The Atlas = Top 5 Finalist in Conference of Mayors Civic Tech Competition!

U.S. Conference of Mayors selected The Atlas as a Top 5 Finalist in its Civic Tech Competition!

As a top 5 finalist, Atlas CEO Elle Hempen pitched a panel of mayors and answered Q&A this past weekend at U.S. Conference of Mayors conference in Boston.

While we didn’t win the overall prize, The Atlas Team is thrilled to be a top 5 finalist and to have had the opportunity to share our work with the more than 250 mayors in attendance this past weekend.

From U.S. Conference of Mayors…

As part of its 86th Annual Meeting, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) will host a Civic Tech Pitch Competition to spur the development of new technologies to enhance citizen safety, security and community services.  Five startups…will compete for a total of $18,000 in prize monies as they present and defend their apps and solutions before a panel of judges and those in the audience,  who can use the USCM mobile app to cast their votes. The entrepreneurs who will be competing are:

-Nathan Armentrout, Founder & CEO, Casper Security – Casper Security improves neighborhood safety by monitoring abandoned properties and alerting neighbors and cities when danger is imminent at a fraction of the cost of demolition.

-Elle Hempen, CEO, The Atlas – The Atlas is the online community of public officials and innovators replicating what is working in other communities.

-Paul Salama, Chief Evangelist, ClearRoad – ClearRoad is a system that allows for digital per-mile fee collection, a more efficient, fair way to charge for roads.

-Noelle Marcus, Co-Founder, Nesterly – Nesterly connects households with spare space to younger people seeking a place to stay. In a twist that’s unique to Nesterly, young people can also exchange help around the house for lower rent.

-Joel Mahoney, Co-Founder & CEO, OpenCounter – OpenCounter builds tools for local governments to help streamline service delivery to residents. The portals guide applicants through complex permitting workflows so applicants can understand the full scope of projects before they get started.

It was an honor to share the stage with the other 4 finalists – all of the companies have incredible missions and teams – and we’re inspired by their visions for a better world.

Perhaps most importantly, though, we’re stoked to take everything we learned this weekend and apply it to helping our 80 partner cities more efficiently R&D (rip-off & duplicate!) what’s working in other cities!

Atlas CEO Elle Hempen pitching at U.S. Conference of Mayors in Boston this past weekend.

#WaterYouWaitingFor: City of Orlando, FL

We’re working with ELGL to profile the Final Four #WaterYouWaitingFor projects – the winners collected their trophies, goody bags, and ELGL memberships at #ELGL18 but we wanted each project to also get some time to shine. First up…Orlando, Florida!

Explain your award-winning #WaterYouWaitingFor project in 100 words or less.  

The implementation of the Lake Level Monitoring program will enable City staff to monitor the lakes in real-time, making adjustments before storm events to help mitigate flooding of critical infrastructure and residential communities.

This project will allow the City to capture the historical knowledge of the lake management expertise that currently resides in the hearts and minds of our long term staff. We will be able to track, measure and methodically adjust water levels to meet the ever changing weather patterns that are occurring in central Florida.

This project will eventually tie into the National Weather Model for forecasting lake levels based on 2-3 day weather forecasting.

Describe Orlando to someone who has never visited Florida/the region before. 

Very fun, diversified and environmentally conscience City. We have so much more than Theme Parks.  For most of Orlando’s history we’ve been the place everyone wants to visit.

Today, Orlando is also the place where everyone wants to live and do business. List after list has Orlando as one of the fastest growing cities in America. We’re transitioning from our role as the young upstart to being a more mature, global City.

We are doing that by keeping our community safe, generating high quality jobs, and becoming one of the most sustainable cities in America.

Where did this project idea come from? 

Innovation is the mother of necessity.  As climate changes continue to occur, we needed a better way to predict and ultimately manage those changes.

Through technology we can monitor the weather patterns and adjust our lake levels to address intense rain events, hurricane effects and drought conditions.

Share some of the project highlights. 

This project had its beginnings in the early 1990’s when then Stormwater Bureau chief had a vision of an Orlando Unit Hydrograph. The city started with gauge boards that the survey crews would shoot the water elevations every quarter.

We then transitioned to telemetry starting in 2004 utilizing pressure transducers to calculate the water surface elevation from the pressure differential.  There were approximately 67 stations deployed in the City lake system.

In 2015 we began transitioning to cellular because of data losses when using radio frequency.  Our ultimate systems will include pressure transducers, data-loggers and electronic rain gauges.

Share some of the project challenges. 

Time.  It takes a lot of time to plan and implement the data collection network.  It also takes a lot of time to research the options for the individual stations, electric requirements, environmental factors (tree canopy blocking sun on solar panel), easements for equipment when no City land available, etc.

