How Good Policy Alongside Good Design Improves Lives

subway transit

Tishaura Jones, the first female treasurer of St. Louis, set out to improve her city through good design. Through her own struggles dealing with the city’s bureaucracy she identified many problems with how information is presented, she noted she wasn’t the only one running into bad design. Jones decided to do something about it; the policies were there but nobody knew how to understand them since the information was presented in a Byzantine way. She has led St. Louis to alter how information gets communicated to its citizens.

As treasurer of St. Louis, she used two key design techniques to improve policy delivery and outcomes. First, she reached out to other cities that had prototyped and tested new, human-centered policies. Building on what other cities had learned allowed St. Louis to springboard forward instead of getting stuck reinventing wheels. Second, she brought together policy and processes, applying people-centered design to the rules that governed services and the delivery of them. By building connective tissue between policy, process, and people, Jones was able to built new trust in old institutions to deliver real change impacting residents’ lives.


Justin King, policy director of the family-centered social policy program at New America, where I did research, has spent his career working on issues at the intersection of children’s lives and government policies. “Tishaura and Jose before her are reinventing what’s possible inside government,” he says. “People see the state and municipal government, in a lot of cases, as a predator on them and their communities . . . [Their work] is against the tide. It is really positive and really innovative and really worth talking about.”

Read more.

Urban Living Cheaper, More Sustainable Than Suburban

UrbanVSuburban

Years of car-focused suburban designs have unleashed problems in the 21st century that we will have to deal with and accommodate. The years of the suburbs are coming to an end and it can’t be soon enough. With every passing years more and more municipalities discover that urban design is the better choice.

The above image is composed of data taken from a report done by Halifax in 2005. Undoubtably the costs of supporting suburban households has only increased relative to urban housing.

Recently, the New Climate Economy released a report titled Analysis of Public Policies that Unintentionally Encourage and Subsidize Sprawl and advocates for a change to policies to encourage better urban design.

The report, Analysis of Public Policies that Unintentionally Encourage and Subsidize Sprawl—written for the New Climate Economy by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, in partnership with LSE Cities—details planning and market distortions that foster sprawl, and smart growth policies that can help correct these distortions.

Sprawl increases the distance between homes, businesses, services and jobs, which raises the cost of providing infrastructure and public services by at least 10% and up to 40%. The most sprawled American cities spend an average of $750 on infrastructure per person each year, while the least sprawled cities spend close to $500. In its Better Growth, Better Climate report, the New Climate Economy has found that acting to implement smarter urban growth policies on a global scale could reduce urban infrastructure capital requirements by more than US$3 trillion over the next 15 years.

The New York Times ran an article on urban versus suburban costs back in 2010.

So we set out to do the math, based on an apartment and a house in the New York metropolitan area. Here’s what we found: a suburban lifestyle costs about 18 percent more than living in the city. Even a house in the suburbs with a price tag substantially lower than an urban apartment will, on a monthly basis, often cost more to keep running.

It’s very clear that as we populations grow urban design needs to focus on sustainable infrastructure planning and all of us should encourage it.

More Policies Support Renewable Energy Around the World

More countries than ever before now have policies that support renewable energy production. This is obviously a good thing as we are seeing the impact of climate change (like the recent tornados in Japan). We are now a seeing a global effort to slow climate change via policy over the last couple years with Asian and South American countries enacting polices, previously it was primarily only European nations.

The economic diversity of countries enacting support policies for renewable energy has also greatly expanded. High-income economies accounted for 69 percent of all policy support by mid-2005, but by early 2013 this had declined to 30 percent. The other economic groups each increased their share by more than 10 percent.

“As the renewable energy sector continues to mature, policymakers face a host of new challenges,” said Evan Musolino, trend author. “While the pace of countries adopting new renewable energy support policies has slowed somewhat in recent years, the sector has experienced a flurry of activity centered on revising existing policy mechanisms. Policy changes have been driven by a variety of factors, both positive and negative.”

Rapidly changing market conditions for technologies such as solar photovoltaics, where module costs declined by 80 percent since 2008 and by 20 percent in 2012 alone, have dramatically reduced the level of support needed to make projects attractive to investors and feasible for project developers. Simultaneously, the global economic slowdown left many countries with continuously tight national budgets, which has threatened support for the renewable energy sector. The combination of factors has led to a number of cuts to existing incentive programs.

Read more at Worldwatch.

Evidence for Democracy: A Group Championing Fact-Based Policy

Evidence for Democracy is a new organization in Canada that wants government policy to based on reality. The federal Canadian Conservative government (which openly hates the environment) continually cuts finding to scientific research that can lead to a better understanding of the world around us. The constant cutbacks and denials of actual science pushed some scientists too far: now they are calling for the government to openly cite scientific research to back up their policy.

“I watched as the professors realized that they are the ones that have to stand up for science,” Dr. Gibbs said, “that they can’t expect someone else to make the case as to why it is important.”

At the behest of her colleagues, Dr. Gibbs helped organize the Death of Evidence protest in Ottawa, July 2012. Thousands of scientists and their supporters chanted, “No science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy,” as they carried a symbolic coffin to the steps of Parliament Hill.

“Government policies affect every aspect of our daily lives,” Dr. Gibbs said. “Using the available evidence assures that we get policies that actually do what they are supposed to do. It’s a better use of tax dollars than just picking what seems to be a good idea at the time.”

Read more at the Vancouver Observer.

Smoking Bans Decrease Hospitalization

Toronto phased in a ban on smoking starting in 1999 and ending in 2004 and the results are in: banning smoking was (and still is) a good thing.

“It confirms that public policy can make a difference,” said Dr. Alisa Naiman, lead author of the study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences study was the first to look at the effect of anti-smoking legislation on a wide range of smoking-related conditions. It examined three cardiovascular ailments — heart attacks, strokes and angina — and three respiratory ones — asthma, pneumonia and chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Previous studies have focused solely on heart attacks.

Naiman said researchers were surprised by the findings’ consistency — the fact that hospital visits plummeted in much the same way for both cardiovascular and respiratory conditions.

Hospitalization for cardiovascular conditions dropped 39 per cent, including a 17.4 per cent decrease in heart attacks, while hospital visits for respiratory conditions fell by 33 per cent.

Read more at The Star.

Scroll To Top
%d bloggers like this: