Data-Smart City Pod: Building Back Better with Intelligent Infrastructure

Episode Summary

Professor Steve Goldsmith interviews co-authors Betsy Gardner and Jill Jamieson, and subject matter expert Professor Luna Lu, about why developing intelligent infrastructure is crucial for helping the United States tackle the challenge of inequitable, inaccessible, and inadequate roads, bridges, dams, sidewalks, and water systems throughout the country.

Episode Notes

This episode is a lightly edited version of a recent panel discussion about our newest paper, “Toward a Smarter Future: Building Back Better with Intelligent Civil Infrastructure -- Smart Sensors and Self-Monitoring Civil Works." Professor Steve Goldsmith interviews co-authors Betsy Gardner and Jill Jamieson, and subject matter expert Professor Luna Lu, about why developing intelligent infrastructure is crucial for helping the United States tackle the challenge of inequitable, inaccessible, and inadequate roads, bridges, dams, sidewalks, and water systems throughout the country.

Tune in to hear Professor Goldsmith, Jamieson, Gardner, and Professor Lu make the argument for a strategic, smart infrastructure plan that integrates digital technology, sensors, and data to not only address existing issues but to mitigate risks and improve the conditions and structures that shape our daily lives. 

Referenced articles and paper:
Toward a Smarter Future: Building Back Better with Intelligent Civil Infrastructure -- Smart Sensors and Self-Monitoring Civil Works
As the Chorus of Dumb City Advocates Increases, How Do We Define the Truly Smart City?
Sensors Tell Construction Crews Exactly How Long to Let Concrete Cure

About Data-Smart City Pod

New from the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, the Data-Smart City Pod brings on top innovators and leading industry, academic, and government officials to discuss data, innovation, and government. This podcast serves as a central resource for cities and individuals interested in the intersection of government and innovations, the adoption of data projects on the local government level, and how to become data smart. Hosted by Stephen Goldsmith, former Deputy Mayor of New York,  Mayor of Indianapolis, and current Professor at Harvard Kennedy School.

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Music credit: Summer-Man by Ketsa

About Data-Smart City Solutions

Data-Smart City Solutions, housed at the Ash Center at Harvard Kennedy School, is working to catalyze the adoption of data projects on the local government level by serving as a central resource for cities interested in this emerging field. We highlight best practices, top innovators, and promising case studies while also connecting leading industry, academic, and government officials. Our research focus is the intersection of government and data, ranging from open data and predictive analytics to civic engagement technology. We seek to promote the combination of integrated, cross-agency data with community data to better discover and preemptively address civic problems. To learn more visit us online and follow us on Twitter

About the Ash Center 

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Episode Transcription

Steve Goldsmith:

Hello, this is Steve Goldsmith, Professor of Urban Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School, and you're listening to Data-Smart City Pod, where we bring on top innovators and experts to discuss the future of cities and how to become data smart.

Today's podcast is a bit different than usual. Last week we hosted a panel discussion about our newest paper, “Toward a Smarter Future: Building Back Better with Intelligent Civil Infrastructure -- Smart Sensors and Self-Monitoring Civil Works," which is linked in the podcast notes. Today's episode is a lightly edited version of our virtual discussion on intelligent infrastructure.

Let me introduce our panelists today, Betsy Gardner is a writer for Data-Smart City Solutions. She's a producer of the Data-Smart City Podcast, has a master's in urban regional policy from Northeastern. Jill Jamieson is one of the nation's experts on infrastructure and public-private partnerships. She's president and CEO of Illuminati Infrastructure Advisors, and a distinguished senior fellow at the Global Resilience Institute at Northeastern University in Boston. She's a frequent author and keynote speaker on issues such as the ones we're talking about today, as well as public infrastructure funding, finance and delivery. Luna Lu is an American Concrete Pavement Association Professor at Purdue University. She is a founding director of the Center for Intelligent Infrastructure, and she leads an interdisciplinary group that works on novel nanomaterials in devices for energy harvesting and sensing aggregations. I told her she has to talk down to my level when she presents or at least translate after she goes through the scientific part.

So we have a great panel, and I want to begin by asking Betsy to just summarize the paper which kind of led to the panel on the importance of digital infrastructure as we think about the future of infrastructure, Betsy.

Betsy Gardner:

Thanks, Steve. We're going to be diving deeper into our paper towards a smart future, building back better with intelligent infrastructure. As Steve said, I'm just going to give a brief overview of our paper before we move to the Q&A session with coauthor, Jill Jamieson and subject matter expert Professor Luna Lu. This conversation is very timely, right now all eyes are on infrastructure. Tomorrow, there should be, hopefully will be a vote on a massive infrastructure bill. And the vast majority of Americans, recent polls put it at over 80%, support infrastructure spending.

So we knew that the US needs to build better infrastructure, but we're making the case for building a system of connected, intelligent infrastructure because otherwise we're going to be back in this same hole in the future. So in our paper, we first define intelligent infrastructure, and then we discuss its benefits, which include life cycle cost savings, enhanced safety and resiliency, better sustainability and increased equity. To us an intelligent infrastructure system is one that integrates digital technology, sensors, and data into the physical structures like roads, bridges, sewer systems, sidewalks, anything like that, and then uses that information to identify issues earlier, build more climate resilient structures and to guide equitable investments.

