The Public Works Nerds

Raleigh's Smart City Efforts with Jim Alberque and John Holden

March 12, 2024 Marc Culver, PE Season 2 Episode 6
The Public Works Nerds
Raleigh's Smart City Efforts with Jim Alberque and John Holden
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

This week I'm joined by a Smart Cities team from Raleigh, North Carolina. Jim Alberque is the GIS and Emerging Technology Manager for the City of Raleigh and John Holden is the Smart City Manager for Raleigh. We talk about what does Smart Cities mean for Raleigh and how is the City focusing on different efforts under this umbrella. 

We cover quite a bit of ground from asset management to traffic monitoring systems as well as using LiDAR data for various purposes. 

Raleigh happens to be hosting the Smart Cities Connect conference in May this year, so check out the link below for that conference and perhaps consider attending! 

Below is the AI Generated Description for this episode, which I always enjoy reading but am hesitant to use this as the main description, but enjoy!

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Embark on a journey through the heart of Raleigh as I, Marc Culver, unravel the city's transformation into a beacon of technological innovation with my esteemed guests, Jim Alberque and John Holden. This episode promises to open your eyes to the seamless blend of traditional city management with cutting-edge smart solutions, all while maintaining a keen focus on equitable benefits for every citizen. Learn how Jim's passion for local government and John's savvy in economic development are the driving forces behind Raleigh's rise as a smart city powerhouse.

As we navigate the multifaceted landscape of smart city evolution, we uncover the groundbreaking ways Raleigh utilizes AI and environmental modeling to revolutionize urban management. From traffic analysis that could transform your morning commute to drone delivery systems forecasted to redefine our skyline, Jim and John showcase how data-driven decision-making and innovative asset management systems are setting new standards for future cities. Moreover, their anecdotes about the forward-thinking use of LiDAR technology for urban planning will leave you pondering the art of city innovation.

Finally, we delve into the soul of Raleigh's smart city journey, examining the confluence of public safety advancements with the grassroots ethos of community involvement. Hear how the city's approach to tech adoption extends beyond mere functionality, fostering a spirit of collaboration across agencies and weaving a rich narrative of civic engagement. Coupled with a glimpse into the anticipated Smart Cities Conference in Raleigh, this episode is a masterclass in how technology, when harnessed thoughtfully, has the power to reshape not just urban landscapes but also the lives within them.

Show Notes:

Connected Triangle+ Summit focuses on Smart Cities Movement (Raleigh story on upcoming conference)
https://raleighnc.gov/apps-maps-and-open-data/services/connected-triangle-summit-focuses-smart-cities-movement

Smart Cities Connect Spring 2024 in Raleigh, NC
https://spring.smartcitiesconnect.org/

The City of Raleigh's Smart City Strategy
https://cityofraleigh0drupal.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/drupal-prod/COR21/SmartRaleighStrategy.pdf

Strategy and Innovation
A service unit of the City Manager's Office
https://raleighnc.gov/strategy-and-innovation

Marc Culver:

Welcome to the public works nerds podcast. Welcome to the public works nerds podcast, a public works podcast of the nerds, by the nerds and for the nerds. I'm your host, Marc Culver. Thank you for joining us. Today we're gonna talk about smart cities, specifically one smart city the city of Raleigh, north Carolina. Am I saying that right, guys? Raleigh, alright, I didn't know if I needed to stick an accent in there or something like that.

Marc Culver:

Joining us today to nerd out about this topic are two of the city of Raleigh's finest Jim Alberque. Jim Alberque and John Holden. First of all, thanks for joining us, guys. First of all, I want to highlight their titles. Jim is the GIS and emerging technology manager for the city of Raleigh and John is the smart city manager for Raleigh, and I love those titles. It implies a commitment and a focus on new technologies, applications and services. But before we dive into what those titles really mean and what these two do on a day to day basis, guys, why don't you spend a little bit of time introducing yourselves and letting us know how you landed in these, I would say, kind of unique positions? John, let's start with you.

John Holden:

Thank you sure? Well, I've sent my career. I'm new to Raleigh, but it's my career in economic community, economic development, business development and in that career and work, that's really about strategizing and coming up with new ways to help a community improve itself. In economic development, it's about, you know, helping your existing businesses, entrepreneurship and attracting business, etc. But it's really about the community and the place. I had the opportunity.

John Holden:

Just before I come to Raleigh, I was in Virginia and I helped launch what was called what is called the Virginia Smart Community Testbed, which was a statewide program located in Stafford County, virginia, where I was the economic development director, and, quite frankly, I saw it as an add on to economic development, because there are entrepreneurs, there are tech companies, particularly around the globe, that want to deploy and test their products in communities around the US. The smart city market is estimated to be over $270 billion a year and growing by 230 some percent over the next five years. So that's kind of the background and when this position came available in Raleigh, I saw an opportunity to, you know, try something slightly different, but it is similar, it is really strategic. My role is strategic development, of becoming a smart city and a smart region, by the way, which is another add on. But what that means is I'm not a technology person. I rely on people like Jim and others. Right, I actually sit in what's called the Office of Strategy and Innovation. Our job in our office is to strategize, ie implement the city's strategic plan with a lot of help, with a lot of people, and also, as the name applies, to innovate ways to do things differently in government and for our community.

John Holden:

Smart cities is about that. Smart cities is about doing things differently, aka smarter, but that doesn't necessarily always mean plugging in an IOT device for cramming data into someone's face, right, it's really about what is the issue, what's the problem and how does it affect and how does it the people involved with the problem, and what's a solution or improvement of the situation. So, and again, partying back to my roots. That's really what community development is about as well. So it's a gray, amorphous kind of cloudy thing, yeah, and I get my head around, my strategic head around. Jim and I have had some chats about this. If we're up here doing this stuff, john, you go do that, and if it's like how I plug in something into the GIS or some data, that's where Jim and his team come in.

