10 innovative policies that NYC should consider

The partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill has killed any real progress and innovation on a national level. In its absence, cities have emerged as the testing ground for real governmental change. Those innovations aren’t always met with showers of approval but they inevitably change the way we live. If you have any doubts, think back to Bloomberg’s controversial 2003 ban on smoking in restaurants and bars in New York. Ten years later, the policy has been adopted by more than 500 cities.

With Bloomberg’s departure imminent, the Center for An Urban Future compiled a list of the most innovative policies across the U.S. (and London) that New York and other cities should adopt. We sifted through for the best ones below:


1. A Loan Fund For Innovation — Chicago

It’s a common adage from city employees, that they could make everything work better if the people in charge only listened. Chicago created a “modern-day suggestion box” by developing a $20 million loan fun to support promising innovations. Ideas can be just about anything so long as they pay for themselves, improve services, and don’t lead to the hiring of more staff. One winning idea; a new program that provides cash rewards to citizens reporting illegal tobacco sales. It’s expected to pay for itself through increased cigarette tax revenue.

2. A Public Kindergarten-to-College Savings Program — San Francisco

Launched in 2010, the “Kindergarten to College” program is a public-private partnership that gives every city public school kindergartner a college savings account with a “seed” deposit of $50. Funds raised by community partners match family deposits dollar-for-dollar up to $100 and an additional $100 is added for those who enroll in monthly automatic deposits. In an age when college tuition is out of control, San Francisco is making an effort to help families plan and save for their kids.

3. A 311 Overhaul — Boston, Chicago

Calling 311 has long been the key for getting non-emergency services in a city. Many cities have migrated 311 services to Internet and mobile to provide more information about service requests, such as noise complaints, pothole repair, disease control, and other services. Chicago and Boston have taken the lead by providing a wealth of 311 open data that allows programmers to create innovative apps that keep citizens up-to-date and help city workers provide faster, better service.

4. An Academy for Training City Employees and Developing Innovation — Denver

When Mayor Michael Hancock took office in 2011, he wanted to bring a culture of innovation. To do that, he found that he needed that culture to take root at the bottom, not the top. He developed Peak Academy which provides classes to city employees to improve skills and teach new systems, fosters collaboration across agencies, and develops new innovations of its own. Ideas that have already come out of Academy will save the city $10 million annually.

5. A Zero Waste Recycling Program — San Francisco

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In 2002, the Bay Area passed the Zero Waste Goal, an ambitious initiative to achieve 75% landfill diversion by 2010 and zero waste by 2020. Using a series of policy initiatives across fields as diverse as product packaging,  construction, and disposal, the city has risen its recycling rate to 77%. Paper reduction, mandatory compostable food service-ware and packaging, and internal green initiatives have changed the way that San Francisco runs.

6. Crowdsourcing For Public Works — London

U.K. Crowdsourcing startup Spacehive is a funding platform built specifically for public works projects. Through close relationships with local governments in UK, Spacehive allows any organization or individual to propose a new project or use for a public space and raise the funds to create it. Spacehive includes all the nuances of city planning and funding in its platform and has even developed partnerships where city governments match community contributions dollar-for-dollar.

7. An Immigrant Export Initiative — Los Angeles, Chicago

Immigrants create a disproportionate share of small businesses in America. Chicago and Los Angeles are capitalizing by starting export initiatives that help immigrant entrepreneurs leverage their language skills and networks in their native countries. The initiatives assist immigrants to create new export ventures by providing them with training, connections, and business knowledge. The initiatives are expected to double citywide exports and boost the local economy.

8. Mandatory Commuter Tax Benefits — San Francisco

In 2009, San Francisco mandated that businesses with more than 20 employees offer their workers tax-free commuter benefits to pay for subway, bus, or commuter rail commutes. The program has been a win for employers, employees, and the government. Workers reduce their monthly expenses, businesses save in payroll taxes because employees deduct income on a pre-tax basis, and the program has no real cost to the city. It’s not only a money saver, but a green initiative. More people on public transit, means less people in cars.

9. A Budget Savings Plan From The Best In The Business — Chicago

Government bloat is notoriously widespread. Chicago made an effort to fix that by bringing in experts whose specialty is making corporations leaner and more efficient. A coalition of major consulting and law firms created a realistic plan for the city that cut $100 million from the budget and added revenue ideas for millions more. And they did it pro-bono. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel implemented the proposals and, in the first 100 days, saved taxpayers $50 million.

10. A City ID Card That Doubles as a Debit Card — Oakland

This past year, Oakland released a new municipal id card that doubles as a debit card. Developed to encourage low-income individuals to enter the “formal economy,” it costs $10-15, and offers transparent rates and fees. The card is meant to help “under-banked” individuals develop good banking practices and steer away from the danger and risk of cash-only finance.