That last point for us is really crucial, intelligent infrastructure systems incorporate equity in every step. Data and mapping have shown exactly where the previous investments in better, safer infrastructure has been built, and it's not in communities of color, it's not in Indian country, it's not in low-income areas. So this is a moment to actually address those issues and use data in smart infrastructure to detail how and where to invest and to hold ourselves accountable to those equity goals.

We also do discuss and acknowledge the challenges to intelligent infrastructure, which mostly fall under things like the higher upfront cost, the fact that a lot of this technology is still evolving and there are cybersecurity threats. These issues are addressed in our paper in the policy recommendations which cover federal, state and local governments. So we have recommendations for all levels because it's going to take all levels of government to achieve more equitable, sustainable and intelligent infrastructure. Again, the full set of recommendations is in the paper, but just a few to keep in mind during this conversation are grants and incentives from the federal level, budgeting for smart infrastructure at the state level and at the municipal level, investing in comprehensive asset management systems and then also training local employees and city workers on how to use them.

Steve Goldsmith:

Thank you, Betsy. So Jill, let me start with you. It feels to me like building physical infrastructure without digital infrastructure runs a substantial risk of waste, or lack of resilience, or lack of dynamic adaptability or reducing maintenance opportunities, but just without going through the whole list, if all that's true, I haven't heard much discussion of this subject in the debate about the infrastructure bill, am I wrong? And if I'm right, why not? Was smart infrastructure contemplated in the original bipartisan bill? And if not, why was it overlooked?

Jill Jamieson:

So, yeah, you're right. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the IIJA, which is the bipartisan bill, really replicates all of the problems that brought us to where we stand today. There is a spattering of reference, in their defense, there's a spattering of references to sensors and smart technologies, but it's very limited, it's V to I technology, vehicle to infrastructure technology, so very specific, or maybe wildfire sort of sensors. But there's not a writ large approach to, hey, let's invest in a more modernized infrastructure system. And so the United States is woefully dependent on what we call the repair and replacement mentality, so we are still investing. Most of our infrastructure, as we all know, was created generations ago, depending on the sector you might have some in the '60s and '70s, but there are water systems still in urban areas that were created during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln takes credit for those. And the fact that they have not been upgraded and modernized in a whole scale basis till today is really what's putting us into this sort of dire strait.

So a couple of things about the IIJA. First of all, the amount of funding, about a trillion dollars over eight year period is not that much money, to be quite frank. Our infrastructure deficit of the nation is more along the lines of $7 trillion that we need invested by 2030, just to maintain, sort of to tread water with GDP. So there's not a whole lot of money to go around. But on top of that, to your point, Steve, the investment itself is really focused on, here, we're going to throw some into bridges, throw some into transportation with very little articulation of what it means to modernize and upgrade. It's about money, not about value, and I think that's where the rubber meets the road, they kind of missed the mark on that.

It's not to say there's not some consideration of it, the word intelligent infrastructure is mentioned seven times in 2,740 pages, so we get seven references. There is a smart community resources center that has some money that'll go to sort of trying to invest in new technologies in this regard, but there's no linkage between the investment itself and doing these sorts of things. And I think that there are objectives that are stated in the bill, which is to build back for once in a generation.

To your point, how do we build back now when we're reinvesting in Jurassic area methods and materials? And on top of that, how can we build in a way that we can prevent ourselves in 20, 30 years being in this exact same situation with a backlog of deferred maintenance with no real strategic plan for mapping this board? And so, yeah, in my view they did somewhat miss the mark on this. That's not to say that it needed to be legislated, there's still opportunities, I think as this bill rolls out for the implementation to try to incorporate a little bit more in terms of smart infrastructure and hopefully this conversation today in the paper will help to inform how that might happen.

Steve Goldsmith:

Thanks, Jill. Let me pick up on a couple of themes, maybe go to Luna. There's not much conversation at the local level about the life cycle costing of infrastructure, like Jill's building and replace, and repave or seal the cracks or whatever the case may be. So you really are one of the nation's leading experts on intelligent infrastructure, so how would one utilize intelligent infrastructure in order to address this deferred maintenance or to build in a way to begin with, whether it's materials or sensors, that allows us to kind of preemptively address maintenance going forward?

Luna Lu:

Thanks, Steve. That's a very important question, how can we use the intelligent infrastructure to address the maintenance issue? I think there's a couple of levels we can look at, first we can use all the data that has been collected. So first, what is the intelligent infrastructure, maybe we can break it down for a second? As Betsy has mentioned, it really is using the IOT sensors and the digital technology to provide a sustainability and resilience and improve the quality of the life, right? So therefore there is a tremendous amount of the real-time data, which can provide better information about infrastructure at any given moment, this can help us at several levels. First, we can prioritize the maintenance schedule, so therefore we're not doing, just the going back every six months and patching. People in Indiana always joke there is two seasons in Indiana, one is the winter season and another is construction season. I think that's pretty much similar to every... Well, in most of the country. As Jill mentioned, most of the infrastructure has been building about 50, 60 years ago. This is the maintenance season, right?