City of Orlando, Florida – Streets & Stormwater Division Manager

What has been the community response to this project? 

We have a fairly active environmental community that is very supportive of any and every thing that we can do to improve the water quality and recreational enjoyment of our water bodies.

If someone is reading about this project and wants to replicate it in their community, what would your top two pieces of project advice be? 

Determine who will be the core Team members and make sure they have the technical expertise to monitor/maintain the equipment and QA/QC the data.  These are 2 critical areas that need a lot of consideration.

Water innovation deployed at scale in the EU but not in the US, what’s that all about?

Written by Tim Nippes, President of RePipe4710.

The US produces some of the most exciting innovations the world has ever seen. We gave the world the internet, the iPhone, and the, arguably equally important, duct tape. But when it comes to the water sector, we’re a bit behind the curve. For example, countries like Israel and Namibia have been doing direct reuse of recycled water at scale for decades, and now we’re just starting to catch up. Part of that has to do with scarcity, part of it has to do with regulations at the federal and state level – but part of it is simply because there aren’t easy ways for local governments to try “new” things in the United States.

That’s why we are so excited to participate in the upcoming Procuring Resilience Workshop. It’s a chance for us to sit down with forward-thinking city and utility officials to brainstorm how tweaks to procurement strategies can generate real progress in upgrading our water infrastructure. Here’s what we’re most excited to chat about:

  1. Defining what “proven” means. We’ve know that local governments want to be innovative, but they also don’t necessarily want to be the first to try something. That’s completely understandable when it comes to drinking water, where risks are directly related to the health and safety of residents. That said, we often find that the ways RFPs are written can be really restrictive – forcing local governments into only seeing, or only choosing the types of solutions that are currently failing around us every day.
  2. Maximizing the value of RFIs for everyone. RFIs and design competitions can be a great way to get new ideas into the city. But they are also a lot of work for vendors. We’re excited to brainstorm about how those creative procurement strategies can be structured to ensure they lead to real procurements or pilots, and that pilots (if successful) open the door to full-scale deployments. That way they work for everyone!
  3. Expanding performance contracting. All of the details of performance contracting haven’t been fully worked out in the drinking water sector but the potential upside could be so massive – it represents a way effectively manage risk, ensure performance and contain costs – that we are eager to discuss how the applications of performance contracting could be expanded.

 

The reason we’re so excited to have these discussions is because our company, RePipe4710, offers trenchless water main replacement that utilizes a flexible, foldable material that’s inserted into a failing water main to become the new pipe. Despite all of the benefits that our solution provides – with our solution, main replacement can be done without digging up an entire street, which means massively reduced disruption times and costs – current procurement processes are biased against new solutions and it can be very difficult to secure new pilots.

The procurement bias against new solutions is particularly ironic for us at RePipe because our solution isn’t really new, it’s just new in the Unites States. Our flexible, foldable pipe replacement is an improvement on the high-density polyethylene pipe (HDPE) solution that has already been deployed in 85% of the UK’s water mains and in cities like Palo Alto, CA.

The American Water Works Association estimates the $1 trillion will be required to replace underground water infrastructure over the next 25 years. We know that to achieve that investment, local governments in the United States will need access to new ideas, new partners, and new money. The Procuring Resilience Workshop is a great first step to do just that.

 

 

Can public private partnerships be crowdfunded?

Public-private-partnerships are one of those things that people hear about and understand generally, but don’t really trust. There may be some good reason for that given how P3s have been used previously, where public assets have been privatized only to drive value to the company and away from the residents. Which is why we were so excited to meet Brian and learn about how he is trying to flip the script on P3s. Brian, through his company Infrashares is working to make the financial benefits of P3s directly available to the community. We did a quick interview with Brian to understand more, see below!

Where did the idea for InfraShares come from?

The idea for InfraShares came from my experience on a water/wastewater P3 in Southern California where I saw how a lack of community engagement hindered the projects progress and the reliance of private equity funds increased the project’s cost of capital.  Investment crowdfunding can help mitigate both of these issues by simultaneously providing community ownership and a low cost of capital.

What actually is InfraShares?

InfraShares is a marketplace for project sponsors (private developers or public agencies) to offer investment opportunities to individuals seeking to invest in infrastructure assets.  InfraShares facilitates the offering campaigns and manages all the interactions between the project sponsors and the investors.

Has anyone used crowdfunding for infrastructure before?