Marc Culver:

Great. Well, and I think that's a great segue then for Jim, why don't you talk about how you you know a little bit about your background how you got there? I know you're a Boston transplant but now in Raleigh, north Carolina, doing some really cool GIS and smart city things?

Jim Alberque:

Yeah, so I've been with the city for about 10 years in a variety of technology management roles. Right now I kind of manage GIS data and analytics and web and, as Mark, as John mentioned, I'm sort of matrix to smart cities. I have a passion for local government. I feel like we're really close to the levers that affect people's lives in positive ways. As you mentioned, I, prior to being with Raleigh, I was with the city of Boston. I'm very similar capacity there.

Jim Alberque:

They had a program called the New Urban Mechanics which was sort of like an office of R&D within government and it was a.

Jim Alberque:

It was matrix between IT, the city, the mayor's office and the departments as a mechanism to kind of again isolate R&D.

Jim Alberque:

And that's where I really got a taste for leveraging emerging technology to support kind of existing and future services and I really found that I had a passion for that and really enjoyed kind of working on cutting and bleeding edge kind of technologies. So fast forward to the city of Raleigh and there is this appetite and interest in pursuing this type of technology in the city at all levels of government, whether it be departmental leadership, city council and definitely the citizens. So we do a citizen survey every few years and we find that the city wants to invest in smart city technology, and so, again, I'm very lucky to work with really, really talented and curious folks, and so, again, I love your, your opening. We love to nerd out when we can. We know that we need to block and tackle to deliver kind of day to day services, but that if we do that well, that opens up some opportunities for us to do a little bit of skunk work in R&D to prepare ourselves for for being a future city. Yeah Well, that's great.

Marc Culver:

And then I want to come back to some of the things you were saying later in the podcast here. But I want to lead in from that into how I met you, you know so. So the reason we're talking today, jim, and thanks again to both of you for agreeing to be here with us today. But, jim, you, you know I was fortunate enough to be president the fall conference for the Minnesota chapter of the American Public Works Association, and you were you. You came in with a, with a, brought you in as a national expert to talk about. You know, it was geared as a, as a smart cities session, but what I what really instantly caught my attention was you titled your presentation Stop Thinking Like a City, and you know, kind of going into the whole philosophy of what you're doing and why you're doing it and some things like that. But maybe talk a little bit about that. Like, why did you, why did you use that title and what does that really mean to you? Like, stop thinking like a city.

Jim Alberque:

So it was a little bit tongue in cheek, yeah. So I want to kind of preface it by saying saying that but really, if you think of stereotypical city workers, right, and how cities operate, it is doing the same thing day to day, day after day, and doing that because this is the way we've always done it. Yep.

Jim Alberque:

And right again, there there is a little bit of that that I do think is valuable. Right, it is important to deliver reliable services to citizens, but the world is changing so fast. Commercial organizations are so agile, and our customers are starting to have some expectations around some agility in the services that they interact with, whether that be private services or public services, yep and so we need to kind of think, try and think slightly differently and push the envelope right within reason, depending on the organization that you're in and the appetite within the organization and the you know environmental conditions. You've got to figure out where is it, where are the, where are the opportunities? And so again, tongue in cheek, we're still a city, we still have procurement challenges, we still have funding challenges and resource challenges, and we do. You know, we do take it very seriously to deliver solid, reliable, great services to our citizens, but we really want to do it today and in two years.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, yeah, and I think you know just leaning some of the other content from your presentation on that theme is, you know, pushing past some of the traditional barriers and paradigms that I think we probably lean on as an excuse. You know some in some cases of not doing something or being innovative or pushing ourselves, and you know it is hard to do things in a government environment. It is hard to be innovative. Sometimes it's hard to get funding for new things that aren't proven. It's difficult to test things and have them break because you know public perception is very important for our jobs. So when we release something and it doesn't work, that doesn't look great and it's not building that trust in the community.

Marc Culver:

But we can't use that as a crutch for not trying things or doing things. But it does make it a little bit more challenging than some of these startups where people like it's expected that oh, they got some bugs in this system to work out. It's fine. You know it's kind of the bleeding edge thing, but people don't want to see that in the government market. So how do you guys you know both John and Jim how do you fight that? How do you work through that? How do you counter that? Or, you know, is it, is it a matter of having that support from your superiors and the city council and that? Or what are you doing to maybe set those, those expectations in that?

John Holden:

I'll say that Again, I've been to Raleigh since May of last year, but there is something in this region about innovation. An innovation is about people getting together and thinking new ideas together. There's something that's just in the air, in the water, and I've worked in a few places, so that's one thing. There's a culture of it and what we've tried to do in our office that I'm within again, that was only created two years ago, the Office of Strategy and Innovation is to instill that idea in how we do government. We've had what we call innovation institutes around, or consulting jobs from the internal office, right, if you think of people that are, we generally to generalize the population. If you think of the least creative people, it's probably entrepreneurs, right, but we've met with them to explore ways to make their jobs A more rewarding and B, to do their job perhaps differently, innovatively, and perform something differently.

John Holden:

You take that and apply it to the external world, where you're talking about sensors and traffic lights and traffic. That's when it gets. You know, that's more sexy. When people see it. It's a lot more complicated, but that's something I've since I started here in May 1, in June of the year again 10 years. This city has done that for maybe decades I don't know about at least 10 or 20 years has come up. Well, let's try this differently. Whether it's the way to pick up recycling materials or mow a lawn or whatever it is, at least in my short time here I've experienced it. So again, that gets back to the culture piece. You got to build that culture of innovation.