So second is we can really drastically reduce to maintenance cost. And not only prioritize, but also reduce the maintenance cost. One important point, Steve has bring it up, is life cycle cost, right? So if we're looking at it from life cycle cost to perspective, if the road condition jump from fair to the very poor, what happens is you have to double, not only in double, triple, maybe spend four or five times more money to maintain that particular road. So therefore we can immediately identify where it's needed and then from lifecycle perspective, reduce the cost.

And another thing that's very important for us to think about it, as Jill mentioned, how can we develop a new policy to prevent the poor maintenance as what will happen today, right? So many decision has been centralized, the making... I mean, using the transportation as example, because as a civil infrastructure professor I deal with bridges and pavement all the time, there may be not be knowing to the public, when opening the traffic, for instance, if a major interstate is going through the renovation and when we should open traffic to the public actually is determined by the very high level, not on the job site and not on the construction site immediately. It's arbitrarily determined at a high level based on the experiments and the historical data. So as such it's leading to drastically [inaudible 00:11:47] congestions, right? When concrete already reach the strength to be able to bearing the load of the traffic, we're still not holding open the traffic, they're holding the traffic. So that's caused a tremendous congestion and a waste of the taxpayer's dollar, time, money and their resources.

So by using this decentralized technology we can making the better policy, and also we can encourage and promote in adoption of the new technology. One thing I would like to use, for example, Purdue University has been working with Indiana DOT since 2019 with implementing smart road sensors in the three interstates. And then this preliminary data has been showing we improved 30% of the construction productivity and reduced 20% of the labor cost and the related insurance, and also reduced 15% of the over use of material. Right, so therefore there is tremendous economic benefits that can be regained from this.

Steve Goldsmith:

Is there a place where we can see that?

Luna Lu:

We have published a paper on this at the American Concrete Institute Journal, and also this project has been awarded by American Society of Civil Engineering a 2021 Gamechanger Award.

Steve Goldsmith:

I want to get back to both of you kind of on, particularly, Jill, on what specific policy and legislative changes would be needed to kind of mainstream digital infrastructure. But I want to touch on a couple of subjects first. One is resilience and sustainability, climate, and the other is equity, and then we'll go back to the policy stuff. So Jill, back to you, and then Betsy, I'm going to call on you on equity, resilient infrastructure and infrastructure resilience are important topics, so how would intelligent civil works help the nation in terms of climate resilience? Jill, you're really one of the country's leading experts on water and dams and the likes, so how would you think about intelligent infrastructure in that side? And then, Luna, let's go to you and think about what are policies or structures that need to be in place in order to accomplish these digital solutions? Your work on materials is really fascinating, and I think everyone needs to hear about that. But first, Jill, infrastructure resilience and resilient infrastructure, please?

Jill Jamieson:

Yeah, I think you just called me by accident a dam expert, right? I'm going to take that and just run with it. But yeah, they're two separate things, obviously. So we have resilient infrastructure and then we have infrastructure resilience, right? And I can give one example that covers both and that's in sort of the dam and levy area. So I think smart sensors in general and intelligent infrastructure being rolled out on a piecemeal basis, to be quite frank, for a lot of resilience projects. And I think in the paper we talk about the Hampton Roads area and some of the sensors we're using for flood inundation and trying to be predictive in terms of climate resilience and being able to evacuate people, et cetera, so that's one example.

But probably one that I'm perplexed by why this isn't a thing yet, is in the dam and levy areas in the United States. So many people don't realize that we have in the United States, something along the lines of 91,000 dams across the country, the average age of those is something like 57 years, which makes them older than me, which makes me feel good about myself, but not good about our safety as a nation. On the flip side, we have over a hundred thousand miles of levees, to be quite frank, we have not even mapped all the levies in the United States.

Now, when these were first introduced in the United States, many of them were in rural areas, they were for farm purposes, water supply, et cetera. Demographic changes, population growths has made it so that now they're in metropolitan areas, failure of these dams cause property loss and we've seen it in Michigan and we've seen it in other places, right? So we have all of these dams and levees, 65% of our dams are owned by private entities, so they're not even government controlled, so we have this entire issue out there. And right now our monitoring system for dams and levees is essentially a guy goes out every five years and kicks the dirt to see if they're okay, there's not a lot of money in the dam safety programs, et cetera.

So this is an area where USDA, and in some of our rural dams, they've rolled out a system that's already underway which is the Smart Dam System or Dam Smart is what it's called. And basically it's a series of sensors and intelligent infrastructure that will alert you to structural failures before they come around. I think if we're looking at policy, and I know we're not there yet, this is one of those things, why would the federal government ever give money to the National Inventory of Dams if they didn't insist on some sort of more timely, cost-effective manner of monitoring those dams.

So as we build them in going forward, it's something that could easily be put into an integrated system that will help not only in terms of the resilience of our cities, because a lot of this is flood protection and climate resilience, but also the resilience of our infrastructure, so we will know in advance if something starts to go wrong. In Europe we're seeing it writ large, all of the dams that are being built now are including sensors, vibration technology, so that there's an opportunity to preventively intervene if there are any sort of issues.

