Three Ideas for Inclusive Cities: How Raleigh, Seattle, and Others Are Bringing Everyone Into the Fold

From city-issued ID cards to open-source data anyone can access, simple urban innovations are creating more transparent and equitable cities.
Homeless Couple photo by Jeremy Brooks

Liz and Chico, a homeless couple in San Francisco. Homeless citizens, along with undocumented and elderly people, often struggle to obtain identification cards necessary for participation in public life. Photo by Jeremy Brooks.

 This article appears in Cities Are Now, the Winter 2015 issue of YES! Magazine. 

1. City ID cards for everyone who needs one.

in: New Haven, Conn.; San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, and Los Angeles, Calif.; Asbury Park, Mercer County, Trenton, and Princeton, N.J.; New York; Washington, D.C.

While immigration policy is contested on the national stage, many local governments are taking steps to improve the lives of the undocumented people living and working in their communities.

72 Cities Cover
From Los Angeles to New Haven, 11 cities across the country have instituted municipal ID programs. Now New York, a city with an estimated half-million undocumented immigrants, is preparing to launch the country’s largest program in January 2015.

With the new city IDs, New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, will be able to apply for a job or library card, access health services, sign a lease, or file a police report.

Services like these are often unavailable to the people who need them most: the undocumented, homeless, and low-income-elderly people who commonly lack identification. By offering city ID cards, New York is providing a pathway to better health, safety, and participation for its most vulnerable community members.

2. Open-source city hall helps you track what's happening—without all the boring meetings.

in: Raleigh, N.C.

People on Computers Collage

Civic participation just got a whole lot easier. Photos from Shutterstock.

In Raleigh, N.C., residents don’t have to sit through hours of evening meetings at City Hall to engage with their local government. Public participation can happen any time, any place—so long as a good Internet connection is available.

Open Raleigh is like a Wikipedia page for city data. Information is free, easy to access, and editable by anyone. The citywide initiative aims to bring transparency to government and foster public participation using an open-source web platform.

Residents can provide direct input on everything from budget proposals to development applications or click through pages of public finance, police, or environmental data. It’s all there, presented in colorful, interactive charts and graphs, and easily searchable by “keyword” or “most public comments.” It’s all editable, too, and residents can reorganize, revisualize, and repost data.

The city’s website calls the project a “living document under the guiding principles of availability and access, reuse and redistribution, and universal participation.” It’s open governance with an IP address.

3. Equity filter boosts racial and gender equality.

in: Seattle

Woman Architect photo from Shutterstock

The city of Seattle has increased contracts with women- and minority-owned businesses from $11 million to $34 million using an equity toolkit. Photo from Shutterstock.

Despite pervasive inequity, race often sits on the periphery of national policy discussions. In Seattle, racial inequity mirrors national trends, but a sweeping initiative is putting concerns about race and equity at the center of city government.

The Race and Social Justice Initiative requires city departments to apply an equity filter. Employees are to consider how their decisions impact racial equity using a “Racial Equity Toolkit” to screen policies, programs, budgets, and contracts. Since the program started in 2004, the city has increased contracts with women- and minority-owned businesses from $11 million to $34 million, expanded outreach to historically underrepresented communities, and developed special criteria to
prioritize transportation improvements.

“The toolkit builds racial equity into the city’s work from the outset, instead of as an afterthought,” reads the city’s website. The procedure helps “ensure that the voices of communities of color are part of the city’s planning processes.”