5 cities, 5 smart ideas: Washington, D.C., Seattle, Manassas, Lake County, Fla., Las Cruces

Tue, 2016-01-05 12:28 -- Kevin Ebi

Check out these inspiring solutions for ideas and principles that you can borrow for your own community.

To promote health, Washington, D.C., waives gym fees
Do you have a New Year’s resolution to live healthier and lose weight? In Washington, D.C., residents can hit the city’s gyms for free. Affordable fitness centers have been disappearing in the city, in part due to competition from upscale gyms opening in wealthy neighborhoods. One of the city’s poorest — and most obese — neighborhood doesn’t have even a single gym. The city’s fitness centers generated only $10,000 in fees annually anyway, so the free memberships aren’t costing it much, and it figures helping its residents to become healthier will more than pay off.

Seattle develops map to help residents visualize threats
When it comes to preparing for natural disasters, having more specific information about the nature of the threat is almost always more helpful. For years, Seattle, Washington, residents have heard they’re overdue for a devastating quake, but not all neighborhoods will shake the same way. And areas that may be on more solid ground, may be at higher risk for landslides, floods or tsunami damage. Seattle developed an online tool that allows residents to zoom into their neighborhood to determine the likelihood of damage from each type of natural disaster, allowing them to concentrate their preparation efforts on the biggest threats specific to where they live.

Manassas gives online help to take out the trash
Is it recycling week? Can I put out yard waste? In Manassas, Virginia, residents in particular were puzzled by the schedule for autumn leaf pick-up, since it varied from year to year. A new online tool lets residents see the pick-up schedule for their address as well as information about where they can dispose of electronics and other types of waste. In addition to greatly improving convenience, the city’s initiative also improves accuracy. Up until a few years ago, calls were fielded by a long-time employee who had all the neighborhoods memorized. When she retired, remaining staff struggled to answer the question using paper maps that in some cases weren’t all that detailed.

Litter app helps Lake County residents keep Florida beautiful
If you have more litter than litter crews, you may want to borrow an app idea from Lake County, Florida. Its new Litter Reporter feature was added to its Crowdsource Reporter app, allowing residents to report and pinpoint problem area for litter on a map. Similar to a Facebook like, people can also vote for litter reports that others have posted, helping to make a particular area a higher priority for a concerted litter removal effort or other attention.

Las Cruces shows businesses how they stack up
Las Cruces, New Mexico, has launched a new effort to help small and start-up businesses grow by giving them information to make better business decisions. Its new SizeUp for Local Business Intelligence gives businesses detailed and specific information on everything from competitors to suppliers. Among other things, businesses can see how they stack up against their peers on a number of performance benchmarks. A map shows start-ups where competitors are located and are doing business so they can focus on underserved areas. Demographic and other data is also available to help businesses choose the best customers to target and the most effective advertising vehicles to reach them.

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