No.  investment crowdfunding has been used extensively for other assets like commercial real estate, but never for infrastructure.  Donation crowdfunding has been used for small projects but isn’t realistic for major capital improvements.  There are also mini-bond programs that offer investors a lower threshold for buying municipal bonds, but this isn’t a new source of financing like investment crowdfunding, just a repacking of traditional muni finance.

What have been the biggest challenges so far?

The biggest challenge so far has been getting public agency decision makers to take the risk associated with a new financing mechanism.

Where do you see the biggest opportunity for InfraShares?

The biggest opportunity for InfraShares is in providing alternative financing for small to medium sized projects delivered through Public-Private Partnerships (P3).  There is huge need for investment in these types of projects but they don’t attract institutional investment because of their size.

Who are your infrastructure heroes?

My infrastructure heroes include Megan Matson of Table Rock Capital and Bryant Jenkins of Sperry Capital who are both leaders and innovators in infrastructure finance.

Favorite advice from mentor?

Megan Matson of Table Rock Capital would often say: “if you can’t say it, you can’t think it”.  It took me a while to appreciate this advice, but eventually I understood the ability to articulate an idea is critical in infrastructure development.

FINAL FOUR: Water You Waiting For Projects

A whopping 1,100 water infrastructure fans voted for their favorite #WaterYouWaitingFor local government water project, all featured and shared on The Atlas. These top four projects are already winners. They’ll receive:

Honors at the ELGL18 conference in Golden, CO May 18th.

Profiles (via interviews, pictures, articles) by ELGL and The Atlas.

Free All-In membership to ELGL.

The overall winner will also receive a brag-worthy trophy, and a box of creativity goodies.

 

We’ll announce the overall winner at #ELGL18 at the 10:20 a.m. session “The Shape of Water” on Friday, May 18. Here are the top four projects (in random order):

Using Data & Creativity to Reduce Flooding

Orlando, FL

At a Glance: The City of Orlando plans to upgrade Lake Monitoring stations as part of this project. These stations will communicate rain intensity.duration data to the cloud via wireless connectivity. This information will be used to create an Orlando Unit Hydrograph curve to model storm events within the Orlando watershed.

 

Enhanced Flood Risk Reduction Through Bistate, Multiagency Partnership 

Kansas City, MO

At a Glance: Kansas City, Missouri, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers collaborate on complex flooding problem-solving and managed funding, administration and real estate in order to reduce heavy rain stormwater impact on local businesses and residences.

 

Building a Smarter Sewer System to Reduce Overflows in Greater Cincinnati 

Cincinnati, OH

At a Glance: To keep sewage mixed with stormwater out of waterways during rain events, Metropolitan Sewer District built a smarter sewer system that costs less than any other solution. Using sensors and computers, we can now monitor and redirect stormwater flows from full interceptor sewers to areas with available capacity.

 

Upgraded wastewater treatment to a level acceptable to reuse on crops

Hermiston, OR

At a Glance: The city needed to upgrade its effluent to discharge into the Umatilla River. After extensive study and research, the best solution was determined to be treating the water to the level that it could be applied to regular crops. So now the city discharges to the West Extension Irrigation District canal during irrigation season.

 

About #WaterYouWaitingFor:

The Atlas partnered with ELGL to promote the free and open exchange of ideas where local governments can learn from one another to be most successful. When local leaders share their success stories, everybody wins! This is especially true on expensive and complex public works projects, so the goal of this competition was to collect and share details about the best water projects in the nation.

ELGL selected 18 amazing water projects for you to learn more about on ELGL.org and The Atlas. The local government community voted and selected the above four projects for national recognition.

Water You Waiting For Finalists & Voting

The Atlas, like ELGL, is passionate about the free and open exchange of ideas where local governments can learn from one another to be most successful. When local leaders share their success stories, everybody wins. This is especially true on expensive and complex public works projects. We are so glad to be partnering with ELGL to collect and share details about the best water projects in the nation.

 

Below are the 18 amazing water projects nominated and selected for you to learn more about, now you get to pick your favorite! The winner will be selected by popular vote, so get the word out! You can vote for your favorite project here: http://elgl.org/2018/04/24/water-you-waiting-for-voting/.

 

Voting for the Top 4 projects is now open through midnight Wednesday, May 2nd. Here’s what’s on the line:

  • Honors at the ELGL18conference in Golden, CO May 18th.
  • Profiles (via interviews, pictures, articles) by ELGL and The Atlas.
  • A year’s free membership to ELGL, a trophy, and a box of goodies.

 

Terminal Island Advanced Water Purification

Los Angeles, CA

At a Glance: Construction of an Advanced Water Treatment Facility (AWPF) at Terminal Island Water Reclamation Plant (TIWRP) to provide safe recycled water for potable reuse for the surrounding area. The planning of this project started in 1985 and the construction was broken in two phases.

