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Promising Practices for Washington Local Governments: October 2020

Each week I scan the web for local government news, journal articles, reports, blogs, and other relevant sources looking for information about promising practices that local governments in Washington and around the country are implementing to address public policy challenges in their communities. Here for your consideration are the latest promising practices that caught my eye.

The Secret to Revitalizing Downtown Retail Districts

I’m always on the lookout for data-driven solutions to address long-standing local government challenges. One challenge that many cities and towns have been working on for years has been the revitalization of their historical downtown retail districts. One of the most popular strategies has been the development of pedestrian malls, closed to vehicular traffic, where shoppers can walk and shop along converted streetscapes with mall-like amenities. While the majority of such projects have failed, FastCompany reports that new research based on studies of over 100 failed and successful pedestrian malls provides important insights for urban planners and developers into a number of key factors that can make the difference between successful and not-so-successful, or even failed, projects. Among the most significant factors identified for promoting longevity have been high population density, low median age of residents, and a relatively short pedestrian mall length. Other factors include the number of sunny days and proximity to other attractions, like universities or tourist destinations. 

Steps for Reimagining the Policing Function 

I can’t remember a time in the last 30 years when there has been more broad-based interest in re-examining the basic role of policing and law enforcement in cities and towns across the entire country. While calls for the complete “defunding” of police departments following a wave of national protests have been mostly replaced by more tempered calls to “redirect” funding toward other government services, such as social and public health services, there still remains an unprecedented level of interest in finding ways to “rethink” or “reimagine” all aspects of the policing function in our local communities. The Black Lives Matter movement has raised profound concerns over the existence of systemic racism in society and policing in particular that has created a new sense of urgency for communities to address these issues head on.

For communities that are looking for a way to begin a process of rethinking and reimagining their local police functions, the New York University (NYU) School of Law’s Policing Project has developed a three-part roadmap of guiding principles and initial steps based on meaningful community participation, that can be used to chart a new course. A key factor involves a look at how to achieve public safety goals through decreased enforcement action and more social interventions. The project site also offers a number of helpful resources on other related topics, including body-worn cameras, community engagement, use of force, and more.  

Moving to Paperless/Electronic Processes and Approvals

While many local governments were considering paperless document management systems before the pandemic, now that we are closing in on a year of working from remote locations, going paperless is becoming more of a necessary adaptation to a new normal than a matter of temporary convenience. For the same reason, electronic approvals for various types of transactions have also become more attractive. In response to these trends, the Washington State Auditor’s Office has gathered a number of resources, including questions to consider, helpful publications, and guidance on issues like electronic signatures to help local governments implement efficient and secure paperless and electronic approval processes. Paperless systems offer opportunities for local governments to increase efficiency, save money, and enhance customer service that will likely extend beyond the current limitations caused by the pandemic-imposed remote working arrangements.

What promising practices have you discovered from your perspective as a local government official, staff member, or otherwise interested observer of local government? Share your insights with me and I will consider them for the next Promising Practices blog.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Byron Katsuyama

About Byron Katsuyama

Byron retired from MRSC in 2021. He wrote about forms of government, strategic planning, performance measurement, emerging issues, and general local government management.