition halls changed into hospital wards. Bicycles have been given more space on the streets in many cities, retailers and restaurateurs have become more creative and found new ways to serve their customers despite shop closures.

Many of these things have come about spontaneously, without any underlying strategies or development plans. they demonstrate a creativity we have not seen that we have not seen in cities for a long time. As the Urban Change Academy, we were wondering: what can cities learn from these projects? This playbook reflects that approach.

Urban Creativity Now is a collection of impulses, observations, and perspectives on the Covid pandemic and how it is changing our cities. In three parts, we explore the question of how cities and citizens are dealing with this crisis and what options for action arise from it…(More)”.

Cities4Cities: new matchmaking platform launched to support Ukrainian local and regional authorities

Council of Europe: “A new matchmaking online platform, Cities4Cities, developed to help Ukrainian cities was launched in Strasbourg today. The platform is a free online exchange tool; it allows local authorities in Ukraine and in the rest of Europe to share their needs and offers related to local infrastructure and get in direct contact to receive practical help.

The platform was launched at the initiative of Bernd Vöhringer (Germany, EPP/CCE), President of the Chamber of Local Authorities of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and Mayor of the city of Sindelfingen, with the support of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.

Bernd Vöhringer explained that the need for co-ordination of support action coming from the local level became very clear to him after the visit in the end of March to the Polish twin city of Sindelfingen, Chełm, situated near the Ukrainian border where he saw first-hand the “urgent need for material, financial and human resources support”. “The platform will be a place to match the demands/needs of Ukrainian cities with the capacity, know-how and supply of other European cities,” he noted, “It will enable faster and more efficient support to our Ukrainian friends and partners”.

Secretary General of the Congress, Andreas Kiefer, said that the Congress “welcomes the efforts of local and regional authorities of the member States of the Council of Europe and their associations in support for their Ukrainian counterparts and citizens”, and the Cities4Cities initiative is an example of such result-oriented solidarity action at the local level. “In the recently adopted Declaration the Congress stressed that democracy, multilevel governance and human rights are stronger than war, and reiterated its firm stand by Ukraine and its people”, Kiefer concluded.

Ambassador Borys Tarasyuk, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the Council of Europe, stressed that the initiative will serve well the purpose of providing practical assistance to the most vulnerable, amidst the immense human tragedy and challenges, and will complement the political support and solidarity expressed by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and the Council of Europe as a whole…(More)”.

Data Literacy for the Public Sector: Lessons from Early Pioneers in the U.S.

Paper by Nick Hart, Adita Karkera, and Valerie Logan: “Advances in the access, collection, management, analysis, and use of data across public sector organizations substantially contributed to steady improvements in services, efficiency of operations, and effectiveness of government programs. The experience of citizens, beneficiaries, managers, and data experts is also evolving as data becomes pervasive and more seamlessly integrated within decision-making processes. In order for agencies to effectively engage in the ever-changing data landscape, organizational data literacy capacity and program models can help ensure individuals across the workforce can read, write, and communicate with data in the context of their role.

Data and analytics are no longer “just” for specialists, such as data engineers and data scientists; rather, data literacy is now increasingly recognized as a core workforce competency. Fortunately, in the United States several pioneers have emerged in strategically advancing data literacy programs and activities at the organizational level, providing benefits to individuals in the public sector workforce. Pioneering programs are those that recognize data literacy as more than training. They view data literacy as a holistic set of activities program to engage employees at all levels with data, develop employees with relevant skills, and enable scale of data literacy by augmenting employees’ skills with guided learning support and resources.

Agencies should begin by crafting the case for change. As is common with any emerging field, varying definitions and interpretations of “data literacy” are prevalent, which can affect program design. Being explicit in what problems are being solved for, as well as the needs and drivers to be addressed with a data literacy program or capacity, are vital to mitigate false starts…(More)”.

Citizen science air quality project in Brussels reveals disparity in pollution levels

Article by Smart Cities World: “A citizen science air quality project in Brussels has revealed a striking disparity in air pollution levels across the city.

It shows socio-economically vulnerable neighbourhoods more likely to suffer from poor air quality. The dataset also shows air quality in the city has improved, but there is still a major health impact.

Between 25 September and 23 October 2021, 3,000 citizens participated in CurieuzenAir, the largest ever citizen science project on air quality in the Belgium capital…

The project is an initiative of the University of Antwerp, urban movement BRAL and Université libre de Bruxelles, in close cooperation with Brussels Environnement, De Standaard, Le Soir and Bruzz. This programme is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Brussels Clean Air Partnership.

For one month, citizen scientists mapped the concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a key indicator of air pollution caused by traffic – in their streets via measuring tubes on the facades of their homes.

The project resulted in a unique dataset showing the impact of road traffic on air quality in Brussels in great detail. Results range from ‘excellent’ to “extremely poor” air quality across Brussels, with a stark contrast in air quality between socio-economically vulnerable neighbourhoods and green, well-off ones.

An interactive dot map shows how the air quality differs greatly from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, and even from street to street. From blue dots (0-15 µg m-3; “very good”) to a number of jet-black dots (>50 µg m-3; “extremely bad”), the CurieuzenAir dataset makes it clear that these differences are explained by emissions from Brussels traffic….

Alain Maron, Brussels minister for climate transition, environment, social affairs and health, said: “CurieuzenAir is a great example of the importance of citizen science. Thanks to all the citizens that took part in the project, we collected unprecedented results on air pollution in Brussels, which help us to better understand the problem in our city.