 

Upcycled Trash Booms for Trash Cleanup in the Tijuana River Valley 

San Diego, CA

At a Glance: A binational project that repurposes trash collected in Mexico to create booms that capture trash flowing into San Diego County.

 

 

Water Conservation Home Makeover at Chollas Creek 

San Diego County, CA

At a Glance: This pilot project provides water conservation ‘home makeovers’ to 50 low income homes in Encanto, a disadvantaged community in San Diego County. The project includes retrofits and personalized landscaping, as well as outreach including quarterly reports on water savings metrics and school programming.

 

 

Mission Avenue Complete Street 

Oceanside, CA

At a Glance: Mission Avenue Streetscape is a “complete green street” in Oceanside, San Diego County. This project implemented a ‘road diet’ to support local businesses, make the area more enjoyable, and include storm water BMPs.

 

 

Closed Loop Water Infrastructure at the San Diego International Airport 

San Diego, CA

At a Glance: The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, the agency that manages the day-to-day operations of San Diego International Airport (SAN), is pursuing an integrated approach to managing water quality, water use, and flood resilience.

 

 

Canyonside Recycled Water Pump Station Emergency Repairs for Flood Damage 

San Diego, CA

At a Glance: City crews worked long hours to install temporary pumps and generators; the pumps were operated manually 24 hr/day, shifts scheduled around the clock to keep pumps running and site secure. The City returned the Pump Station to full operating condition and kept costs to a minimum with the use of in-house staff.

 

 

Lloyd Estates Drainage Improvements 

Oakland Park, FL

At a Glance: Retrofits to existing stormwater control structures and have constructed new exfiltration trenches, catch basins & manholes, and roadside swales to deal with repeat flood losses. Retrofits seamlessly integrate both green (grass swales) and grey (pumps, trenches) components.

 

 

Citizen Science for King Tide Flooding 

Broward County, FL

At a Glance: Low-lying coastal areas of Broward County can be impacted by flooding from high tide events. To help document locations and severity of flooding, Broward County launched a citizen science effort that encouraged citizens to submit geotagged pictures of flooding via their smartphones.

 

 

Using Data & Creativity to Reduce Flooding

Orlando, FL

At a Glance: The City of Orlando plans to upgrade Lake Monitoring stations as part of this project. These stations will communicate rain intensity.duration data to the cloud via wireless connectivity. This information will be used to create an Orlando Unit Hydrograph curve to model storm events within the Orlando watershed.

 

 

Justifying Green Stormwater Design for St Paul 

St. Paul, MN

At a Glance: City of St. Paul had the opportunity to redevelop a vacant 135-acre Ford Motor Co. campus that included a riverfront area abutting Hidden Falls Regional Park. However the current site lacked stormwater management transportation options to support its use by the community. Because of its prominent location, Mayor Chris Coleman urged the city staff to study and replicate the best practices for a “21st century community.” Development plans have been informed by community input and enhanced by triple bottom line cost analysis.

 

 

Enhanced Flood Risk Reduction Through Bistate, Multiagency Partnership 

Kansas City, MO

At a Glance: Kansas City, Missouri, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers collaborate on complex flooding problem-solving and managed funding, administration and real estate in order to reduce heavy rain stormwater impact on local businesses and residences.

 

 

Southwest Resiliency Park to Mitigate Stormwater Flooding 

Hoboken, NJ

At a Glance: After experiencing significant flooding during Hurricane Sandy, the Southwest Resiliency Park is the first in a series of investments the city is making to increase green space and reduce flooding vulnerability for communities.

 

 

Using Green Infrastructure To Green Camden City and Reduce Combined Sewage Flooding and Overflows 

Camden, NJ

At a Glance: Constructed 4 riverfront parks and 60 rain gardens in Camden City to provide green amenities for the residents, reduce combined sewage flooding and overflows, and also create green maintenance jobs.

 

 

Building a Smarter Sewer System to Reduce Overflows in Greater Cincinnati 

Cincinnati, OH

At a Glance: To keep sewage mixed with stormwater out of waterways during rain events, Metropolitan Sewer District built a smarter sewer system that costs less than any other solution. Using sensors and computers, we can now monitor and redirect stormwater flows from full interceptor sewers to areas with available capacity.

 

 

Upgraded wastewater treatment to a level acceptable to reuse on crops

Hermiston, OR

At a Glance: The city needed to upgrade its effluent to discharge into the Umatilla River. After extensive study and research, the best solution was determined to be treating the water to the level that it could be applied to regular crops. So now the city discharges to the West Extension Irrigation District canal during irrigation season.