And that's just a really easy example for people to understand, but the truth of the matter, it is not normalized in the dam sector, where we're seeing a little bit more of this in transportation, you might have some fits and starts in the water sector elsewhere, this is an area that I think is still pretty wide open. The Army Corps of Engineers, as an example, that should be part of the building standards going forward to require these sort of things. To Luna's point, it saves you money. Lifecycle side, of course, but it can also save you money in terms of the construction side by making sure that you build it right.

So I think from a resilience perspective, and I could also speak to sustainability, but I'll let Luna do that. But on sustainability, I'll just say one thing, we've seen it work for water. We've seen it work in terms of water conservation. On the supply side, if you have a smart pipe system, like DC Water has intelligent pipes and those sorts of things with sensors in there to see where there's leaks. In California and elsewhere, they can monitor where their pipe systems are starting to leak water. We lose in the United States over 16% of our drinking water on a daily basis, that's absurd, particularly in those areas that we have water shortages.

On the flip side, where we have plenty of water and we have floods, I've talked about dams, and where we have bad water, contaminated water, as we all know, the use of the intelligent sensors and whatnot can monitor water in real time so that there can be anonymous data that can indicate where investments need to go in a timely manner to address those sorts of things. So I'll defer to Luna who's much smarter than me to talk about those same issues.

Steve Goldsmith:

Yeah, that was an interesting set of facts though, about how much water leaks, the same is true about wasting in the wastewater system or CSO overflows that could be monitored and diverted, there's just so much opportunity in water. Luna, another way to think about sustainability and resilience obviously is black hot asphalt is not good for the earth, and I know you're doing a lot of research on building materials, so tell us a little bit about that sense of resiliency and sustainability, please.

Luna Lu:

Sure, absolutely. So as Steve and Jill talk about construction and the building industry, I think it's one of the largest contributor from the GDP perspective. And also, if you think about it, if you want ability and the resilience, I think construction building materials, it has a lot of role to play. For instance, concrete is very, very brittle material, right? It's very strong, however, it's very brittle. And we heard a lot of about even the dam collapse in Michigan, and the recent condo collapse in Florida, it's all due to the very brittleness about the concrete material.

So, if we think about next generation about material, how to improve sustainability and to improve resilience, we need to think about how can we build in the better material, right? A couple of examples, I can give, it's happening in the research community and also in the private industry is the innovation in the materials. For instance, of building flexible concrete. Here, there's some slides I would like to share very quickly. This is traditional concrete under the loading, as you can see it's very brittle. So, concrete with, what we call the ductility, self-healing cementitious concrete by using nanoparticles, and what can happen is we can build a very high ductility.

And then we go through this same loading condition at the same loading speed and same weight, as we can see concrete, it can bend almost to a 30- or 35-degree angle, right? So this is tremendous ductility has been adding the concrete and that this will give a better protection for the civilians that are using this.

However, another opportunity is the crack. So what we can do is within the research and private the community, the people actually building what we called self-healing concrete. For instance, the research that has been happening at Purdue, we have pre-cracked concrete, and then after eight days they're fully sealed, right? So this will tremendously reduce your maintenance costs, so we don't have to go back every six months to fix the potholes and that were leading to the corrosion and other issues. And also, I know the carbon emission has always been a bigger concern because the concrete and the cement has the largest material used in the world, we are contributing to a large amount of CO2 production. However, currently in our community, there is tremendous research among work, even the private company has been commercialized some technology called a CarbonCurer that can secure the CO2 and go through, what we called carbonation, can build a better and more resilient concrete infrastructure.

Steve Goldsmith:

It's really very interesting. I'm actually bewildered a little bit why there's not more incorporation of digital infrastructure/IOT/concrete sensors to send notices or even in the asphalt of microcracks or changes in pH level or corrosion. I mean, I know it would cost a little more to build that way, but the savings over time would be, I'll make up a number, 10 to one, or a 100 to one, or 1,000 to one. So am I exaggerating in terms of the importance of putting sensors in new construction or bridges that would send signals about vibration? Tell us a little bit about why there's not more of that.

Luna Lu:

Oh, I think you're absolutely correct. I think this is a very important thing, we should look into it. However, there is a tremendous barriers on this. One of the barrier, as you mentioned, the cost, construction is a very large volume. So unless we can make the sensor very cost effectively, not only in detect signal, but also transmitting the signal, connecting the data, storage data, transmitting the data wirelessly, people do not like to use the technology if they have to put in more work, right? They just the want to deploy the sensor and leave there. So building the sensor cost effectiveness, that's number one.

Number two is, if you think about the civil engineering by training, we're very conservative and risk adverse. I think this is actually a good thing because we do need... Buildings and bridges and dam has a tremendous effect on the safety factor, so unfortunately that also play a negative role when you're taking the new technology, so there is a more vetting process going through on that.

On the third part, I think it is construction, particular in the construction, in the civil industry about adopting the technology. We need a higher skillsets of laborers, and we see that's the big challenge in the industry as well, right? And the people just do not like to use the high-tech there if we're not making the high-tech so simple enough and cost effectively enough. But I do see the trend in the industry to moving towards that direction. For instance, we talked a little bit about Indiana, DOT has been a partner with Purdue University, taking a sensor in the road, and not only now federal highways has also partnered with us, and we have seven, eight other states has been signed up in the piloting process in adopting the technology. So I do see the trend is going up slightly, but it takes time.