Marc Culver:

You know, and Jim John just reiterated, that you've been there for 10 years, so I think you've seen the growth of this. What was it like when you came in 10 years? I mean, I don't know what your position was when you came to Raleigh 10 years ago and I presume that your position has evolved into what it is today, but how have you seen this evolution occur at Raleigh? As far as the innovation and strategy, you know the strategy of innovation and applying all these new technologies and that and it may be even to be even focusing a little bit more part of your presentation back in November. You talked quite a bit about asset management, and so maybe talk about where was that asset management system 10 years ago compared to where it is today, and what do you guys use for asset management? I think our nerds would be interested to know are you using a third party system or is it something you developed in house?

Jim Alberque:

So let me start by going back a little bit and kind of piggybacking on what John was talking about what makes Raleigh unique? I also think that one of the things that were lucky I mentioned in my opening statements was we have amazing staff who have the kind of the mix of capability, curiosity and interest right, and so those things are. So we have this demand from citizens leadership to be an innovative city, and then we have this staff that has curiosity and capability to be able to deliver some of these innovative solutions, and so we take time out of our day to talk about today and in two years. We talk about what does this look like in two years? Are we positioning ourselves to be able to grow and scale, et cetera?

Jim Alberque:

But tactically, you were talking about asset management specifically, or what asset management looked like 10 years ago. So, to be honest, there was really smart people before I got here and they were doing amazing things in pockets, and I think, as I've met my counterparts around the country, one of the interesting things that you see around the city is you find these pockets of innovation that are happening, and two things I think have to happen for cities to be recognized as a smart city, and that is they need to be doing the work and then they need to be telling people about it. And so I think Raleigh has, in my experience, has been doing this stuff for a long, long time, and we're just starting to turn the corner on trying to tell people about it. And so one of the things I like about going to conferences, like that AWA Conference in Minnesota, is you get to hear about other cities that you weren't aware of, or towns or communities or counties that are doing these amazing things that you'd. They just they're spending their time doing it rather than telling people about it.

Jim Alberque:

So that's going back 10 years, but in reality, 10 years ago I walked in the door we were using asset management system called CityWorks and it was a pretty robust kind of program. It was well thought out, it was well adopted in the city. Fast forward to 10 years, we're still using CityWorks. We're using it a little bit more intensively. It is completely integrated with our Enterprise GIS platform and Power BI for Enterprise Analytics. We're using it for not just traditional asset management around quality, but also time, labor, material things, storeroom map, managing inventory, preemptive kind of work around preventative maintenance, doing risk assessments on a lot of our assets related to risk of failure, cost of failure, those sorts of things. So what I would consider a fairly sophisticated kind of implementation or program around asset management at this point.

Marc Culver:

No, that sounds, that sounds great, it's sounds it's. I think it's pretty impressive, or Interesting at least, that you've maintained that same platform for for ten years. A lot of advantages to that, you know, not having to move from one platform to another, but but that that's good to hear. Where do you think? Just one last question on the asset management side, and then I want to move on to some of the other applications that you talked about. Where do you think is the next evolution for asset management for you?

Jim Alberque:

Yeah, so to to. I see two really big ones. One is just more, more holistic integration. Okay, from where? Whether it be into our, you know, better integration into our financial systems procurement process. I Know the whole life cycle of those assets, all the way from kind of when somebody thinks about it in their head All the way to grave right, we, we have 80% of that kind of covered at this point, but not all of it. So that's one area where I think that there's this Opportunity. And two is a taking advantage of a little bit more of the ML AI style around, you know, more sophisticated models for predicting failure, modeling kind of risk exposure, etc. Yeah, yeah.

Marc Culver:

Do you guys where this guy actually kind of leads into Another one topic I wanted to talk about and that is Artificial intelligent machine learning when are, where is Raleigh using that now? Where do you, where do you Really consider yourselves and I think some people probably throw around AI in cases where you're not necessarily doing AI but where do you think you're actually making use of AI right now?

Jim Alberque:

So there's a couple of places. So, first off, the answer to the question is more places than we probably know, right, right, right it's. This interesting thing is happening in that this is getting baked into commercial products and we are leveraging those commercial products, maybe knowing or maybe not knowing that they include some sort of Machine learning algorithm, kind of behind the under the covers, but Intentionally we're using it in a couple of places. So one is one of the projects that I'm really really excited about is our computer vision project. So Right, the city, probably like every other city in the country, does turning movement counts, pays, usually pays a vendor to perform turning movement counts on Tuesday between 7 and 9 and 3 and 5 to get kind of peak level of service. And we use those numbers, level of service numbers, as inputs into all sorts of traffic and roadway design kind of workflows, and so the idea is, is that that same intersection? We have a camera that is kind of being piped back to our traffic management center, mostly about event management, to help kind of give real-time visibility to our traffic management folks. Well, there's no good reason at this point in time we can't use that live camera feed and apply computer vision to that camera feed and instead of doing what is the turning movement counts at Tuesday from 7 to 9? To doing ubiquitous turning movement counts across the intersection and then we can do all sorts of really that open, like I think this is the next revolution in in data and technology and it gives us so many new opportunities.

Jim Alberque:

So is today different than yesterday? Right? Just simple, simple stuff. Hey, traffic manager X, just your phone buzzes. Today is different than yesterday at intersection Y, take a look. But what about to? It now gives us better kind of higher fidelity data as part of these Turning movement counts. So I can do not just Tuesday, but I can do just Median traffic turning movement counts at this particular Movement on this particular intersection across weeks, months, years, right, and then Then this computer that's just turning movements.

Jim Alberque:

Now, once you start to think about it, you can get really excited about all these other opportunities by compared and near miss pedestrian behavior. Are people using the crosswalk? Are they using it during Ped signal timing? Are they? What about wait times for buses and all of the things that a camera can see that we're not kind of turning into data, so super excited about that on the AI side. And then you know, the buzz kind of worked around gen, ai and LLM. We have a website. That website has tons of information. We think it's pretty a pretty good site. But when we survey our citizens, they continue to share with us that they struggle finding information.

