Goldsmith points to equity as another important consideration for increasing investment in intelligent infrastructure systems. “Data allows us to better pinpoint where we can remedy past wrongs, better allocate the delivery of government services, and improve the health and well-being of municipal residents.” The paper cites shows the example of how Chicago has deployed a citywide network of air sensors on lampposts to monitor air pollutants, which has given city officials better tools for identifying pollution sources. They are also better able to predict poor air quality, a problem that is particularly prevalent in minority neighborhoods nationwide, despite these communities producing less air pollution.
Likewise in Oakland, California, the city launched a new paving project using mapping data to more equitably determine which streets received a layer of fresh asphalt. Traditionally, the authors noted in the report, “paving projects and street repairs were focused on major streets, with a few local streets chosen for improvement, mainly based on complaints to the city council”. After extensive community outreach, and with detailed mapping data in hand, city officials were able to show that neighborhoods of color had longer commute times, worse road conditions, and fewer protected bike lanes. As a result, many more local and highly trafficked streets in traditionally underserved communities across the city received more new asphalt than they had during previous repaving projects. “Oakland shows how data can be a critical tool for ensuring the equitable delivery of municipal services. As a former mayor myself, I saw how all too often, whoever yells the loudest gets the attention of city hall, but data serves as an equalizer, giving both government and communities the tools to ensure that projects such as paving are carried out in a fairer fashion,” said Goldsmith.
With the debate over the Biden infrastructure package set to continue when Congress returns from its summer recess, Goldsmith and his co-authors urge federal policymakers to look beyond roads and bridges and consider intelligent infrastructure as a system: upheld, connected, and integrated by data. Yet state and local officials, the paper notes, shouldn’t wait for the funding to start flowing from Washington to begin investing in innovative approaches to infrastructure. “We’ve got to get a whole workforce of state and local government employees trained on how best to utilize these new tools,” added Goldsmith. “Now’s the time to do it.”