Steve Goldsmith:

And we've got dozens of questions, both from me and from the audience. I'm weaving them into my questions to you all and we'll definitely run out of time. But there's one that just came in, and I don't want to mess up the flow because I got questions for Betsy and Jill, but the US is not necessarily, or even at all, the leader in this. I mean, there's a question about the Dutch, we all know the Singapore story. I mean, what countries might American policymakers and leaders look to as exemplars here?

Jill Jamieson:

I mean, I think that's a fair question, right? I mean, as I mentioned before, in Europe for instance, in the dam safety, the Dutch had been very much in the forefront of a lot of what's going on in terms of those infrastructure, it's generalized. I think in the United States, to Luna's point about the reluctance to integrate this comes, I think, in part, because we have a very decentralized system, right? So if you look at the European model, you've got a minister of infrastructure and he can make these sorts of decisions on sort of almost a policy. We are a very decentralized country, and so you've got some decisions being made at the local level, some at the state level and some at the national level. And what that leads to is inefficiency in decision-making.

So if we look at the bridge sector where we know 67% of our bridge are in dire conditions at this point in time, it wasn't until the bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, and we have the St. Anthony's replacing it, that there was really the first sort of approach in the United States to use bridge sensors, they can monitor vibrations and those sorts of things. Since then, we've seen it take off a little bit more across the bridge sector because of the demonstration effect. But I think the work that Luna's doing in Indiana, for instance, that's going to help inform other jurisdictions.

The challenge we have, and this is where I think the federal government infrastructure bill kind of swung and missed, is that you kind of do need this centralized leadership to say, "Look, I'm going to invest money in the technologies, because we need smart sensors that can..." You can't have battery technology when you've got them in pavements, we've got to improve the technologies, we've got to have the internet of things, connectivity. But I think that's one of the challenges we have in the United States, and it's not just in this, it's in everything we do. Because we are very decentralized, and because we're very jurisdictionally driven, we sometimes miss out on trends, we're a little bit late.

Steve Goldsmith:

I have lots more questions. Betsy, really quickly.

Betsy Gardner:

And the sustainability work is going to end up being equity work. All the research shows that the people who are going to be most impacted by climate events, disasters, things like that are going to be in communities of color. Sustainability and equity are both so crucial to any kind of intelligent infrastructure.

Steve Goldsmith:

So if you thought about equity, Betsy, and I know you've written on Data-Smart about this, maybe more than anybody in the country. So you could think about equity, visualizing where current infrastructure investments are, obviously that would show the inequity of the current infrastructure, one could think about equity in improving community participation in where infrastructure development will occur, so you're visualizing it. Or you could think about equity and digital infrastructure as how you would build in sensors that would alert policy makers to the disproportionate burdens of folks in challenged neighborhoods, think air or water. Do you just want to kind of give us a couple of examples from your writing that might be interesting?

Betsy Gardner:

Definitely. One of the things we talked about in our paper is the fact that air pollution more negatively impacts Black and Hispanic communities than they actually produce, so more of that air pollution is being produced in predominantly white areas and it's negatively impacting in communities of color. And there are examples in the paper of cities that have used sensor technology to literally show that these negative health outcomes from air pollution are unfairly impacting and then making changes, particularly in things like mobility and transportation, to try to alleviate a lot of that inequitable burden. In Oakland, they have a Department of Race and Equity, and that work with their DOT to do a huge paving project called the Great Pave, essentially they were able to divide up the city and look into what areas hadn't been invested in and they found that a lot of the non-white communities have been neglected for a very long time in terms of their quality of their streets, so for the paving. And then also in the safety of their streets, particularly as it related to protected bike lanes and safe areas for biking.

So they did a whole, essentially a computation to say, where have we not been investing and what are the road conditions? And then they overlaid that with Census data and ECS data that showed that those areas were much more likely to be communities of color. And they used all of this data, they put together a whole slideshow to show folks in the city, to show residents where they were going to be investing almost a hundred million dollars in these local street pavings.

And so not only did they end up being able to prove that these areas needed attention, but they were very easily able to convince everyone that these areas should be prioritized for paving. And then a secondary benefit, a lot of the folks in those communities really didn't believe that the city was going to come in and pave, they felt like they'd kind of heard it before and there just wasn't a level of trust there. So when they did go in and they showed that they were valuing and recognizing that those areas have been neglected and addressing that issue, then it built a lot of trust between those communities and the city.

Steve Goldsmith:

There's all sorts of things that are kind of interesting from like, there are curb and sidewalk platforms now that will analyze the data for where the scooters are placed or cost of parking. And many of our cities actually subsidize parking in the wealthier areas, think commercial, where they could actually, if they did sensors and dynamic pricing, they could do a couple of things. They could help direct cars to open parking and save emissions, A, and B, they could generate more revenue in high commercial areas and redistribute that revenue to resolve transit desert problems, right? So we don't think about connecting A and B. Jill, you watch this issue as well as Luna, let me call on you and then Luna next, please, on the equity issue.