 

 

Reducing CSOs with CMAC Technology 

Philadelphia, PA

At a Glance: Philadelphia Water Department installed continuous monitoring and adaptive control (CMAC) technology in stormwater retention basin to control runoff in real-time and reduce flooding.

 

 

Hacking the Storm: Crowdsourcing, Civic Hacking, and Innovation in Harvey’s Wake

Houston, TX

At a Glance: In the midst of Hurricane Harvey, City of Houston officials and the local tech community responded rapidly using data, tech, and crowdsourcing to hack disaster response efforts. These new approaches leverage the power of the crowd to revolutionize disaster rescue, relief, and recovery operations.

 

 

Lower Footprint Biofiltration to Increase Efficiency in Right of Way Stormwater Capture

Houston, TX

At a Glance: Part of a broader redevelopment effort, Bagby Street – a ten-block corridor in a dense, urban neighborhood of Houston – was redesigned to improve mobility for vehicles and pedestrians, and add aesthetic appeal to the road. Improvements led to Bagby Street being named one of Texas’ first certified Greenroads.

 

Retain Your Rain 

Norfolk, VA

At a Glance: Retain your rain seeks to engage residents in a city-wide systemic approach to stormwater management by encouraging the use of small-scale green infrastructure on their properties. This reduces the amount of water that goes into the stormwater system which can cause floods in our streets and neighborhoods.

 

Trickle-Down Tech & Procurement Innovation

Procurement innovation may sound like an oxymoron, but government spending is a common thread in all of our most important policy debates: healthcare, infrastructure, tech. You name it. This post is a response to Jen Pahlka’s call for ideas leading up to Code for America’s 2018 Summit to improve how governments work with technology vendors to deliver better services and more cost-effective outcomes for every taxpayer dollar. That’s a goal we whole-heartedly support, and below are our suggestions for accelerating procurement innovation beyond the tech sector. This post was originally posted on Medium.


By Shalini Vajjhala, CEO of re:focus partners & co-founder of The Atlas Marketplace.


Communities across the country are looking for ways to leapfrog to smarter, more sustainable solutions and reach better outcomes for their residents. And in many communities, tech is beginning to trickle down to the everyday operations of departments traditionally unrelated to IT, like police and housing & redevelopment. But government procurement — the process of actually buying services and products like smart sensors, microgrids and flexible flood barriers — is often a stumbling block. If we don’t make major improvements to the procurement tools that government agencies are required to use, governments officials at all levels are inevitably going to replace failing systems with the same old fixes rather than transitioning to better, cheaper, more sustainable systems.

That’s a terrible outcome for taxpayers and residents alike.

Because our mission The Atlas is to help local governments scale proven urban innovations, we’re unabashedly enthusiastic about improving procurement processes too. It’s impossible to separate one from the other.

PC: Dilbert, via Jon on Tech.

We have been working on innovative infrastructure procurement in the energy, transportation, and water sectors from inside and outside government for over a decade. And we’re incredibly excited about the energy that has emerged from all corners to fix broken procurement systems.

Trickle down tech

With smart sensors and IoT discussions entering every sector from energy to water to waste management, tech has begun to permeate nearly every city department. Public works, housing, police, transit…technology has begun to trickle down to all of these. As difficult as technology procurement is, the tech sector has one major advantage over lots of other sectors: iteration. IT systems evolve much faster than other large conventional infrastructure. For all those IT officials and vendors who have struggled through brutally slow and difficult procurement processes, we’re not saying the procurement in tech is fast or nimble, only that it has the potential to learn and improve more quickly in comparison to other sectors. As a reference point, just think about how much more frequently a city replaces software than it does a public transit system.

The comparative speed of turnover and tech service innovations offers an opportunity to experiment, iterate, and continuously improve procurement processes, where other more static sectors don’t have the same luxury. Water infrastructure is perhaps the most compelling counterpoint. The battle to replace 150-year old pipes is quietly raging under our streets, as various vendors and industry associations are working furiously to tilt the balance of hundreds of local procurement decisions. You can update a government website or replace servers on a fairly regular basis, but the stakes are higher with once-a-century procurement decisions. A city (hopefully) only buys a whole water system once in a generation.

We would love to see the kinds of govtech procurement innovations CFA is seeking through its Summit reach professionals from other sectors, like water utilities and transportation agencies, and to have the lessons learned from IT Directors, Chief Innovation Officers and vendors alike translated for small and medium sized cities that are all eager to leapfrog to smarter, safer, and more sustainable infrastructure solutions.

Procuring the wrong thing well is not a good outcome.