Marc Culver:

Interesting, interesting and and I you showed off the computer vision product Back in November as well and I I was instantly intrigued with that and it I, early early in my career, actually worked for a machine vision company Called Autoscope that that actually develops a product using Video detection, and so it was. It was amazing to me to see where we've gone, where we can just using really normal computer power in that to To do this level of data collection and that using just a normal video camera. I Wanted to just I don't want to spend too much time on that, but that was just so intriguing to me. As far as how difficult is that to Set up at? Like a brand new intersection like you take a camera, like do you have to draw out the detection zones? Or you just kind of turn it on and say learn where the cars are moving and figure this out and tell me, start telling me, how many cars are turning here to here?

Jim Alberque:

So we do have to go through a calibration process per intersection. The idea, again I won't get into the complexity of it, it is some complexity to it, I don't mean to say it. This is just kind of straight out of the box you point a camera and it works. There's two things that are relevant for us that are a little bit of complexity, which is one you have to calibrate each intersection. And then two is all of our, our cameras, our PTZ, pantel zoom cameras, and so these are going to be calibrated and we've worked with our transportation department to we're going to calibrate them at one position, and so that position will be optimized to get all the legs. But obviously we want transportation to be able to take advantage of the PTZ capabilities. So as soon as it kind of adjust, that PTZ will basically stop reporting data until it returns back to home.

Jim Alberque:

The idea is that it's there is there is some effort to kind of onboard a, compete on on board a camera at this point, and but where our idea is, is it one-time thing that takes between an hour to two hours to set up and then you can start getting the data.

Marc Culver:

No, that's great. That's great. That was really impressive for me in the fact that you guys developed that in-house and you're able to really make use of a lot of your existing infrastructure to to, you know, collect a bunch of data, some really comprehensive Ongoing pieces of data. What else I know? I know I took some jotted, some notes down from your presentation, but I want to give you the chance, jim, to really highlight some of the other applications that you're really most proud of out of your office or, you know, with your colleagues in that, and then maybe what's coming down the down the pipeline.

Jim Alberque:

Yeah, so you know again, I really get excited about the emerging technology stuff.

Jim Alberque:

So the computer vision work is really interesting and parallel to that we're doing a lot of work around digital twins, yeah, which is creating kind of a virtual environment of our urban landscape To start to model our existing city and potentially our future city. And there are two things that we're working on. One is just a visualization, which is what is my city gonna look like, or what is that property or was that parcel gonna look like Next week, next month, next year, so that just a visualization of what the city is gonna look like. And then two ways is trying to create some analytics and metrics around what this future development will do to our city, whether it be traffic or impact around jobs or Housing units or those sorts of things. So that's a. That's something that's really exciting to us and we're really pushing on that. And, john, I don't know if you want to talk a little bit about the work around and we're doing, we're starting to use that as an input To some environmental watering, to do some micro kind of micro level Um I Environmental modeling. Yeah.

John Holden:

Yeah, we're working with a national federal research lab. It's called MITRE. We're one of three cities. They developed a micro, what they call a micro weather rid modeling. It uses various kinds of data to basically get down to a very small scale of what the heat and temperatures and wind is doing in a community or in an area. Right, and, for example, we all anticipate in the future that quickly some of the major corridors will be drone deliveries going up and down corridors.

Marc Culver:

Which is insane, by the way.

John Holden:

Knowing the wind patterns in those corridors is critical, particularly if there's a human on that drone, which is not out of the question either. So this kind of being a, if you will, a laboratory for that is right up to the alley in innovation and smart city work, but from a practical standpoint, it's also helping us. The city's been very aggressive for over 10 years as well. And sustainability we have an office of sustainability, as do many communities. They recently did a climate action plan and looked at heat islands. Maybe you don't have that issue in Minnesota.

Marc Culver:

We do, we get heat, we do. It gets hot here, sometimes it does thaw.

John Holden:

So A this model could help us continue to monitor that and model it. But even more so, we've started to talk to some agencies that deal with homelessness, and there's tons of data around homelessness In various different places that may or may not be integrated at this time, and so one of the initiatives we're considering is how do we do that At the end of the day, if we can better communicate with that population, which, of course, is very difficult to communicate with, particularly around the idea of an area that in the middle of August, that the temperatures 110, et cetera, et cetera, and direct people to cooling stations or that kind of thing. Again, that's the kind of ways we can integrate data and technology to serve a public purpose, right.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, no, I think that's great and I think that's one of the slides that also hit home for me from Jim's presentation was talking about how you're using all sorts of different data sources in that, also from a racial equity and social justice perspective. So, john or Jim, either one of you pick up on that and what you're looking at with that lens yeah.

Jim Alberque:

So we recently in late 2023 or late 2022, we did a geospatial strategy. We hadn't done one in a few years, so basically went out to all the departments, met with stakeholders how are you currently using GIS, how do you envision using GIS in the future? And so met with 18 different departments and got a lot of interesting feedback about these future uses. But one thing that every single department talked about was having some standardized way to evaluate equity of three different things One is their future investments, two is their planning and three is their engagement. And so they were all doing it kind of tactically and kind of built homegrown ways to measure that. But there was no ubiquitous way to do that.

Jim Alberque:

And so out of that strategy came an initiative to create a equity index, and so we kind of embarked IT has kind of led an effort to start to start conversation about what does that look like, what does that even mean, and some of the things that came out of that conversation were really interesting to me. So one is that equity needs to be broken out into a number of different equity lenses, and so those were kind of identified. The list that we kind of came up with was housing. So housing and development is very important in the city. So we've taken a housing lens to equity. Two was environmental justice. Three, digital equity. Four is transportation, and so we kind of dealt with each one of these as a kind of a separate project, and so I'll kind of talk first about the building equity index, or housing equity index, excuse me.

