By Data-Smart City Solutions • February 16, 2018

Albuquerque was passed over for the Department of Transportation’s Smart Cities Challenge, but as State Tech Magazine reported, that’s not slowing them down. What is? Traffic, in part a function of disconnected transit options connecting the city’s halves, bifurcated by the Rio Grande River. From an electronic bus to a downtown innovation district to smart parking and digital broadband, the city is deploying new technologies that will promote both effective traffic and economic development. Also in the works are the distribution of cameras that will capture actionable intelligence for law enforcement and a reporting app, engaging residents in public safety efforts while streamlining workflows for city employees.


The news isn’t surprising, but the data’s in: cities are everywhere, and they’re only getting bigger. The Joint Research Center, European Commission’s research arm, released a report outlining tremendous growth in city populations from 1990 and 2015, with particularly notable spikes in Africa and Asia. 32 boast populations above 10 million inhabitants, distinguished as so-called “megacities.” In spite of increased density and the proliferation of urban areas, cities are notably greener than in previous decades, illustrated in two open data portals populated by the JRC for ongoing analysis by researchers across the globe.


CityLab reported on a component of the tax bill many are likely to have missed: the establishment of a “pay for success” program that connects the public and private sectors to generate evidence-based solutions, particularly at the local level. A common practice in Europe for decades, social impact partnerships leverage private capital while relieving the high cost of social services programs for governments by backing the most effective solutions, often provided by local nonprofits with intimate knowledge of the populations they serve. Social impact partnerships were previously championed by the Obama administration, and have continued to attract considerable bipartisan support, though some have criticized them for a lack of replicability and requiring burdensome oversight.


The past few years have seen increasing coverage of the predatory practices of so-called payday lenders. Targeting low-income communities, in particular the elderly and people of color, payday lenders exploit financial need and lead the most vulnerable into crippling debt. In many parts of the country, however, especially less affluent areas, alternatives are scarce. Next City’s Oscar Perry Cabello featured Shreveport, Louisiana’s response to the areas prevalence of “banking deserts,” where residents are at greatest risk of falling into the eager arms of a payday lender. To curb those risks, the city is creating incentivized banking zones, bringing companies to areas without credible financial institutions. Payday lenders may catch a break, though, if the Trump administration follows through on its plans to “relax” safeguards put in place by the Consumer Financial Bureau.


It’s time to abandon the “smart city,” wrote Bruce Sterling in The Atlantic. The term, he argues, suggests inclusive, transparent governments using technology to enhance public participation and advancing economic and cultural development. Instead, the digital solutions being deployed in transportation, policing, or housing, while promising more effective delivery of government services, are disinterested in the privacy rights of citizens and reinforce current trends of socioeconomic segregation. In cities in which “code is law,” a nod to Lawrence Lessig’s critique of technologies that curb individual liberties, algorithms often keep a city’s resources with the “haves” while “have nots” are left without access or recourse.


Green infrastructure has long been hailed as a cornerstone for efforts in conservation and urban resilience. Featured in Next City, Delivering Urban Resilience, a report based on data from Washington D.C., Philadelphia and El Paso, maintains that green infrastructure is also a tool for long-term economic development. Created by venture capital firm Capital E, the report illustrates the link between extremely hot weather conditions and economic losses. Cities are investing in expanding the urban tree cover and building citywide smart surface strategy, respectively, to avoid the slow hemorrhaging of financial resources to increasingly warm urban environments. It’s a long-term strategy, but according to the report, the ROI is considerable.


As any sci-fi B movie fan knows, the potential bias of artificial intelligence is no new concern. Design, regardless of discipline, after all, tends to reflect the perceptions of its creators (in this case, primarily white male technologists). Recently, facial recognition bias has been an especially newsworthy example, with companies such as Apple and Google under fire for not recognizing the faces of African-Americans. As a new project called Gender Shades from the MIT Media Lab examines the facial recognition bias of algorithms from IBM, Microsoft, and the Chinese startup Face++, and the results are distressing, if not surprising. Co.Design had the story.


Co.Design reports on innovative trends in the IoT industry, including introducing smart food (no, not the popcorn) labels that track temperature, enabling the technology to report on items at greatest risk of going bad. The product doesn’t simply have value for the consumer, however; by tracking the data over time, delivery companies should be able to identify the truck routes most susceptible to delivering rotten food and make adjustments accordingly. Other innovations include shared coffee mug programs, sourcing available billboards to small businesses for short periods of time, and yoga pants that nudge users into better posture. Time to sharpen up your downward dog.


In Data-Smart Solutions, this week’s Map Monday from Chris Bousquet features a comprehensive look at the quality of life for veterans. Assessing population, median income, and available resources for veterans across American cities, Esri’s story map also maps veteran’s success by their period of service, enabling advocates and policymakers to identify which veterans are most vulnerable or underserved, where, and which services would be most effective to meeting the unique needs of each population.


As reported by Jess Weaver, at the Data-Smart Summit on Government in October, leaders from Chicago, New Orleans, San Diego, Seattle, and San Francisco shared their insights on how to most effectively galvanize internal support for data-driven decision-making. Beyond soliciting projects from often understaffed agencies unaware of the potential value of data analytics for improving services, the conversation discussed various models for scoping and strategies for effective execution. Though the approaches varied, the Chief Data Officers agreed that building strong relationships with departments requires identifying internal champions and clearly demonstrating how technology can be effectively integrated into – and ultimately improve – workflow.