In our work in the water sector we’ve seen first hand the difference between between asking: “How can my city get the best value on a new water treatment plant?” and “What options do we have for reducing flooding in our city?” Both questions could be the starting point for streamlining procurement. They each frame an important problem, but the former presumes a narrow end outcome that limits possible solutions and the latter creates space for game-changing innovations in design and financing.

PC: Jon on Tech.

All procurement is a means to an end. Procurement innovation isn’t an end by itself.

It’s easy to lose sight of that, given how complex large procurement processes have become. Lots of efforts have focused on streamlining various rules, regulations, and purchasing processes. These things are all important, but less discussed and even more important is how to identify the ideal outcome and turn that vision into a clear scope of work (SOW). The sweet spot between focus, efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and creativity is tough to find. Government officials need better resources to help envision the best possible ends, not only support in streamlining the means.

Groups like the X-Prize Foundation have lots of experience in framing problems and competitions to generate the widest, most innovative, and relevant sets of possible solutions. Let’s bring these folks — the people with the most experience in framing problems to encourage creative problem-solving — together with government officials to frame better desired outcomes and scopes of work, before governments get into the weeds of procurement processes.

The best defense is a good offense.

Procurement is all about managing risk and liability. The risk of awarding contracts to inappropriate providers (a councilmember’s brother-in-law) or ending up far short of a prescribed outcome or service (the half-built transit system) are two among many that keep public servants up at night. Cities like Boston have flipped this dynamic on its head by using innovative procurement tools, like Requests for Ideas, to put the onus on vendors to show how their cool new thing can help Boston solve its core challenges. Boston had to do a lot of work to frame these challenges well (see above), but tools like RFIs, competitions, and performance-based RFPs can and should be far more widely tested and applied to attract new ideas, new partnerships, and new resources.

We’re tackling this problem now, in partnership with the Kresge Foundation and US Water Alliance, by working with six cities across the US to translate big city procurement experiments into replicable tools for smaller cities looking to tackle legacy water system issues.

Kudos to the Code for America team for reaching out widely. We’re glad to have the chance to #weighinonCfASummit and eager to hear what other folks think.

One of our favorite sayings is: “In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.”

So here’s to fixing procurement in practice and making life better for government officials, vendors, and most importantly, the communities they both serve.


Want to learn more? Here are some more articles that may be interesting to you:

Announcement! Angela Murrell Joins Atlas

We are so pleased to announce that Angela Murrell has joined The Atlas Marketplace as Head of Development!

In her new role,  Angela will be responsible for ensuring The Atlas platform creates value for all users and delivers on its mission to help cities and innovators connect to make communities safer, smarter and more sustainable.

One of the reasons we love Angela is because she has a sense of humor 🙂

Want to learn more about Angela? Here’s a quick interview:

What was your first concert? Street Scene 2005 – featuring the Killers, Death Cab for Cutie, the Pixies, Black Eyed Peas. Street Scene went on during summers in San Diego from 1984 to 2009, so as a proper native I had to see what was up.

Celebrity look alike?  More like act-alike, when I dance I look like Elaine from Seinfeld.
If you could compete in the Olympics, which sport would you compete in?  Swimming…but if I’m being honest, I’m probably more capable of something dorky like curling. There’s talk of adding billiards to the Olympics in which case, I’d be into that. For now, I’ll just shark people at local dive bars.

What’s something your parents taught you? My parents taught me about long term investments in life, such as building skills and planning for the future. For example, they gave me my first computer when I was 5 – now computing is my life.

Favorite advice from mentor? “If it weren’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have any at all” – wise words from my grandpa, which taught me to be grateful for any good fortunes, but most importantly that I need to work hard to reach my goals.

Favorite meal? Good food, good drink, good company and view is ideal. Could be sushi, pizza, burgers, Italian, Indian, or tacos. Add avocado, cheese or spiciness and I’m sold on just about anything.

Why are you excited about joining The Atlas? The opportunity to work alongside bright and creative minds to find mutually beneficial solutions for cities that are interested in growing and strengthening their communities.


You can read more about Angela’s background on our About page.

Our street light poles are more valuable than we think. Do you know why?

Cities today are expected to do more with less: better services and more transparency, but with smaller budgets and less federal funding. The value of street light poles is largely unrecognized and untapped, but also rapidly increasing — this is extremely unique when it comes to public assets. How cities and utilities approach the value of their street light poles could lay the foundation for improved economic development, digital inclusion and smart cities. Or it could lay the foundation for an enormous missed opportunity. 