Jim Alberque:

So got stakeholders holders together from our planning and development, transportation, housing and neighborhoods Office of Strategy and Innovation Department of Equity and Inclusion, and basically had some facilitated sessions to talk about what does this mean to you? Should this be outcome based? Should this be? What are the use cases for this index, et cetera. And at the end of the day we equated all of that kind of feedback into data, and that data was five, seven, I don't remember exactly eight different variables that are basically mixed through, kind of waiting, et cetera, to create this ubiquitous index across the city that assigns a number between zero and one on how equitable housing is in this particular geography. And so that will. And then we built a little bit of set of tools around it so that practitioners could then leverage that data to do those three things that I had talked about, which were, you know. And then we moved on to environmental justice, which is the area that we're in now, and the idea is to take that process and make that a rinse and repeat sort of process, where we can apply it to housing, we can apply it to environmental justice Again, right behind that is digital equity and then transportation, and basically try to equate community values to data variables.

Marc Culver:

Hey everyone, I just want to take a quick moment to thank our sponsor, Bolton Mink, who is producing and editing our podcast.

Bolton & Menk:

At Bolton Mink, we believe all people should live in a safe, sustainable and beautiful community. We promise every client two things We'll work hard for you and we'll do a good job. We take a personal interest in the work being done around us and, at the end of the day, we're real people offering real solutions.

Marc Culver:

That's great. That's great. I think that's a great. You know, I think we, especially when we're talking about smart cities, we talk a lot about the sensors and the data and the tools and everything, but we don't always talk about the outcomes and how we can really use those beyond the traditional applications that we're used to dealing with in a public works world, you know, or even a community development or city mindset. So I think that gets back to that stop thinking like a city thing too. So I think that's great. John, did you want to add anything on that?

John Holden:

Well, just another example of slipping the coin a little bit to think about again. It's about solving solutions. We had a greenway, we have a greenway system with a series of corridors in the city and across the county here and various communities, and we had done an app on that. You know greenway system that people could use and it was outdated and needed some attention. Right, but using a slightly different approach, an innovation academy. We brought internals people together public works, stormwater, parks and said what do we want to solve? What's the issue here? What are we trying to solve? Right, and they went and actually did community engagement, much like you'd build a product you know in the entrepreneurial world. And it was fascinating because we assumed it was like, okay, we're going to fix this app and we're going to do, you know, add this and that and this cool tool and this data ends up particularly with the community engagement and the customer discoveries. We'd call it in the entrepreneurial world.

John Holden:

It's kind of a dumb moment, an a-ha-duh moment. People on the greenway don't want tech, they want to be on the greenway, right? They want to be riding their bike, they want to be a walk-in, they want to be in nature, they don't want to constantly be looking at their phone, right. But we did, you know, uncover some ideas and innovative ideas about maybe a section of it being an innovation trail, right, and you know, even without the public knowing, there's technology built into the. You know, a lot of these greenways are on stormwater, so the flood sensing and all that. So there could be ways to build in tech. But the point of my story is that, similar to Jim's thing, it wasn't about the data and the technology and the sensors. It was about what is the solution, what's the human-centered solution we're trying to deal with in equity or, in this case, the use of a beautiful greenway. So there is tech embedded sometimes, but it's, you know, it's not about the smart cities, is not about the technology, it's about the improvement of a place, right?

Jim Alberque:

So, marcus, I did actually want to add something else to the equity conversation Yep, yep, which is something interesting. So this has been. We were working on this for about a year and what I'm finding is every organization at every level of government is doing the exact same thing. I talked to my counterparts at this, and so there is this collaboration and coordination opportunity. That is not always easy or is not always aligned perfectly.

Jim Alberque:

An experience I had was I was driving into work to one of these stakeholder meetings and I heard on the radio the governor talking about how the Department of Environmental Justice, or whatever department in the state, was releasing their equity index blah, blah, blah in a few weeks time, and I thought to myself oh my God, there's this huge missed opportunity for coordination and collaboration. Turns out it was apples and oranges, it wasn't related, but so one of the things that I think both John and I are trying to do is just message out to everyone who is willing to listen hey, we're doing this work, we're doing this work and make sure that everyone's aware, so that, if you are doing this work, we'd like to know about it, so that we can learn from you.

Marc Culver:

You can learn from us, Share data and build on each other. Yep Share processes.

Jim Alberque:

Share lessons, learn, share good practices, and something interesting that I think in local government we have is we run so lean, we're so lean. Sometimes we forget to lift our head up from the work that we're doing again to tell people that we're doing it. Collaboration it requires investment in time and resources. So that was just something interesting that came out of our process.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, yeah, no, I think that's a great observation and certainly something that all of us can learn from and be mindful of and aware of. Just hey, like talking to your peers and your colleagues at different agencies and, where things do align, making use of that and building on it versus being in our bat caves. And I've got to stop here and, just for a moment, I've got to give kudos to John for his background. We talked a little bit about it before we started recording the podcast here, but I would not be a true Star Wars fan if I didn't recognize the backdrop of Tatooine and the Moisture Farm, and you can even see the Sandcrawler back in the distance on the edge of the sun there one of the two suns. So kudos to you, john. And that's just gonna make me step up my game, and I could very easily put a Hoth-like background right now, but I'll define something to mention the title of the podcast.

John Holden:

I thought it would be appropriate to sit here with that background.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, yeah, I think it would be.

John Holden:

All the snurging night.

Marc Culver:

I think it would be a really cool this is a total tangent here, but I think it'd be a really cool nerd exercise to explore the public works of Star Wars and even just in the scene that you have there, the Moisture Farm and the technology related to that Moisture Farming and that.

