What if, when you went to the polls to vote for political leaders, you could also vote on the federal and state budget? The election judge would hand you a ballot with which you could help decide how to spend a substantial portion of tax money set aside for democratic decision making.
Donna L. Williams • Bozeman, MT
Editor's note: This idea has been put into practice in Porto Alegre, Brazil. See "Seven Urban Wonders," Utne Reader, Nov./Dec. 2001.
Establish Public School Vouchers to Fund Student Projects
A reinvention of the long-debated school vouchers idea could improve public education by allowing students to pursue their own educational goals. A new "microvoucher" program could fund students wanting to plan and carry out their own creative projects, which would be paid for by a tax break for the student's family. Examples of possible student projects: writing or producing a feature movie or local cable TV show, designing a fashion line, starting and running a business, conceiving and building an invention, volunteering in the community, restoring a local ecosystem, forming a band, working as a political activist.
Gregory Wright • Sherman Oaks, CA
Designate Street Corners for Public Conversation
No-loitering laws diminish our sense of community and isolate us from one another. Let's designate specific city corners as places where people are encouraged to talk or to listen to ongoing debates. Not out-of-the-way spots, but places people walk by every day. The crosswalk sign would say "Talk!" rather than "Don't Walk."
Ramon Parish • Silverthorne, CO
Levy a Blacktop Tax to Curb Cars
An ecotax on parking lots could fund transportation alternatives like transit and bikeways. Businesses, companies, shopping malls, even universities, churches, and schools would be charged a tax for their parking lots. You might levy a lower rate per square meter for smaller lots. Parking garage and lot owners could decide whether to charge for parking or absorb the cost.
Katherine Tevaarwerk • Victoria, BC
Prevent Pharmaceutical Pollution
Let's include disposal instructions
on packaging of medications to discourage people from flushing meds down the toilet. (We've just found Prozac, among other things, in our local groundwater.)
Offer Travel Grants to Everyone
Jenny Gresko • Wheaton, IL
Have you ever needed to get across the country to get to a funeral, birth, wedding, or other important event but just not had the money to go at that moment? What if everyone in the United States got an airline or train travel allowance? Say two or three subsidized trips per lifetime? This would be a priceless opportunity for young people and low-income people who dream of traveling to the big city, or to the woods or the ocean.
Mazal Gabrieloff • Silverthorne, CO
Say a Little Prayer for Peace
When you meet a friend, co-worker, or acquaintance, or when you speak on the phone, conclude your conversation with "Let's pray for peace in the world" or "Let's keep the world's suffering people in our thoughts."
The possibilities are endless and it makes an impression on people.
Eileen Tye • Cambridge, MA
Tap the Power of Jocks for Renewable Energy
Exercise equipment could be hooked up to power generators at free municipal gyms. As people cycled and ran in place, they would produce renewable energy that could be used to power public buildings or be sold to power companies as revenue for the city. This would improve health-both for those working out and for everyone spared pollution from a power plant.
Elizabeth Townsend • Belfast, ME
Connect People to Care for Each Other's Parents
A person with elderly parents living in a distant place could exchange simple help (mowing the lawn, driving to doctor appointments, grocery shopping) with someone else whose parents live in your town. A nationwide Internet-based registry could match people. It might not even be a direct match, but a whole network of people helping other people's parents. This would be a practical solution to that problem of elderly parents with kids scattered all over the country, and it might also foster a richer sense of community. Helping with a chore might lead to an offer of babysitting or an invitation to Sunday dinner.
Geoffrey L. Isaac • Northbrook, il
Maria Opitz is the coordinator of Great Ideas contest.