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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Emphasis on People and Data in the Smart City Conversation

November 27th, 2019 by Susan Smith

Richard Leadbeater, State Government Industry Manager for Esri spoke with GISCafe Voice recently about Esri’s approach to smart cities and takeaways from the Smart Cities DC conference held in October. Leadbeater oversees all the state government stories and the area of smart space such as redistricting and elections.

“I cover the government trade associations in DC: governors, state legislators, counties, cities, that all have associations,” said Leadbeater. “I approach them with an education point of view, asking what topics they’re thinking about, so I can see how technology addresses policy issues, and to educate staff that policy is a geography problem. Opiate happens in distinct geographic patterns. I remind them that a general policy discussion is mute unless we think about place.”

Leadbeater said that Esri hesitated at first to broach a discussion of “smart” as many thought it was another phraseology to define jurisdiction. “We finally figured out smart has some uniqueness to it,” said Leadbeater. “The discussion has to do with figuring out what needed improvement and then what technology comes into play. It’s not a leap forward with technology like a Y2K problem, it’s more of what needs to happen and utilizing all the latest advances in technology in its ability, size and affordability.”

Esri’s smart solutions encompass planning and engineering, operational efficiency, data driven performance, and civic inclusion.

People are the critical element that Leadbeater and Esri have felt is missing from the smart conversation. Smart has always been widget-centered, with more focus on the technology than how it might affect the population that has to live with it.

“We realized there wasn’t a people conversation,” said Leadbeater. “What does smart means to you and me, the taxpayer? In the end does it improve my life? Maybe it makes government run more efficiently but how does it affect me? How is smart tech being used to address my government assistance, how does smart address homelessness, better social services, how does it address immunization trends and getting out the vote and just plain communication with constituents?”

At this DC conference, Leadbeater said there was greater emphasis on data making you smart.

Two years ago, he presented a talk about thinking of data as a resource as though it were a sand and gravel pit in your jurisdiction. The EU had identified the value of open data was $40 billion euros. Swiss watches are valued $20 billion euros. In trying to align data as a natural resource, if you have sand and gravel you can sell it at $5 a pound but if you do something with it, it’s $100 pound. “If you start making things out of it, silicon and glass, and microchips, all of a sudden you have thousands of dollars of value. Many of the open data efforts out there are just buckets of sand. And the smart places are using it in context and providing end user information products that are useful. The whole smart conversation ties in with the whole open conversation because there is value in this and it is up to us to communicate that value.”

Barney Krucoff, Chief Data Officer with the District of Columbia presented with Anthony Puzzo at the Esri board room session at Smart Cities DC on the topic “Putting Smart Community Strategy to Work.” The topic covered taking the data conversation further and figuring out what to make out of the data so communities and states can be smart.

Some jurisdictions are beginning to look at predictive applications. If you have a weather app on your phone, it will send out updates of weather such as, it will rain in ten minutes in your area.  Jurisdictions would like to have data on where their snowplows are, and what the snowfall is in particular locations and how much snowfall there is. Messages could then be sent out to neighborhoods saying that the snowplow will be in your area at a certain time and the rate of snowfall, and condition of roads. This would provide executive data for physical operations and people.

Data has other important roles within the community. Smartphones at social services have revolutionized the tracking of population segments, as the phones are themselves sensors. For example, if it is raining, and you know there will be flooding under a bridge, and you know there are five people who stay under that bridge you can get them evacuated in a timely manner.

As marketing software tracks the movement of consumers, so can data be used to track the movements and patterns of the homeless.

“We know homeless move but they have orbits, meaning they have a predictable pattern dictated by the services they receive. “ said Leadbeater. “On Tuesday they had a meeting, on Thursday they had a veterans meeting, Sunday a certain place had the best soup. The resources provided by that county dictated that they have to move. If you gave them a place to stay then it frustrated them because then they couldn’t get to their Tuesday meeting. Then they didn’t have time to get to Thursday meeting, or didn’t have access to soup on Sunday. By giving them a place to live you actually stifled them.”

Because of this, Leon County began using the Central Place Theory, the theory that generated the idea of shopping malls. Put everything in one place, and even if competitors are next door there is still more business to be had because shopping is made easy. That idea morphed into a mixed use building for the homeless that has the social service offices above, then assisted housing, and transit passing the building.

“While people don’t like to consolidate, especially in Los Angeles, people also don’t to have to move anymore,” said Leadbeater. “They have it all right there. I’ll throw that in the smart bucket.”

Is Esri focusing on infrastructure? “Infrastructure is geography, so the ability to walk to a park has measurable benefits in your longevity,” Leadbeater noted. “The ability to live in a neighborhood with trees has measurable benefit to lifestyle and health. The City of Philadelphia put together layers of problems.  Every department addressed their hotspots and put all their hotspots together: high school attainment, walkable area, crime, etc., so they had a city score, they could say even though these blocks aren’t your number #1 priority these blocks are the city’s #1 priority. The schools, parks, hospitals – people will all benefit and that’s the mayor’s focus area. Public works, schools etc. were all spending their money in different places,  but as this got it more holistic, it created a shift in data focus.”

The address system is a fundamental infrastructure, Leadbeater pointed out. It outweighs sewer, water and broadband. “You need it if you have a 911. Many states don’t own their 911 data – it’s owned by the PCP provider; AT&T may own the data. It gets repeated by your tax assessment and your other utilities, by every agency who needs to know something about you, and it gets repeated by your school system in spades. And none of these systems talk to one another or validate or provide quality assurance in this whole process. If local government officials geocode their voter registration file, you don’t have every adult but you have 2/3 of every adult and you have 100 percent of your civically active adults. You’ve got the base structure for a citizen resource management system (CRM). Companies spend millions of dollars creating CRMs. Counties could have a CRM by just geocoding their voter registration file and linking to citizens calling in problems like streetlights and potholes.”

Schools can benefit greatly from this type of citizen resource management system. The Next Gen 911 is going a long way toward that, but a great address system both virtually and physically would create greater public awareness and strengthen 911 services and voting registration as well, bringing about the foundation of a smart community.

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Categories: 3D Cities, air pollution, aircraft tracking, airports, analytics, ArcGIS, citizen science, data, Esri, field GIS, geospatial, GIS, government, GPS, handhelds, hardware, health, indoor location technology, lidar, location based sensor fusion, location intelligence, mapping, mobile, mobile mapping, Open Source, public safety, sensors, storm surge, subsurface utilities, survey, telecommunications, transportation, utilities, wireless networks

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