Marc Culver:

And the really interesting thing to me again way off tangent here but as we talk about smart cities and technology and stuff like that is how in the world of Star Wars, like they don't have smartphones, they don't have the personal technology. In that it's like they've kind of said you know what we're not doing, that we're, we are advanced. We've got hyperspace drives and stuff like that, but we got cloaking devices and things. But you know what we don't need? We don't need to order food from my phone right now, right here. It's kind of an interesting and I don't think it was purposeful necessarily, but it's a really interesting like social, economic or you know, view of society in that Star Wars universe. But anyway, I don't know how, if you have any thoughts on that with how it relates to Star Wars with smart cities, john.

John Holden:

But there's a few analogies you can draw from that, or the Star Trek universe as well, which is a little different universe, yup, but you know, you think you know AI or autonomous vehicles, right, I mean that's you think of a, a course on right, all the vehicles flying on our course. We are going to be there.

John Holden:

And one of the things we're doing with this group. Mitre is looking at those corridors right, and one of the things I have in my mind is how we test out. You know where's the right place for drones to fly and you know there's a lot of people looking into this. All again to Jim's point. There's a lot of people looking into this, so you know, if anyone has advice we're into it. But the other day we're not that far away you were alluding to earlier or maybe it's Jim that you know the rate of change is so rapid, as we all know, particularly over the last 30 years. The rate of change is, is, is is growing. The rate of change is growing and governments tend not to move that fast. So we have to start thinking of ways to do that and we have to start piloting things and trying things differently. Sure, there's roles and procurement and legal ways to do things right, but we have to start doing things so we can keep up on this technology and the opportunities that technology has to advance.

John Holden:

You know public works, or anybody's work, right. You know the best way to. You know, you probably are aware that there's technology out there now that allows emergency vehicles to be tracked. So basically, you're tracking your fleet, your city fleet, and that includes everything from the, from the trash truck to the meter reader. But, but one of the things I saw recently was for the emergency vehicle to know that, by the way, when you turn this corner on this fast approaching emergency, you're on. There's a trash truck right there. Right, you know, blocking a lane and a half right Right now. We don't know that, the driver does not know that.

John Holden:

Right, there's technology that's out there that allows you know it all costs money. You have to figure it out. Right, but that and you talk about improvement in, you know, public safety there's one that it's at the top of the list in my mind. Right, you're avoiding a crash, you're getting the first responder to the incident faster and you're making everyone safer, so, but again, that is just, it's all out there. But you know, in an experience in the last seven months, we've had a hard time figuring out how we could even test it, let alone procure it right, right, just because of being a government. So that's one of the things I'm continuing to strategize and think about is how we can try some things rapidly.

Marc Culver:

You know to that point.

Marc Culver:

I had a question as it relates to you know different, I think you know we use the phrase like incubators and labs and things like that, and I think you, you know you talked about your previous experience in Virginia with their smart corridor and there are these regional and sometimes even statewide organizations and initiatives to connect the you know companies that are doing this work or creating these products, with the communities that want to use them.

Marc Culver:

I think Colorado, for me, has been a great example of that. It's. I've been out, you know, when I was out in smart cities a year ago, out in Denver, and I met some people related, you know, that are involved with their smart cities coalition. It really, you know, it's a great example of that. You know, show me the, you know how they're being very intentional about making those connections and even funding it. So I just wanted to maybe ask you, you know, given your time at Virginia but also Raleigh, what are you seeing, what is Raleigh doing to that in that area and what have you seen done in Virginia that has helped make those connections and really spur some of this?

John Holden:

Yeah, in Virginia I had the opportunity. There was a statewide innovation organization funded by the state, but a separate nonprofit, so it had its own unique abilities from a contractual legal standpoint. Not all states have those. And again, that's an interesting thing I've learned in the last seven months and we all know it inherently, europe is often much more advanced in deploying technology because they don't nothing.

John Holden:

I'm an American, but there's not, you know, 37 different jurisdictions in a county, and then you got the county government, you got the state government, et cetera, et cetera, right. So all that calls complexity. And I learned this actually in Denver as well, at the Smart City Conference. So when I came back here in Raleigh that was my first week on the job in Denver, I think and I said, well, how do we? Then? You know we're doing all these cool things in Raleigh, but you know what happens when you cross the border into Wake County or Moorstill or wherever, right.

John Holden:

So we actually started to convene a group to talk about that across jurisdictions at the local level. And so, again, that's a process in the works. It's government led, so it's not snap your fingers and do it. We're all very lean, as Jim calls it. I call it stressed out. You know we have to explore ways to look at solutions to these kinds of things in Smart Cities that cross made up boundary that we made because you know we're Raleigh and that's, you know, carry right, yeah. And so we're starting down that path as well.

Marc Culver:

Does North Carolina have any funding at the state level for any of these initiatives?

John Holden:

Again, there is funding for some of these things in various states and at the federal level. But again, once you get down again I've been in funding and that kind of going Once you get down to the next level of layer, once you start divvying up the funding to this place, to that place, then you lose a little bit of the connectivity that makes a city, if not a region, smart. Okay, right, because all of a sudden jurisdiction A got a bunch of money to do smart traffic lights, but jurisdiction B, right next door, doesn't. And guess what, If I'm driving a car and it's all smart until I cross this magic road and all of a sudden it's dumb, then the traffic starts right. It packs up right.

John Holden:

So again, that's a big philosophy challenge but we're working to, you know, work on that as well, address those issues. And again to Jim's point, if there are some ear listeners that have ideas or solutions or, you know, are working on these things, we all need to learn from each other.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, no, I think that's great, jim. I wanted to highlight something that you said during the previous session. You said during the presentation, which is probably the biggest message I got out of yours, out of your presentation, and that was your innovation time. And clearly you guys have done some great things with that. But talk a little bit about that innovation time that you were talking about back in November and what does that mean, and you know what does that mean for the people in your department.