Jill Jamieson:

Yeah. I mean, I think that Betsy articulated it very well. I mean, for somebody who works sort of at the intersection of infrastructure and policy, there's a reality that you just have to acknowledge in the United States and that is money talks, right? And no matter what the definition is of how budgets are prioritized, it all comes down to who's got the most influence at the moment who's complaining the loudest, right? So at the federal level they might do a benefit cost analysis, but those are only... It's the go-go, the outputs are only as good as the inputs, right? And so there's a lot of lobbying that goes on around where infrastructure investments should go, there's a lot of hand-wringing. Politicians will take it also in terms of constituencies, where am I going to get the votes?

One of the things I really like about intelligent infrastructure, smart sensors, is it gives you anonymized data. It gives you something that nobody is influencing from a political standing in terms of what is our most urgent need now. And I think, to be quite frank, we need that at the federal, state and local. I get that politicians may recoil a bit from that because it leaves a little of this discretionality out of it, but if we really want to promote equity, then I think that's something that we need to do. And maybe again, when you're looking at federal, state and local funding opportunities, maybe there's a scorecard for the anonymized data that can be influenced in the budget decision-making process.

But I just think that we're never going to get around this problem as long as the human subjectivity is involved in it, right? And we're getting better, and I get it, we're all scared of the machines taking over the world, but there is something beneficial in having good real-time data. So often we see in poorer communities the lack of investment, bridges that fall down are usually in their areas, it's not where the wealthy are going to play golf. And so I think that having that prioritization, incorporating that, regularizing it is going to be really important in moving forward, and you can't do that without intelligent infrastructure.

Steve Goldsmith:

Yeah, and the same would be true, I think of... I always thought that the Chicago array of things, the IOT's air sensors were critically important. We know that the social and health harms done to distress neighborhoods, and if we measured the air we could preemptively affect asthma rates. Or think about all the harm, not just from lead pipes, but lead pipes, lead soil, doing analytics for lead paint. Luna, what observations do you have?

Luna Lu:

I think both you and Jill has raised very important points, that most of the equity or most of the damage to infrastructure or air quality or anything needs to be repaired actually happens in the rural area. Jill has mentioned about bridges, a lot of bridges, 16% of the bridges in these conditions. And if you think about most of them actually located in a rural area, what make it worse if we think about it, most of agriculture and the manufacturer is locating this area. So the big semi-trucks that has to go through it, and that there is no human weighing station on this roads, right? The weighing station is in interstates, so how those semi-trucks are rotated through there, are arbitrarily determined by somebody at some point, by historical data. Again, 50 years ago we build these bridges, we're still thinking the strengths of the bridge is so-and-so.

So this is the important thing we need to think about and address. And I think particularly concerning us is with autonomous vehicle coming in, we talk about [inaudible 00:35:10], everything is reliant, the broadband and the 5G connectivity, and how we address that in the rural community, that's another issue we really need to think about it, and maybe add it in the bill.

Steve Goldsmith:

We have a lot of issues left. We have governance issues, we have privacy issues, we have security issues, we have P3 questions. Let me set up the governance and talent issue. So when I was deputy mayor of operations for Mayor Bloomberg, before I got there, they had done maybe the world's best long-term sustainability project, right? They had a plan, PlaNYC. There was sustainability opportunities in every department. That's good, but what was even better is there was a long-term sustainability office, whose job it was to make sure that the agencies of jurisdiction actually paid attention to what was in the plan. And Jill, it was a little bit of the same thing I saw that where agencies would present, I was deputy of operations, they present their construction projects. And you'd say, "Have you engineered this?" And they'd say yes.

But the yes was a pretty haphazard casual yes, and so a centralized value engineering czar in OMB then would always find 10 or 15% more savings. So as we think about this issue of kind of governance of digital infrastructure, maybe Jill and then Luna, it feels to me like these issues are horizontal issues, but the agencies are vertical issues and the skill sets are different, right? So I'm going to ask Jill, how would you think about the governance issue? And then I'm going to ask Luna, where do you get the tech talent, right? Some of it could be from the private sector, but some of it has to be in-house as well. So first Jill, how do we get from here to there? And then Luna on the tech skills.

Jill Jamieson:

Well, I'll start with an example of what not to do. And I don't know that we've actually found out exactly what the best methodology is, but because we are, to your point, very diversified in terms of our jurisdictions, even within a city or a state government, so you've got your DOT, you've got your Water Authority, you've got your Port Authority, you've got Department of Planning, et cetera. And each of them, they're their own stovepipe, right? And so we've seen this in resilience, just in general for flood to climate change. So we know that a levee's only as good as its weakest point, but if you need a geographic levee that's going across that, some of it is in the airport, some of it is in a private property that's going to be developed in the future. We have not successfully as a nation been able to figure out how do we coordinate across jurisdictions? You may have a resiliency officer, but to your point, Steve, they don't have the teeth or the power to be able to do that.

And so I think that we need to start really revisiting how we're doing things. And maybe it is, you've got your CIOs, you've got your chief information officers now, they're usually focused on the internet of things, but maybe they need an office within there that's also on the integration. Because to your point, Steve, we have to look at infrastructure as a system. If our roads and bridges are failing, then are our waterways going to be able to accommodate some of that, right?

