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Smart City PDX team shares insights on designing open data projects that serve all Portlanders

Two exceptional voices are working on behalf of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to make Portland a city of the future: Smart City PDX Coordinator Christine Kendrick, is an air quality scientist specializing in monitoring, policy, and the public health impacts of air pollution and technical and ethical questions surrounding the use of distributed sensors; and Open Data Coordinator Hector Dominguez, is a scientist with expertise in manufacturing solar concentrators and sustainable manufacturing, and a mixed background in the entrepreneurship, research, and non-profit fields.

Smart City PDX is a citywide initiative focused on learning how data and technology strategies can be used to support and enhance our City goals and programs. Data and technology strategies are being assessed to help improve accessibility for all Portlanders to City services, enhance participation and make collaboration across City bureaus and offices more efficient. Some examples of current Smart City PDX projects and policies include:

  • Air Quality Sensor Deployment- Tests lower-cost air quality sensors to learn how sensors may be used to assess pollution levels before, during, or after construction or development projects. Smart Autonomous Vehicles Initiative (SAVI) project- Builds policy and data requirements for potential autonomous vehicle pilots to help deliver potential benefits while also mitigating potential burdens from this emerging technology.
  • Open Data Program- Increase publishing and accessibility of data collected and generated by City of Portland and partners working on behalf of the City. Open data resources combined with improved digital literacy and the City’s digital equity goals can improve information used for decision-making and enhance community engagement.


Hector and Christine share insights about their work

Q: Christine, why should Portlanders be engaged with Smart City PDX? And how will they be able to recognize the impact of this in their communities?

The Smart City PDX initiative is here to better serve Portlanders. We want to give them quicker access to the information or services that they need in a format that is useful. To do this, we need input from all Portlanders (individuals and businesses) as to what their needs are as well as their barriers. For example, we could build a beautiful new web application to deliver important content to our audiences, but if some of our users do not have easy (and affordable) access to the internet than we have failed.

This second question is a question BPS and all Bureaus need to be very aware of. How will we know if our tools/solutions/projects are meeting the needs of the community? I believe that we need to develop metrics (Key Performance Indicators ) at the onset that will quantify the impact that the tool or project is having on various Portlanders, and we should share the metric results as the data comes in. Then we need to be nimble and responsive to those results, so we can change course if needed – all for the benefit of the Portland community.

Q: Hector, you’re from Mexico, what lessons apply from your own community there to your work today with Smart City PDX using data and technology to improve the lives of people in underserved communities?

I think the best learning was always to challenge my assumptions and own bias. I worked with indigenous, rural communities and marginal neighborhoods in Mexico City thinking that people would be and need the same; however, very quickly realized that my own pre-conceptions and expectations were a wall to connect with those communities and be successful with those projects. As I went on collaborating with different communities and customers, I learned the best thing is to listen and understand the context, their history, values and see the humanity in their needs and dreams for a better life through their struggles. I believe those are universal principles that I try to follow now with our Smart City PDX and Open Data program.


Q: Christine, what is Smart City PDX to you personally?

“Data, big data, Internet of Things,” are all popular buzzwords. But without careful planning, organizing and delivery it’s all meaningless. Cities have plenty of existing data, information, stories that need better organization and tools. With the rapid spread of sensor and mobile devices, the amount of data is growing faster than we can deal with it. We need to get the data we already have working better for us and to prepare ourselves for the onrush of data to come. Smart City PDX means turning data into knowledge, and providing that knowledge to the people so they thrive. We want Portlanders to feel empowered to work with their own data.


Q: You have a background in entrepreneurship, research, non-profit organizations, robotics and automation, and artificial intelligence. What areas do you draw from the most in your work with Smart City PDX?

For me, the Smart Cities term is the latest iteration for building that evolving social environment that we call city, neighborhood, or country. The complexities of our modern world are beyond any individual and it is only the collective knowledge and intelligence that may have a chance in resolving those major challenges. In that sense, Cybernetics, the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things, is the one main source for giving a first step to understand that complexity; however, implementation needs to be done in solid ground as every action has a consequence. So, having the triple balance between economic prosperity (entrepreneurship), Sustainability (Permaculture) and Social values (Non-profit and social entrepreneurship worlds) will help us with those next steps to implement my work on Smart City PDX.


Learn more about Smart City PDX at www.smartcitypdx.com