 

By Kip Harkness, Deputy City Manager of  the City of San Jose, CA

 

As the private sector succeeds in giving consumers more and better digital service experiences — think streaming movies on Netflix or rapid delivery with Amazon Prime — cities face increasing pressure to up their own service experience. Citizens expect to pay their water bill online with a simple app, and many balk at paper bills. New government technologies promise cheaper, better, faster city services. But to achieve the promise of this smart cities wonderland, local governments have to be innovative in their approach to service delivery and nimble in seeking out new sources of revenue. With the triumph of mobile and the resulting desire to fully build out 4G/LTE networks (with 5G fast on the heels), there are few government assets that represent as much of an opportunity as the street light pole.

This ubiquitous ‘vertical street furniture’ is now at the heart of both the local government innovation imperative and the never-ending hunt for new revenue sources. While the value of street light poles is largely unrecognized by the public sector, it is thoroughly understood by the telecommunications industry and others who intend to profit from the next wave of the mobile revolution and the Internet of Things (IoT). How cities approach their street light poles could lay the foundation for improved connectivity, digital inclusion, and more modern delivery of public services. Or it could it could go down as an enormous missed opportunity.

In San Jose, we’ve decided that the best approach is to see the value of our street lights as contributing to a closed loop of improving connectivity for all. From that basis, we work with telecommunication companies at the local level to find and expand the opportunity for mutual gain, while opposing new state or federal legislation that takes away local control. This collaborative ‘connectivity first’ approach shifts away from a pole by pole permitting or revenue fight and puts us on the same team, facing the opportunity to expand connectivity together. In this way, we are open to improving our processes to move at the speed of business and use just enough government intervention to reach a tipping point: where Telcos can meet their goals of rapid, predictable deployment at scale, and the city can ensure more equitable access to connectivity that lays the foundation for the smart city of the future.

Why Are We Here? Digital transformation & increasing citizen expectations

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Three explosive trends over the last 10 years have transformed the consumer experience. You know them intuitively: Mobile, Data, and Digital Services

  1. Mobile: The mass adoption of mobile technologies. Think iPhone.
  2. Data: The exponential growth in data usage and increasing sophistication in data analytics.
  3. Digital Services: The increasing customer expectations for instantaneous and novel services. Can you even imagine mailing a letter to a catalogue and then waiting 6–8 weeks for delivery anymore?

 

Just think about how you used to use your phone 10 years ago — we were fine with a halfway decent voice call and some texting. Now, we expect to stream movies on our phone while they’re mapping our location and paying for our coffee, all without missing a beat. A few milliseconds of latency in an on-line transaction can cause an impatient millennial (or boomer) to abandon a purchase and go on to the next thing. 

“Alice: How long is forever? White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

These factors are motivating the completion of the 4G/LTE build out and the pending upgrade to 5G mobile networks. The bottom line for city folks who don’t work in telecommunications is this: with 5G will come incredible opportunities for the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT encompasses all of the technologies — the sensors, lights, meters (and analytics) — that can dramatically improve city services through improved awareness, responsiveness, and flexibility.

IoT technologies can improve city services by allowing our infrastructure to ‘talk’ to us and itself. For example, today a fire engine has to blare its sirens and cautiously inch through a busy intersection against the light. With IoT, the fire engine can use IoT to let a system know its location and destination and the system can use IoT to tell the traffic signals along the route to turn green for the engine and stop all cross traffic. This isn’t science fiction; we are currently in deployment of a system like this in San Jose right now. San Diego is using cameras built into connected streetlights to monitor pedestrian traffic and reroute cars during peak hours to avoid pedestrian accidents and alleviate congestion. Camden, New Jersey, is using gunshot detection technology to try to improve public safety. All of these and similar systems will be built on networks that will increasingly rely on the height, power, and near ubiquity of the street light pole to mount and power the dense network of small cells and sensors that are required.

The result is the value and importance of our street light poles has skyrocketed and private companies are now vying to be the first to secure the best locations and deploy improved services.

They are also working hard to change federal and state laws with the goal of reducing local control, give them by right access to poles, and cap or eliminate permit fees and lease rates that allow cities to fully recover costs and create revenue streams.

How Can We Leverage the Increasing Value of Our Light Poles?

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here? Alice asked. That depends a good deal on where you want to get to, said the Cat.” ― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

Like Alice, many cities aren’t being as strategic as they should be before pursuing the wonderland of IoT and smart cities technologies. Some see light poles only as a new revenue source, and most are unclear on what role their cities should play in accelerating broadband deployment. There are unique challenges to pursuing smart cities technologies from within local government: universal service obligations, mandated transparency and the inability to charge for many services.

It is easy to get excited about flashy potential of Smart Cities and IoT devices and put the technology cart before the outcome horse.