And so there's this real time sort of, it's a web of systems that need to be able to work together in real time, and that's outside of any office that exists today. I don't think it should be in an OMB because I don't think it's just a budget issue, I think it's a service and performance issue. And where that's going to reside on a jurisdictional level, I think is TBD, I don't think any city or any state or any federal agency has figured that out yet, but it may be the need for the creation of something that's a little bit different than what exists today.

Steve Goldsmith:

Yeah, that was a great answer. So Luna, it just seems to me that the opportunities are a mess. For example, if you said, we were to reduce particulate in CO2 emissions, then if you took the sensor data in every intersection in a city and you wanted to reduce queuing, why cars and trucks are stopped at lights, we had a question about right turns and pedestrian safety, right? And you could tinker with those in order to smooth traffic or improve safety, it wouldn't be that difficult, but those talents don't reside in most cities around the world and in very few, if any US cities. Now you could have, I'm going to go back to Jill after you have your answer, because you could think about structuring a public/private partnership where there's a managed shared services, but they have to be managed by somebody who's inside. So first, Luna, how do you think about the technical skills? And they may back to Jill on, give you an opportunity to make a couple of comments of public-private partners, we have like five questions about that as well. Luna?

Luna Lu:

Yeah. So Steve, I think you raised a very important point, by using the IOT sensor we can achieve mobility, safety, sustainability, and resilience at the same time, right? So I don't know if I have an answer where we can get tech talent, it is very difficult. It's challenging, it's not only the United States, globally. But I think fundamentally, as an educator, a professor in university, I think fundamentally we need to think about it, how we restructure the education system, and particularly at the higher level.

If you think about current civil infrastructure, civil engineer, not only reads the digital technology, we're not only interacting with buildings, the structures, but also with the sensors, hardwares, embedded systems, IOT communications. So therefore in the education system, we really need to educate to the students which expose to this digital technology, right? Not only just the internet and connectivity, but also on a hardware and software part. I think they need at least to be able to carry the same language in a job site and then communicate with each other from an education standpoint. And I think that that's an important thing. I mean, we need to really think about it.

Steve Goldsmith:

Jill, you can solve a lot of companies on public/private partnerships more often in construction, but also in maintenance, right? So just hypothetically, how would we think about... And there's plenty of ways to do a P3 badly and there's some ways to do it... So we don't have enough time for you to give us a lesson on that, but how would you think about the utilization of the private sector in the digital infrastructure space, specifically as it relates to the management of the data that would flow from the IOT, the algorithms, or how to put that together in the right way?

Jill Jamieson:

No, I think it's a logical first step, right? To Luna's point, we've got workforce issues outside of technology in the construction industry. We've had shortages for years, that's not going away. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the jobs part, it has a lot of workforce training associated with it, but really not in this area. And so in the short term, I think we're going to have a workforce shortage in this area. So where do you look when you have sort of a public sector workforce shortage, very easily, you can look to the private sector.

Now, have they done this at scale in terms of heavy civil engineering? No, but I think we can look to the example of buildings, commercial buildings, right? So we now have smart buildings up and down the chain. People are managing them through centralized management system. They're getting smarter, more technologically advanced. They're working in those areas. It's the same model. Yes, there are differences. And I think that you could have a company come in under a global public/private partnership, it wouldn't be too difficult to structure, where they could really just advise maybe on some of the inputs.

But to your point, Steve, on terms of the outputs and the management of the data, how to synthesize that data and prioritize it and those sorts of things, I think that's very much within the private sectors purview, at least until they can get the public sector up and ready to do that themselves, right? But I think that we need to partner... It's all hands on deck at this point. I don't think you need to think of yourself as public or private, I think at this point it's how can we achieve the outcome? And I don't think that the private sector should be ignored in this particular instance.

Steve Goldsmith:

I think I've touched many of the questions, we've got about 10 minutes left. I want to do, this sounds ridiculous, I want to do five minutes on privacy and security and five minutes on how to change federal and local policies to accomplish this. I'm going to have Luna do one and Jill do the other. So Luna, I was at a computer show in Las Vegas about three years ago, and an Israeli company, they were providing security packages, but they showed me, I don't remember what it was, like 25 ways you could hack the connectivity of a vehicle, all of which were horribly scary, right? They weren't a little bit scary, they were horribly scary. So privacy and security are obviously different issues, but just a couple of quick questions about how our audience, where they would go to get smarter? Or your just kind of overview policy questions on that issue, recognizing that that issue is worth its own hour, but I don't want to omit it all together, that wouldn't be right either.

Luna Lu:

Yeah, I think when you talk about cyber-attack, this is definitely a very critical challenge confronting society, if you're looking at it because the cyberspace, even the cyber infrastructure is a very, very complex system, including your computer, your sensor, your hardware, your software, your network, your data, where you're storing the data, so any parts can be attacked, right? So by nature it has a lot of vulnerabilities. So there is no way anybody can ensure a hundred percent of cyber security, but we can definitely improve it by using modern technology such as AI based cyber security authentication, verification, validation, even decentralized the sensor system.

