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What's New in Civic Tech: Open Data Saves Connecticut $500,000

Plus, Atlanta throws a smart city coming-of-age party; Palo Alto, Calif., explores using drones to bring blood samples to hospitals; and a new project builds on Cincinnati’s opioid data work to predict heroin overdose risk.

by / December 14, 2017
Connecticut's state Capitol in Hartford (Photo by David Kidd)

The availability of open data has helped Connecticut save as much as $500,000 the state would have potentially had to pay to create digital building footprints that feature addresses and other property-based information.

Connecticut Chief Data Officer Tyler Kleykamp detailed all that made this savings possible recently in a Medium post, noting that the resulting data, while valuable, is also a bit flawed in its current state, and “therefore we’re providing it as sort of an experimental release.

What’s involved is a set of 2012 aerial photographs that the state took and subsequently released online, which then led to another public agency funding the development of surface data that identified buildings, roads and parking lots. Kleykamp then found out last month that an engineer from Esri had taken the data, extracted building footprints and converted them to vectors, also adding data from parcels and address points that state technologists had collected.

This was work the state had looked into doing, before finding out it would cost about $.40 a building. That’s why having it now done for free constitutes such a savings. Work, however, still remains.

“Intersecting and joining polygons in order to add additional data is an imperfect process,” wrote Kleykamp. “Both the spatial precision of these data, and the incomplete nature of the parcel and address data, make this a rather messy set of data, with numerous issues.”

Citing a desire to make geospatial data in Connecticut broadly accessible, Kleykamp also noted that his hope was for the state’s open data community to improve the quality of the info as they begin to work with and use it.  


Atlanta Throws a Smart City Coming-of-Age Party

Atlanta recently threw its smart city initiative a coming-of-age party, comparing its tech work in that discipline to the guest of honor at a sweet 16, a quinceañera, bar mitzvah or debutante ball.

The event was called Experience Smart ATL, and it brought together all the stakeholders involved with Atlanta’s smart cities work, a group that includes members of half a dozen city departments as well as dozens of vendors. During the event, they set up tables detailing the projects they worked on to roughly 350 attendees, explaining the scope and scale of this ongoing work.

“I know it’s my job,” wrote Kirk Talbott, the executive director of Atlanta’s smart city program in a Medium post, “but even my head spun with all of the different opportunities there are to improve city services, as well as with the realization that we’re only currently pursuing a small percentage of those opportunities. This was exactly why we put on Experience Smart ATL— to signal that smart cities have arrived in Atlanta.”

Aside from furthering awareness of the maturity of the work, other reasons for holding the event included wanting to consolidate the many disparate smart city initiatives under one umbrella, incentivizing project teams to publish and polish ongoing efforts, and focusing the vendor community on improving city services.

There’s no word yet as to whether in a few years Atlanta will throw a boozy smart cities officially-an-adult party.


Palo Alto, Calif., to Explore Using Drones to Bring Blood Samples to Hospitals

Partnering with Stanford Blood Center and the autonomous drone manufacturer Matternet, the city of Palo Alto recently announced that it would explore the possibility of using the unmanned drones to deliver blood samples to Stanford Hospital.

This comes as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is soliciting a limited number of pilot projects to help facilitate safe commercial uses for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly referred to as drones, by local or state agencies. There is also a second proposal for drone use under consideration by the city, this one from German drone manufacturer Multirotor, which has proposed exploring the use of drones at the Palo Alto Airport for runway inspections that would monitor for potential wildlife interference. Other proposals include using drones for public safety search operations and utility infrastructure inspections.

In an announcement, the city noted that “any proposed drone operation raises numerous issues that would need to be identified and addressed, including safety, environmental, noise, privacy and community support for such a use. The FAA will be selecting five applications nationwide to proceed with project development, and if the city is selected to proceed with a formal agreement, staff would seek City Council approval, conduct any necessary environmental review and solicit extensive community feedback.”

There is no cost to Palo Alto for the review program, and the city can withdraw at any time. Anyone interested in reading the informational report can click here, or, for questions or feedback, send an email to


Palo Alto CIO Launches Video Series Aimed at Recruiting Government Technologists

In other Palo Alto, Calif., news, the city’s CIO Jonathan Reichental has launched a video series to recruit new government technologists. Dubbed Technology and Data Careers in Government, installments in this series are one hour long.

“Today, some of the most exciting, impactful and in-demand IT careers are in helping to make cities work well,” Reichental wrote in the series’ description. “Technology is now at the center of urban life, and cities all over the world need a lot of talent to address the challenges of the 21st Century. This course is designed to help you determine a path to success in city government.”

The first one-hour video is broken down into four parts: City Government in the 21st Century, How Cities Use Technology, IT Roles in City Government, and Preparing for an Opportunity in City Government. Reichental has released video learning opportunities in the past, with previous examples that include Learning Data Governance and Open Data: Unleashing Hidden Value.


New Project Draws from Cincinnati Opioid Crisis Data to Predict Heroin Overdose Risk

A new project by civic technologist Ken Steif draws from the vast amount of data that Cincinnati has released to combat the opioid crisis in its jurisdiction in order to predict heroin overdose risk geographically.

Steif has detailed his work in a YouTube video, noting that the model within is real but the app is theoretical. 

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Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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