“While we see that the situation is slowly improving, the concentrations measured still remain unacceptable, and call for urgent, in-depth action. We need to make sure that everyone in the city, wherever they live and whatever they earn, get to breathe a clean and healthy air.”…(More)”.

A Behavioural Theory of Economic Development: The Uneven Evolution of Cities and Regions

Book by Robert Huggins and Piers Thompson: “Innovation, entrepreneurship, knowledge, and human capital are widely acknowledged as key levers of development. Yet what are the sources of these factors, and why do they differ in their endowment across regions? Motivated by a belief that theories of economic development can move beyond the generally accepted explanations of location and the organization of industries and capital, this book establishes a behavioural theory of economic development illustrating that differences in human behaviour across cities and regions are a significant deep-rooted cause of uneven development.

Fusing a range of concepts relating to culture, psychology, human agency, institutions, and power, it proposes that the long-term differentials in economic development between cities and regions, both within and across nations, is strongly connected to the underlying forms of behaviour enacted by humans on an individual and collective basis. Given a world of finite and limited resources, coupled with a rapidly growing population — especially in cities and urban regions — human behaviour, and the expectations and preferences upon which it is based, are central to understanding how notions of development may change in coming years. This book provides a novel theory of the role of psychocultural context and human behavioural and institutional frameworks in uneven economic development on a global scale….(More)”.

The Use of Artificial Intelligence as a Strategy to Analyse Urban Informality

Article by Agustina Iñiguez: “Within the Latin American and Caribbean region, it has been recorded that at least 25% of the population lives in informal settlements. Given that their expansion is one of the major problems afflicting these cities, a project is presented, supported by the IDB, which proposes how new technologies are capable of contributing to the identification and detection of these areas in order to intervene in them and help reduce urban informality.

Informal settlements, also known as slums, shantytowns, camps or favelas, depending on the country in question, are uncontrolled settlements on land where, in many cases, the conditions for a dignified life are not in place. Through self-built dwellings, these sites are generally the result of the continuous growth of the housing deficit.

For decades, the possibility of collecting information about the Earth’s surface through satellite imagery has been contributing to the analysis and production of increasingly accurate and useful maps for urban planning. In this way, not only the growth of cities can be seen, but also the speed at which they are growing and the characteristics of their buildings.

Advances in artificial intelligence facilitate the processing of a large amount of information. When a satellite or aerial image is taken of a neighbourhood where a municipal team has previously demarcated informal areas, the image is processed by an algorithm that will identify the characteristic visual patterns of the area observed from space. The algorithm will then identify other areas with similar characteristics in other images, automatically recognising the districts where informality predominates. It is worth noting that while satellites are able to report both where and how informal settlements are growing, specialised equipment and processing infrastructure are also required…(More)”

Toward A Periodic Table of Open Data in Cities

Essay by Andrew Zahuranec, Adrienne Schmoeker, Hannah Chafetz and Stefaan G Verhulst: “In 2016, The GovLab studied the impact of open data in countries around the world. Through a series of case studies examining the value of open data across sectors, regions, and types of impact, we developed a framework for understanding the factors and variables that enable or complicate the success of open data initiatives. We called this framework the Periodic Table of Open Impact Factors.

Over the years, this tool has attracted substantial interest from data practitioners around the world. However, given the countless developments since 2016, we knew it needed to be updated and made relevant to our current work on urban innovation and the Third Wave of Open Data.

Last month, the Open Data Policy Lab held a collaborative discussion with our City Incubator participants and Council of Mentors. In a workshop setting with structured brainstorming sessions, we introduced the periodic table to participants and asked how this framework could be applied to city governments. We knew that city government often have fewer resources than other levels of government yet benefit from a potentially stronger connection to constituents being served. How might this Periodic Table of Open Data Elements be different at a city government level? We gathered participant and mentor feedback and worked to revise the table.

Today, to celebrate NYC Open Data Week 2022, the celebration of open data in New York, we are happy to release this refined model with a distinctive focus on developing open data strategies within cities. The Open Data Policy Lab is happy to present the Periodic Table of Open Data in Cities.

The Periodic Table of Open Data in Cities

Separated into five categories — Problem and Demand Definition, Capacity and Culture, Governance and Standards, Partnerships, and Risks and Ethical Pitfalls — this table provides a summary of some of the major issues that open data practitioners can think about as they develop strategies for release and use of open data in the communities they serve. We sought to specifically incorporate the needs of city incubators (as determined by our workshop), but the table can be relevant to a variety of stakeholders.

While descriptions for each of these elements are included below, the Periodic Table of Open Data Elements in Cities is an iterative framework and new elements will be perennially added or adjusted in accordance with emerging practices…(More)”.

User-Centric Services Repository

Repository by UserCentriCities: “…Including world-class innovative services such as Rotterdam’s Digitale Balie, a digital counter for public-service delivery through video calling; Madrid’s Madrid Te Acompaña, a mobile application for the elderly to find accompanying volunteers; Tallinn’s AvaLinn mobile application where citizens give feedback on city development plans; Milano Partecipa, Milan’s citizen participation platform, the User-Centric Services Repository will serve as a place for inspiration, knowledge-exchange and for highlighting genuinely user-centric digital services in Europe….(More)”.