Jim Alberque:

Yeah, so that sort of came out of. So the triangle area in Raleigh, specifically back in I would say, 2015 or 16, had this really kind of vibrant civic tech group, right Set of groups, yeah, and we had a kind of we had a calendar of events. They, you know, worked at Red Hat or a bunch of different technology companies in the area and they would meet, whether it was the Code for America Brigade or other groups, to solve some of the challenges within the community. So me and a couple of the people that I work with in city government would show up at the events and we would do a lot of this. We would nerd out, talk about data, talk about opportunities for solutions, etc. And develop these solutions kind of in, you know, tuesday at six o'clock or whatever, and we'd come back and talk to whoever would listen about this, about hey, we think we can bring this into the operation and operationalize this particular solution. We didn't have a ton of success with that Again have all sorts of capacity issues and support issues, and so with, kind of, the latest round of CIOs, we kind of talked about that and they were super, super supportive and so that conversation was happening in parallel.

Jim Alberque:

One of the things that we were excited about was this computer vision stuff that I've been talking about ad nauseam, and so we ended up paying out of our own pockets for a little Arduino, you know little piece of technology that included a camera, and we just pointed out our window and you know, again, when we just had it 15 minutes or 20 minutes, we kind of play around with some computer vision stuff and we were able to kind of detect people and we were trying to do and we just showed a couple of people within IT leadership. You know, this is kind of nerdy and interesting and you're a nerd, so you might find this isn't and they'll wait a second. There might be something here. And I was like we, there is nothing we'd like better than to work on these. Right, if you could, kind of, but we don't have time, we don't have any capacity to work on this stuff.

Jim Alberque:

Would you be supportive of us just taking Friday afternoon two to five and just kind of working where we'll dedicate this? We'll put it on our calendars. We won't be shy about sharing that. This is what we're doing with our time and we got a lot of support around that. And to your point earlier, marcus, we had talked about we had to show progress and we had to kind of try and build some trust around the idea of spending this time together, and so we were very conscientious about that, like, hey, let's make, let's find some quick wins and then provide feedback to leadership about this progress. And so, again this, two things have happened. One is we were able to advance that project into a real kind of real supported project within the city and then two is we were able to provide leadership with some talking points around being supportive of dedicated R&D time for staff.

Marc Culver:

Cool. No, I think that's great and I love that concept and I think we would all. So many agencies and companies in general would really benefit from from that same philosophy of just blocking off some time, and you don't have to be super productive or anything, it's just. It's it's experimentation time and you will surprise yourself out of what comes out of that time. I think that's great.

John Holden:

And in some work previously. I would just remind everyone that's not just the technology people that can do that right, it's front line people from everywhere, even if it's 30 minutes, and it means going for a walk around your the neighborhood or the park that you take care of, just to clear your head. Yup, it's scientifically proven that walking stimulates creativity in the brain and just kind of then come up with a couple ideas here and there. Right.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, no, I think that's great. I think that's great. Yeah, I think that's. You know we're coming up on an hour here. I think this has been a really great conversation. I love it. One other thing that I wanted to ask Jim about, to maybe expand a little bit more, and that is LiDAR. I know that was one of the little snapshots you had in your presentation and and I just wanted to ask you more specifically what you're using LiDAR for, and I think it might have been in connection with some drones, but what are you guys using LiDAR for and how successful have you been with that?

Jim Alberque:

So currently we have two use cases. One, the real business driver for this is stream erosion model. Okay, so our stormwater folks are, you know, in the Piedmont of North Carolina stormwater is a real thing. It is a key consideration. When it rains, we have to deal with, you know, flooding. We have clay soil and so there's lots and lots of runoff, and so stream erosion is really, really a kind of high priority for the city. So that's the business driver for collecting LiDAR.

Jim Alberque:

But, just like that computer vision. Once you have that LiDAR data, there is all sorts of derivative things that you can do, and so two of the things that we've done as a derivative effort is one is that digital twin that I talked about, yep, and then the other key component to trying to maintain the digital twin. So our last kind of LiDAR data collection was 2022. And so we use that data to update our current condition digital twin model from that data. So that's one, and then two is sustainability is also a key concern, and so trying to model tree canopy massive development happening in the city and so there is constantly changing tree canopy and so trying to model the tree canopy and then track changes against that tree canopy for loss, water quality all those sorts of things are two other things we're not doing so much on the LiDAR. I mean on the drone collection.

Jim Alberque:

Okay, we have a lot of plans around that, and so we did do our transportation department did really did a really interesting project around to rest your LiDAR for the sidewalks to start to measure sidewalk conditions, and so use that and that's kind of plumbed into agile assets and city works to measure kind of quality of sidewalks, prioritize new sidewalk projects, repair projects, replacement projects, etc. So when they were, when they were scoping that project, we had talked about what are opportunities to leverage that data to update the digital twin model. We weren't able to do that just because the resolution of the data was just apples and oranges, such high resolution data compared to what we're doing on a citywide yeah.

Marc Culver:

Well, it's cool, though I mean, lidar is such a it's. It is, and it isn't new, but it's becoming so much more cost effective that I think we're going to see so many more applications of that going forward. So I just wanted to touch on that and see how you guys are using it.

Jim Alberque:

Well, another thing I just wanted to add. There is, I think, something that you know love to hear from you, or, or the region is one of the capabilities we're trying to build is, you know, when we talk about things like LiDAR, video, etc. It is one is what is the use case on the business side, but two is on our staff side how do we build capacity so that, when the new LiDAR project which we don't know what that is yet, whether traffic cameras are just going to fundamentally have LiDAR embedded in them, if these are going to be the we know that new phones are equipped with LiDAR how do we build capacity to ingest this data for to meet whatever that business need is and so that's something that we're working on is like, okay, how do we start to build capacity on knowledge, technology, processes, etc. Do you know if they're doing anything up in your area around that?

