Meeting of the Minds took a few moments to talk with Herrie Schalekamp about new working relationships between researchers and paratransit operators in South Africa and beyond. Herrie is the ACET Research Officer at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Transport Studies. In addition to his research, teaching and consulting in the fields of paratransit and public transport reform he is involved in specialised educational programmes for paratransit operators and government officials. Herrie’s activities form part of a broader endeavour to investigate and contribute to improved public transport operations and regulation in Sub-Saharan African cities under ACET – the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport.
Technology Enabled Residents as Partners in Preparing for and Responding to Disasters
We seem to be getting 100 year weather events every six months in New England over the past several years.
The good news is that we are getting better at planning for and responding to disasters. Two things have come out of the last two or three disasters that should be useful going forward — a more robust engagement of community residents in preparing for and responding to disasters and a deeper use of technology for better information flows between residents and various public safety actors.
After a long history of “do it yourself” disaster recovery in former times, over the past few decades we have shifted to somewhat of a top down planning and response approach to disasters. While this “command and control” model may be appropriate for some circumstances, there is a realization that for many, if not most disasters, we need a much better disaster game plan with a much more robust and engaged resident population with some widely available technology tools.
We do have in place communication tools for reaching out to residents during disasters. “Robocalls” from city officials on utility status and other important elements have become common. Websites are often used but provide only general information that is not in real time.
A new paradigm is growing that has a more robust engagement of community residents in preparing for and responding to disasters. Engaging residents in planning disasters can offer a number of advantages:
- Validity of approach — residents can weigh in on what does and does not work
- Legitimacy — by participating in the disaster planning and response process, residents “own” it to a greater degree
- Reduce first responder initial load — when community residents do more to prepare for and respond to disasters in the short term, they allow first responders to focus on more dire circumstances
- Better risk assessment and mitigation planning — More sets of eyes can help identify risks to be attended to and ways to manage those risks
- Better assessment of on the ground status and better communication of what is happening on the ground — New communication tools, described below, can provide a richer picture of circumstances on the ground.
Engaging residents as partners lead to the creation of the GetReadyCapitolRegion.org/ website that covers planning and preparing for disasters in the region around Hartford, CT. The site pays particular attention to those with special needs, children and elder and pets. Outreach to get community members to look at the site has been successful. As major weather events approach, the use of the site rises.
The key here is that to the extent that community residents can take care of their own needs for up to 72 hours in an event, they can allow better targeting of limited first responders to circumstances in greater need.
A second tool is a two way communication dashboard among residents and town officials during weather and other disasters. The Citizen Service Request Dashboard allows town members to see which streets are blocked by debris and which public buildings are open or closed. Equally important, it allows community residents to provide new information to the dashboard to keep it fresh and updated. The dashboard may be reached by smartphone — both to see maps of the community and to send updates to the town.
While this may seem a basic service, knowing which roads are passable and which buildings are open can be a valuable resource in responding to a disaster. The Capitol Region Council of Governments is looking to partner with South Windsor to scale up this application for much broader use in the state.
So why should we move toward more technology enabled residents as partners in disaster preparation and response? Bottom line: it helps us come up with better plans that have more buy-in from community residents. With low cost tools, we can leverage geographic information systems’ capabilities and the ubiquity of web access and smartphone use provides a much more up-to-date picture so that residents can better manage that first 72 hours after a disaster hits.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Brownfields are sites that are vacant or underutilized due to environmental contamination, real or imagined. There are brownfields of some kind in virtually every city and town in the U.S., usually related to a gas station, dry cleaner, auto repair shop, car dealership or some other ubiquitous local business that once benefited the community it now burdens with environmental hazards or old buildings.
In addressing this issue, technology has not been effectively deployed to promote redevelopment of these sites and catalyze community revitalization. We find that the question around the use of technology and data in advancing the redevelopment of brownfields is twofold:
How can current and future technology advancements be applied to upgrade existing brownfield modeling tools? And then, how can those modeling tools be used to accelerate transformative, sustainable, and smart redevelopment and community revitalization?
Across the country, urban parks are enjoying a renaissance. Dozens of new parks are being built or restored and cities are being creative about how and where they are located. Space under highways, on old rail infrastructure, reclaimed industrial waterfronts or even landfills are all in play as development pressure on urban land grows along with outdoor recreation needs.
These innovative parks are helping cities face common challenges, from demographic shifts, to global competitiveness to changing climate conditions. Mayors and other city officials are taking a fresh look at parks to improve overall community health and sense of place, strengthen local economies by attracting new investments and creating jobs, help manage storm water run-off, improve air quality, and much more. When we think of city parks holistically, accounting for their full role in communities, they become some of the smartest investments we can make.