When most of us travel to a city, we concern ourselves with how to get to our destination as directly as possible. Pitney Bowes’ Joe Francica sees things more holistically. He thinks about how people move, what gets in their way, what might prevent police from doing their jobs and whether utilities are adequately sourced.
“Cities don’t run unless you know geography; it’s foundational to how a city functions,” Francica says. “That’s a biased point of view, but every day the mayor has to pick up garbage, sweep streets, find people jobs — and if you don’t know the tax base it’s really hard to manage a city. I think you need a certain view of geography before you take the first step of making a smart city.”
Francica, who moderated the Location, Data & City Life panel at last week’s Northeast Smart Cities Summit (part of the first Stamford Technology Week), has spent part of his career developing ideas and protocols to make management of cities easier with the use of technology. He is now managing director of Geospatial Industry Solutions at Pitney Bowes.
Managing Big Data
Francica says cameras and other sensors are being deployed in and around cities to understand real-time movement and placement of people and resources. Software has been developed to bring sensor data together, which can improve the vision of municipal leaders who strive to make better decisions involving a wide range of issues.
But the intent of the decision makers is most important.
“You have this plethora of sensors that are deployed in an urban environment and providing information to decision-makers closer and closer to real time,” Francica says. “The mayor looks at traffic information and asks ‘Where are my emergency vehicles deployed and how often are they on the road? Can I do pre-fire planning so I can get assets to all parts of the city quickly?’ If you want to dispatch a first responder within three minutes of a 911 call, you must use feedback from historical and real-time information along with data from emergency calls and sensors in the roadway or in vehicles to plan efficiently. Once you have that digital infrastructure you can query it more quickly and understand the interface between data and live situations. It helps you do it more quickly and effectively.
Francica lives and works in Huntsville, Ala., where Mayor Tommy Battle has pushed the gathering and analysis of big data to help address municipal issues. Huntsville has been named an Examplar City, which means it will integrate geospatial technology into its governance to create new best practices for city management.
Francica is involved in that project and says, “I think they see the possibilities that at least gathering some data can do for them. Even if they’re only providing real-time updates of when city buses show up at a bus stop. That’s a simple use but a useful one and it provides something for citizens to make the city more efficient and livable.”
Improving life in the city
One of Mayor Battle’s goals is to create a municipal infrastructure that allows every worker to enjoy a commute of no more than 18 minutes. The process will involve mapping existing streets and mass transit, deciding what infrastructure needs to be added or repaired and then finding funding sources.
“There’s a long tail attached to the information you’re gathering,” Francica points out.
Cities in the Northeast — looking to encourage work and living spaces in downtown areas, for example – can access geospatial data to assist the transformation.
“A digital land base can help address the basic problems of urban environments,” Francica says. “You can go buy the data from companies that weren’t around 10 years ago that monitor traffic on a real-time basis. Once you have that digital infrastructure you can query it more quickly with an understandable interface. You really do want to get that information to stakeholders as effectively as possible so that even a casual user doesn’t have to understand how geospatial technology works – they can access it just by clicking on a mouse.”