Marc Culver:

I would say that, you know, as you Is, from a public agency perspective, like you said, it's a capacity issue. I think there are so many things that we could be doing that we just can't do because we don't have the time to the time nor the resources to procure the equipment, collect the data, start analyzing it this, that and the other and that's so. That's where you know if there's something really revolutionary that makes sense. You know, I think most agencies will start by using a consultant or a vendor to fill that void for them, to help them make use of that. I think pavement condition is a great example of that, where you know it started with people just walking streets and taking notes and we'd have our pavement data and we'd generate PCI. You know pavement condition index data out of that and it's evolved to starting to use cameras and having you know the machine learning and having the computers recognize the cracks and the type of cracking in the set and the other and generate the PCIs based on that, and I think it's going to continue to evolve. But it's usually a vendor that's providing that data for the city. Some cities are changing that and I think where we're seeing that is they're starting to put cameras on their garbage trucks, you know, or fleet city fleet vehicles, and collecting that data and then analyzing it, doing post analysis on it, and so I think that you see that evolution of that and I think we'll see the same thing with LIDAR and aerial data, and I think GS was also a great example of that.

Marc Culver:

You know, a lot of times consultants are providing that expertise and that manpower for the communities to have a GIS system and eventually hire their own staff and manage it. But you know, so, yeah, I think that it is leaning on the private sector to help us integrate that newer technology and eventually we'll prove it and we'll say, hey, we really need somebody in-house to do this, because we could be doing so much more with it and eventually save money by having somebody in-house do it. But yeah, that's where you know we do need that private sector to push this stuff, kind of try it out. That's some of those innovators and, you know, proof of concept stuff too. So I think that's what we see a lot here on that.

John Holden:

You mentioned different models and testbeds in Virginia and North Carolina. You know different cities are starting to explore different ways to test out or pilot innovations. New York City recently released a RFP of you know the. Now it's New York City, right, everything's relative budget-wise, but they put X hundreds or millions of dollars into fun and said here's our three use cases, here's the contracts we want people to bid on them. Yeah, yeah.

John Holden:

There was no specific. You know you're going to build 10 miles a road. It was more around an issue, right? So again, I think we're starting to see legal jurisdictions become a little more innovative in how we can try to do things, and I think that's just again a start of sharing some of those experiences with us. And for that I would, if I could put a plug in for the Smart Cities Conference. It's going to be in Raleigh. Yeah, yeah, I wanted to end with that.

Marc Culver:

So great segue, John. Thank you. Yeah.

John Holden:

It's part of my deal, so we're very glad to be hosting that May 8th through 10th here in Raleigh. It is a chance and, by the way, anyone who works for a city or a county there is no registration fee for those individuals Right, right, yep, yep.

John Holden:

So they really want, you know, people to get together and do what we just talked about the conversation, right, that you were just alluding to, right, marcus? Yep, yep Is to share ideas and put things together and learn from new technologies and the private vendors. Don't worry about trying to buy it yet, but just learn from it, right, they're going to try to sell it to you. Put, learn from it first and then go back and figure out how to test it or to buy it if you've been in that position. So everyone, from you know public works to fire to police, can learn from these events. Again, sure, I'm plugging it because it's going to be in Raleigh, but it moves around the country, but it'll be in Raleigh in May.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, no, and I've been to two of those Smart City Connect conferences, one in DC and one in Denver, and it's almost the first one I went to was in DC and it was almost overwhelming, like I didn't know where to go. You know, I wanted there to be 10 of me because there were so many good sessions and I wanted to sit in on things. And for the second one, in Denver, I was a little more focused. I didn't get out to DC this last fall again, but love the conference, like you said, a lot of great sessions, a lot of great speakers. I was going to ask are either one of you slated to present anything? Do you know yet? In Raleigh?

John Holden:

300 applications for panels, yeah, and obviously in a three-day, two-and-a-half-day conference you have about 30 to 50. But I think, as when they put it in any location, there'll be a presence of Raleigh projects, if not people talking and sharing ideas. So we look forward to that. And I don't know how this podcast works at the end of the day, but there is the link.

Marc Culver:

I think I tried to put it in there, yeah well, definitely make sure to add that to that show in the show. No, no, no Okay.

John Holden:

Okay, for the podcast.

Marc Culver:

Thank you, thank you.

John Holden:

Yeah, so yeah, I'm glad you were going to put it in, but I couldn't resist. Yeah of course Of course.

Marc Culver:

Of course, Jim. Have you spoke at any of the other smart cities connect?

Jim Alberque:

Yeah, so the last couple of Denver conferences have either had a dedicated presentation or been on a panel.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, I was 90% sure I saw you on a panel at one of those. I just wasn't 100% sure that it was you, so I wanted to confirm that. Yeah, so great. Well, look for I'm sure we'll see you guys somehow. Some way, I plan on being there for at least part of it. My daughter's 18th birthday is on the 10th, so I don't know if I'm going to stay through all three days, but I will definitely be there for a portion of it and looking forward to it and looking forward to meeting both of the well seeing Jim in person again, but meeting you in person, John and just want to say thank you both for taking the time to nerd out with us today.

Jim Alberque:

It was a lot of fun. Thank you, yeah.

John Holden:

Thank you.

Jim Alberque:

Thanks guys.

Marc Culver:

Thank you. And one last thing before we go. If you've enjoyed this episode and the podcast in general, we ask that you help us spread the word. Just help us share our posts on social media. Make your own posts on social media about this, add some comments on our YouTube channel or on LinkedIn. But first of, but as always, thanks for listening, thanks for being here, thanks for being a fan and thanks for nerding out with us. Thanks, everybody Nerds out.

Smart Cities
City Innovation & Future Technology Transformation
Emerging Smart City Technologies and Equity
Innovating Greenways and Collaborating for Equity
Advancing Public Safety Technology Implementation
Innovation Time and LiDAR Use
Smart Cities Conference and Innovations