You’re referring to my little challenge in this post to find your local government’s next budget meeting and agenda. Thanks for trying and writing me back!
Local government processes do not cater well to the residents they claim to serve. Some cities do, don’t get me wrong! But overall, most government websites bury and hide the most basic of services and local laws. You can take my challenge to find a meeting a bit further - try to find out how to slap a solar panel on to your roof (good luck).
Software developers repackaged their existing products and rebranded them as a tech-service called “Smart Cities.” Like I wrote earlier, IBM and others claim they have the ultimate solution - a magic bullet - that will help resolve the simplest of local government issues, such as finding your city’s calendar of events and streamlining the permitting process (they make bolder claims, but don’t get me started).
What strikes me most is that rareharvest’s experience is not uncommon.
In fact, I’d argue that government websites and bureaucracies are often times in direct contradiction to the community’s governing charter. A charter is a town or city’s “constitution.” It’s a document that lays out how your city will function and was probably written over a hundred years ago. It covers budgets, elections, growth, conservation, “health and welfare” of residents, etc. Your charter outlines how your government is formed and the services it will allow and provide. They’re surprisingly similar to the U.S. Constitution.
Anyway, Smart Cities overpromises and underdelivers. The upside is that cities, residents, and companies recognize that there needs to be a better way to manage our communities, and Smart Cities is a bridge to a more efficient, less frustrating bureaucracy.
Imagine a gadget attached to the dash of your car that calculated the per-second costs of driving. The “meter,” similar to a taxi-cab ticker, would not only flash on the screen the cost of gas, emissions, and wear and tear, but also your impact on public roads. How would such a meter change your behavior? It would certainly change mine if I really knew how much my trusty ol’ Benz costs per mile. Now, take this fantasy one step further. Imagine paying a tax dedicated to mitigating your impacts. Collected by the government, the tax would funnel towards alleviating impacts of pollution, wear and tear on roads, and lower emissions. Neat idea?
Well, it’s happening in pilot form in the Netherlands, and Elisabeth Rosenthal covered it in today’s NYTimes, In Auto Test in Europe, Meter Ticks Off Miles, and Fee to Driver.
"The car had been outfitted with the meter so that Mr. Van Dedem could take part in a trial of a controversial government tax proposal to charge drivers a fee for the miles they drive. The meter also factors in the cost to society in the form of pollution, traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and wear and tear on roads. Hooked up to the Internet wirelessly and to GPS, the system tabulates a charge for each car trip by using a mileage-based formula that also takes account of a car’s fuel efficiency, the time of day and the route. (Driving on busier thoroughfares costs more than driving on less-traveled roads.) At the end of each month, the vehicle’s owner would receive a bill detailing times and costs of usage, not unlike a cellphone bill, although participants in the trial did not have to pay the charges." Again, In Auto Test in Europe, Meter Ticks Off Miles, and Fee to Driver.
Now, I can hear the scoffing through my screen, “That would never happen here!” Well, why the hell wouldn’t it? How do we know? If IBM sponsors a pilot and partners with a progressive city, it seems completely reasonable to do.
The process is democratic and the gadgets and tax would (at first) be voluntary. A handful of existing employees within a city’s government structure could dedicate a few hours per month on a special committee that would distribute the collected fees towards mitigating pollution and/or pooling the tax towards infrastructure. Piece of cake. Portland, OR seems ripe for this type of experiment.
In my state, Massachusetts, it doesn’t take much to draft your very own bill, file it, and get it into committee for review. In fact, I think that’s exactly what is missing from much of modern enviro-discourse: Just how can individual environmentalists draft bills, or get sponsors for bills, or even conduct basic lobbying? I’ve written my fair share of “Dear Senator Kerry, I oppose the GOP’s efforts to gut the EPA, you best do the same,” letters. But, with respect to creating solutions, I think getting a bill sponsored by a representative would have more impact because media is more apt to pick it up and bring it into the public square.
What do you think?
Update: The program displaces other fees, such as registration, excise, and gas taxes. It targets drivers who drive most, and would lower operating costs for low-income drivers.
Update II: It removes regulations (read the article), not increases them. It cuts government waste. It makes government more efficient by eliminating unnecessary and duplicative bureaucracies, such as registration and tax commissions. As far as government intrusion, vehicles are extremely regulated, from texting, to speed, to turning, to materials, to insurance, to annual inspections, to taxes. Why not remove some of these burdens, especially on those who drive less?
UPDATE: Regarding the below repost, I forwarded my comments to IBM’s Smart team. Maybe I’ll hear something. I’ll keep you in the loop. Either way, I’m about to throw them under the bus with an expose.
Meanwhile, check out my piece at GOOD magazine on IBM’s climate adaptation report.
"China is building a city-sized cloud computing and office complex that will include a mega data center, one of the projects fueling that country’s double-digit growth in IT spending. The entire complex will cover some 6.2 million square feet, with the initial data center space accounting for approximately 646,000 square feet, according to IBM, which is collaborating with a Chinese company to build it…”
"China is building a city-sized cloud computing and office complex that will include a mega data center, one of the projects fueling that country’s double-digit growth in IT spending.
The entire complex will cover some 6.2 million square feet, with the initial data center space accounting for approximately 646,000 square feet, according to IBM, which is collaborating with a Chinese company to build it…”