NPR’s All Things Considered ran an interesting story about urban farming, “Straight Outta Compton–On Horseback.” Yes, that Compton, the one that NWA sang about. We’ve talked a good bit about access to food and agriculture in urban areas in the Shaping our Towns & Cities discussions. This piece brings up some other historical, social and cultural perspectives on those topics. It is worth a listen.
The international non-profit Architecture for Health in Vulnerable Environments (ARCHIVE) recently announced their selections for a housing design competition focused on rebuilding earthquake ravaged Haiti. These designs address concerns about public health, affordable housing, and the impact of design on community. The top design, Breathe House, from University of Virginia’s Initiative reCOVER is pictured below.
Part of this focus has been to pay attention to how housing design relates to health. The Breathe House incorporates ventilation features to deal with concerns about tuberculosis, for example. At the same time the interconnected porch area is designed to promote social interaction, fostering a sense of community. The 5 winning designs can be viewed here or in a slideshow here. A prototype of each will be built in the coastal town of St. Marc.
Although the focus is not quite the same, this project reminded me of the development of Katrina Cottages for the post-Katrina recovery in the Gulf Coast. These are small storm-worthy cottages, designed to be affordable and expandable alternatives to the not-so-temporary FEMA trailers to which many Gulf residents were consigned as recovery has dragged on.
WAMU here in the DC area recently aired a couple of programs that probed some of the topics we’ve discussed a lot in our Towns and Cities discussions. The first is from a relatively new public affairs show, Latitudes, recently focused on “Affordable Housing, Livable Communities.” The program explored “ideas for creating housing that is affordable, healthy, an adapted to the needs of communities — from India to Sweden to the United States.” You can hear the audio at the link above.
The second is a recent episode of Diane Rehm’s show, which hosted a discussion of America’s Shrinking Cities. You can find the audio and a transcript at the link. Most of the conversation focused on Detroit and other mid-western cities. This topic of managing urban change, especially as industries and populations change, has been a constant theme of our project discussions.
The role of parks and green space within our towns and cities has been a frequent topic in our conversations about Shaping our Towns and Cities. We’ve also talked about how older transportation infrastructure, such as urban highways, might be transformed. National Geographic has some great images from Diane Cook and Len Jenshel of Manhattan’s High Line park, which has transformed an old elevated railway into an innovative park space. Take a look, and check out the feature story by Paul Goldberger!
Since we’ve talked a lot about gentrification and the social, cultural, and economic aspects of urban and suburban development, here’s Tom Toles from 1998, courtesy of Richard Layman’s photostream on Flickr.
How might public policy get people to act in certain ways? The question of how a democratic society could impact the behavior of its citizens is a near constant one in our Interactivity Foundation discussion projects. One type of policy response that often comes up is the general theme of rewards and punishments, incentives and disincentives. But our thinking about such things is often a bit impoverished. We tend to think first of disincentives, of punishments such as fees or other financial penalties. If we do think of rewards, we might think of financial inducements, such as tax credits or other nominal financial rewards. There’s nothing wrong with these ideas, of course, but there’s no reason that panelists should feel hemmed in to thinking first and foremost about disincentives or to limiting their thinking to financial rewards and punishments.
In the Helping America Talk project on civic discourse, the panelists developed a couple of policy ideas that relied on the broad notion of incentives and disincentives. One policy idea relied on the supposition that the quality of public deliberation could be improved if the participants faced the prospect of gaining or losing something based on the quality of the ideas they brought forward. If the ideas they contributed to the public discussion turned out to be genuinely useful, then there ought to be the prospect of some kind of reward. The panelists brought up the notion of a financial reward, but they also talked about the importance of social recognition. They pointed out that reputation tracking systems (such as one finds in online social networks) could be one means of fostering this sort of accountable public thinking with the prospect of social acclaim as a reward for “being right” or thinking well, or a loss of social status as a penalty for “being wrong.”
At the time, more than a few of the panelists thought these ideas, especially of non-financial incentives, might not go over very well in subsequent citizen discussions. They worried that their fellow citizens might see this approach as unrealistic. But a recent public radio story, “Gamifying the system to create better behavior,” indicates their incentive ideas might have been on the right track. The story recounts how Sweden has set up a successful positive reinforcement program to encourage safe driving. They have speed cameras that catch speeding automobiles, but the non-speeders are also caught being good: for safe driving your tag number is put into a lottery to win a portion of the fines paid by the speeders.
This sort of “game playing” approach, or “gamification,” is intended to help people engage in civic space as active and thoughtful problem solvers, just as they’d engage in a game. The incentives need not be primarily financial—and not even financial at all. Gabe Zicherman, who has written on this gamification approach in marketing, uses the acronym “SAPS” to explain the hierarchy of incentives to which people respond:
SAPS stands for Status, Access, Power and Stuff. Zichermann says those are things people want in their lives as rewards — in that order. “It turns out,” he says, “that cash isn’t that good of a reward. Status is a fantastic motivator for getting people to do stuff.”
So the next time Interactivity Foundation discussion panelists start thinking of policies with incentives and disincentives, that’s a good time to remember the value of positive reinforcements rather than just negative ones. And it’s a good time to remember that it’s not all about the money. It turns out that money, or material reward, is likely not the most powerful motivator for civic behavior. It’s a good time to encourage panelists to think broadly about what might really motivate us as democratic citizens to act in certain ways.
Cross posted at the Interactivity Foundation Perspectives Blog.