I want to give you an example, when you talk about when autonomous vehicle coming in the road of how you can cyber-attack your vehicle, right? So what if one vehicle is driving maliciously, or a cyber-attack, maliciously in all the autonomous vehicle? And currently we only have a vehicle to infrastructure or vehicle to vehicle communication. And the other thing we need to think about is there cost effective, localize the sensor that can quickly identify this malicious driven behavior of the vehicle that can quickly send a signal, alert a system, right? Not only localized, but also to the system wide, and I think that that is another important technology we need to look at, not just to rely on the vehicle itself, right? Because as we talk about, there is no way you can a hundred percent ensure. And yeah, of course the better funding and investment in the research development in this type of related cybersecurity technology is important.

Steve Goldsmith:

So Jill, I want you to talk, if you would, close a little bit on policy and legislative change. Let me note that the privacy issues are real, that a city or a state using digital infrastructure should have explicit and transparent privacy principles. They should be doing privacy audits. They should be using anonymous data. It's a huge issue that deserves attention that, Betsy and I did an article on why we should insist on dumb cities instead of smart cities just because of privacy and security. So I just wanted to note that we have some stuff up on our site about that. But Jill, we have this big debate in Washington and there's going to be money one way or another flowing out to the states and cities and there's money's being spent in the states and cities now, what policy or legislative changes at the state or federal level are needed to accomplish the things we've talked about for the last hour?

Jill Jamieson:

Well, I think, let's start at the federal level. I think that we have the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which seems to be the blueprint for what's going to go forward, obviously with some changes. To the issue of cybersecurity, that is heavily talked about within the bill, but really limited to power, the power sector. For some reason the ideas don't crossover from sectors, they're very sector specific, which is a little bit of a disappointment.

But that said, legislation is a first step in the implementation of any programs and policies. And so, as I said before, I think that there is still opportunity when implementing this legislation to put in implementing guidelines that would align with what we're talking about. So for instance, when you're talking about federal grants or loan programs, like with the [inaudible 00:47:33] TIFIA, put in as one of the conditions of getting that federal money, a certain level of commitment to smarter technologies, right?

Now, what that looks like, exactly to Luna's point, we can't ask people to invest in leading edge technology that hasn't been proven, but there's a difference between forward-looking and backward-looking and to that extent, some level of that. And so in the United States, when you want a federal loan or a federal grant, you have to abide by certain requirements. The Davis-Bacon Act, Buy American Act, American Steel Act, add another line, and that line should be related to this. That's not that hard to do. I think it would foster American innovation in this as well, because the sector itself would then see itself as being more relevant, et cetera.

So I think that's one area. Another, I think at the federal level it would be interesting to have a cross sector SEP, which is a special experimental program. And within that, we try to get investment into maybe some multi-sector projects or programs where we could link, as we talked about before, bridges and roads and highway systems, et cetera, through the use of smart infrastructure, to see how it works, to see where the cyber security vulnerabilities are, et cetera. But that can be done during the RESEP program, and that's not a lot of money so that's easy enough as well.

And then I think in sector specific areas, as I mentioned before, look, we have a new program that's been funded and they're just rolling out the implementation guidelines, but if we look at the Corps of Engineers with all of the dam work that they do, that's D-A-M, not D-A-M-N, work that they do, having them or incentivizing them to use dam smart programs and those sorts of things, so that in the next 50 to 100 years we have real time information about the status of these dams, I think is pretty easy to do.

State and local government, I think to your point earlier, Steve, it's really kind of changing the way they do their budgeting. Having them look more at the life cycle costs. So one of the things we did like in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is there's a lot of references to public/private partnerships, but to life cycle asset management as well, right? And I think the life cycle asset management, look at the life cycle cost of this as opposed to first costs. We know that first costs might be more expensive if you're using this sort of technology, but when you look at it over the life cycle, you're going to be saving costs, you're going to... Again, the St. Anthony's bridge, a very good example. It was 0.1% of the total cost to put in the bridge sensors, and it saved them countless millions of dollars in terms of repairs and those sorts of things.

So I think that there's a lot that can be done, but it's really normalizing this and also getting the information out. I mean, you've got groups like Luna's team who's doing some great projects and programs, but that really has not been dispersed to a national level. And having somebody sort of promoting that, I think it's going to be very important to the nation adopting this on a larger level.

Steve Goldsmith:

That was great. Yeah, and it seems to obvious, at least to me, that by not insisting on digital infrastructure, we're giving away sustainability accomplishments. We're giving away safety accomplishments. We're actually wasting money over life cycle costing. And to not insist on it is an admission that we are not serious about those issues.

So we've used our hour. I first want to thank the Ash Center team, Melissa, Julianne and Kaitlin for making this possible, and to Betsy, Luna and Jill for just a terrific set of answers, your expertise is great. And we'll have another one of these that's last six hours and each one of you can have two hours to talk each. So it was a great session, thank you very much for your time and we are adjourned.

If you liked this podcast, please visit us at, or follow us @DataSmartCities on Twitter. Find us on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. This podcast was produced by Betsy Gardner and hosted by me, Steve Goldsmith. We're proud to serve as a central resource for cities interested in the intersection of government, data and innovation. Thanks for listing.