Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fast Cities

Fast Company publishes a list of the fast cities every year and this year’s group fulfills their ongoing benchmark for innovation.

Though Sacramento didn’t make the list, two California cities did—San Francisco and Oakland—and San Francisco’s idea is Open Source Government.

An excerpt.

“It's a good thing Gavin Newsom checks his Twitter feed during meetings. Otherwise, San Francisco's mayor would've missed a life-changing missive about ... potholes? "It really made me wonder," he says. "What if we used social media to make our city services work better?" That stray tweet led to the city's first-of-its-kind Twitter account (@SF311), which encourages residents to send queries and messages about nonemergency issues. But it also underscores the city's open-source stance on government. Just as Google, Facebook, and Twitter released their programming interfaces to app makers, San Francisco opened its arsenal of public information -- train times, crime stats, health-code scores -- to software developers. "There's a tremendous amount of tech talent here," Newsom says. "We'd be fools not to leverage it." To date, more than 140 data sets have been liberated, spawning roughly 30 smartphone apps, such as Crimespotting (browse interactive city-crime maps), Routesy (see real-time train schedules), and EcoFinder (locate the nearest recycling spots).”

This is the type of idea, using technology to help governance, that we called for in our 2005 research report: The American River Parkway Lower Reach Area: A Corroded Crown Jewel; Restoring the Luster, where we noted:

“b) Public Safety Hotline and Website with Follow Up Responses: A place where the public can call and/or email the location of illegal camping sites and other illegal activities and there is a follow-up response to the report.

“The ongoing statistics from the ranger crime reports should be placed here as well as recent report of crime and descriptions of suspected criminals.

“Right now there are several members of the public from the Lower Reach who call in locations of campgrounds and crimes, but the follow up is sporadic and not publicly accessible. Something as simple and cheap as a Parkway Public Safety Website would be a start.

“The point is to allow the community to help, as they have shown a willingness to do so.” (p. 40)