Many vendors are happy enough to take this approach, sell us some cool hardware and leave us with an incomplete and siloed smart cities portfolio that doesn’t deliver real value to our cities and their citizens.

Before wading too far into the adoption of smart cities/IoT technologies, city officials and staff should ask themselves some key questions:

  1. Are we putting people at the center of our strategy and solving problems that actually matter to them? Or is our approach vendor-driven?
  2. Are we being strategic about how we are trading the value of our street poles and other assets?
  3. Do we understand the use cases (i.e. real world applications) of the technologies we’re considering? What applications do our residents want and need? What technologies are mature and which are nascent?
  4. What are the technical requirements for those real world applications (e.g. operating system, sensor data aggregation platform, municipal broadband specifications)?
  5. What about the policies required? (e.g. security, data, fiber, conduit, pole remediation)
  6. Have we done the due diligence required to ensure that access to our poles will be non-exclusive?
  7. Have we thought through privacy concerns and, as a community, decided on a strategy to address them?

 

Smart City IoT Architecture. Above and below are the real world use cases and problems we are trying to solve. These use cases should drive the architecture of the layers below it, not the other way around.

PC: City of San Jose, adapted from consultant analysis for City of Barcelona website, Cisco.

We are asking ourselves these questions right now in San Jose. To answer them, we have decided to work iteratively to pilot and deploy IoT devices on our street poles and test out various use cases. Simultaneously, we are developing a city-wide strategy and policy framework that ensures we are putting people at the center of our smart cities approach.

What Can We Do Now?

“No wise fish would go anywhere without a porpoise.” ― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

For the cities just starting to consider adoption of IoT technologies, here are some practical things you can do to position your city for the future, based on the lessons we’ve learned in San Jose:

  1. Be clear about the problems you are trying to solve, and focus on those that are: A) Causing a lot of people pain or annoyance, B) Core to what your city should do, C) Actually solvable with technology and process improvement
  2. Go ahead and set out a big vision, but start small and iterate.
  3. Start to see your street light poles as THE platform for both IoT and small cells and begin to value them accordingly.

 

For companies seeking to partner with cities to demonstrate/pilot their technologies, here are some things to consider:

  1. Collaborate with cities to identify use cases that matter and can actually be addressed with your technology,
  2. Be candid and direct about the limitations of your technology and what other technologies or capabilities will be needed to make a complete solution work, and
  3. Consider taking a platform approach that would allow both the integration of legacy technologies and competitors as well as your own.

 

The city of the future will have to meet rising citizen expectations, by embracing mobile, data, and digital services. This will result in a new digital layer of our infrastructure, much of it powered by IoT. And many of these devices, and the networks supporting them, will want to reside on our street light poles.

The future wants our light poles. Don’t give them away lightly.

 

Announcement! Mayor Berry Joins The Atlas

We’re thrilled to announce that Hon. RJ Berry (Former Mayor, Albuquerque NM) has joined The Atlas Marketplace as Senior Advisor. Mayor Berry, a former two-term Mayor of Albuquerque, is known for his innovative approach to government. His passion for bringing diverse groups together to solve persistent and complex urban challenges resulted in efficiency measures that produced $34 million in taxpayer savings, expanded use of public-private partnerships, streamlined infrastructure planning and financing, and improvements in educational attainment and workforce development. You can read Mayor Berry’s full biography here.

Said Mayor Berry:

“As Mayor of Albuquerque, I was proud of our efforts to bolster the entrepreneurial ecosystem for startups and other creative small companies to drive economic development, create jobs, and improve city services. Now I am proud to continue that mission, but in a different role – as Senior Advisor to The Atlas Marketplace. The Atlas is an online community that facilitates learning between cities to accelerate the uptake of innovative infrastructure and technology solutions by highlighting what’s working in communities around the world. I enthusiastically support The Atlas mission and I am excited to continue working with civic-minded individuals who are dedicated to making our communities smarter, safer and more prosperous. As a public servant and an entrepreneur myself, I look forward to providing insight around key business decisions, as The Atlas seeks to expand beyond its initial 50 partner cities.”

 

Mayor RJ Berry
PC: Steven St. John

 

Said Elle Hempen, CEO of The Atlas Marketplace:

“We are excited to have Mayor Berry join The Atlas Marketplace. Not only does he have a deep understanding of how and why cities make important decisions, he also has deep expertise and experience in the infrastructure industry. We will rely on his strategic guidance – alongside Mayor Nutter’s – to inform how we effectively match cities to solutions.”

 

Mayor Berry will join The Atlas team for this week’s U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C.


Follow Mayor Berry on Twitter.

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