As I did last year, I went through several of my favorite sites and curated what I consider to be the best writing on urban issues from 2015. One thing I love about planning, and that drew me to the profession in the first place, is that it encompasses many skills and areas of interest. I think that diversity is reflected in this year’s list. Caveat emptor: I use the term planning loosely.
Mayor Curtatone and I recently returned from the Smart Cities Expo in Barcelona Spain, where we unveiled a new partnership between the City of Somerville and the car manufacturer Audi. We will be testing how autonomous vehicles work in an actual urban environment.
Driverless cars predominating city streets is in the realm of what Steven Johnson calls the “adjacent possible.” Uber just made headlines by purchasing a large chunk of Carnegie Melon’s robotics department.
Somerville, MA has been fighting a war against rats for months, and now we have the data to show that it’s working: reported sightings have dropped 66% year-to-date; some of that is due to weather patterns and random fluctuation, but a Bayesian model of the data estimates that the City’s policies have reduced calls by 40%.
Three years ago, the city where I work was dealing with an onslaught of rats.
Here’s a problem governments are faced with every day: you have a limited amount of resources to maintain aging infrastructure, in this case streets. Do you spend more on crack sealing and preventive maintenance, or full depth reclamation? Which streets should you fix first?
I am not an engineer (in fact, part of the reason I am writing this post is to get feedback from engineers); but I have thought a lot about this, and I think I have a decent method for prioritizing roadway repairs that anyone could implement using the open-source program R.
When I first started as an analyst in local government, I wasted a lot of time repeating tasks that had been done dozens of times before in Excel. SomerStat, the office where I worked and later became director, is one of the oldest local government divisions dedicated to crunching data. Inspired by the CitiStat model, which itself was inspired by CompStat, the idea was to use data to improve efficiency. And yet here I was, with fairly inefficient work routines that included pulling data into spreadsheets, munging one step at a time, and then repeating it all for the next ‘stat’ meeting.
For my job, I read a lot of articles on urban policy and planning. I believe that the best policies are usually borrowed from other cities rather than fabricated from nothing. In that spirit, I even borrowed from other top ten lists to create this post. I like to think that my list is more comprehensive than some of the others since I have no incentive to link to my own content.