22 April 2019
A data dashboard enables smart city planners to receive real-time visual data such as the traffic situation in various districts for traffic monitoring and management. Photo: Reuters
A data dashboard enables smart city planners to receive real-time visual data such as the traffic situation in various districts for traffic monitoring and management. Photo: Reuters

How data helps in city management: Insights from NY deputy mayor

This is the second part of my discussions with Stephen Goldsmith, former deputy mayor of New York City and co-author of the book “The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance”.

The first part talks about his experience in building a smart city in New York.  Part two discusses further how data can help improve the efficiency of city management.

Here are excerpts from that interview: 

Q:Who will be responsible for pushing the culture change needed in building a smart city?

A: That’s a great question. Both Beijing and New York have effective government management. Things have just become rituals, such as collecting garbage and cleaning roads. People would hardly talk about how we can improve efficiency in these areas. Yet, data will help them realize there is still room for improvement.

In New York City, we held meetings every month, engaging chief operating officers from transportation, police, and other government departments. On these scheduled meetings, they would share their own experiences on how data has helped them tackle critical issues.

I believe, with in-depth datasets, and consent from the top officials, as well as significant issues in city management pending to be tackled, these factors would help push the culture change in building a smart city.

San Francisco government also sees that, and this has led the government to establish a data institute to provide data training for high-level officials.

Q: I’ve established a data dashboard for CEO at Alibaba, which has been highly valued by the senior management. How do you look at using dashboard in smart city building and management?

A: Dashboard is very helpful. The mayor can use a data dashboard to manage and display various issues for different departments efficiently. For example, if you can use the data dashboard to show the data information about, say, the transportation situation of 10 blocks altogether, when you want to acknowledge and tackle the traffic issue in the area, then, a data dashboard can provide you with the progress of how your solutions work out, and the massive information about local residents’ feedback.

Q: When I demonstrate a data dashboard for city management to the mayor of Beijing, he asks how can we make the data dashboard operational? What are your thoughts on the operationality of a data dashboard in reality?

A: It’s meaningless if you measure something that you can’t change. You definitely want to measure something that can be practically changed or solved when you have sufficient resources. When you come up with different plans to tackle an issue, with a data dashboard, you can show the detailed data information of your plans altogether, offering a clear overview for decision making. 

Q: I’ve talked with some colleges and institutions engaged in smart city planning and management. I found there are mainly two groups of people involved in the field: one group in urban planning and another group of data scientists. What’s your take on that?

A: Urban planning has changed dramatically now. We can use sensors to know a massive amount of data and information, say, on how many people cross the road per minute and how long they spend. We can use augmented reality (AR) to predict how buildings would affect streetlights. Massive data would contribute to better city planning.

For example, utilizing data, you can have the potential impact of a building on the nearby transport and the air quality. On the other hand, if there is a heavy outbreak of asthma in a specific district, we can check the data on air quality in nearby regions to find out the cause. I believe data science would enable us to find better solutions to provide better city services.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 23

Translation by Julie Zhu with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Venture Partner of Sequoia Capital China, former head of the data committee and vice president at Alibaba Group.

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