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McCarthy looks to make Schenectady a Smart Cities leader

McCarthy looks to make Schenectady a Smart Cities leader

While many communities across the country struggle to harness new technology, Schenectady Mayor Gary
McCarthy looks to make Schenectady a Smart Cities leader
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy, left, speaks to panelists and audience members at Tuesday morning's forum on Smart Cities, which covered how communities can improve using new technology.
Photographer: Brett Samuels

While many communities across the country struggle to harness new technology, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said he wants to work to make the city, and the region, a leader among Smart Cities.

At a legislative forum on Tuesday, McCarthy emphasized the importance of collaboration to get the most out of emerging technologies that can improve government efficiency and quality of life through the use of advanced lighting, sensors and more.

McCarthy and other local leaders took part in a Smart Cities Forum, which was held Tuesday morning in the Assembly Parlor at the State Capitol. The event allowed municipal, state and business leaders from the region to discuss challenges and successes in implementing technology to improve communities.

Schenectady has been a leader in implementing technology to increase efficiency and lower costs in the city through its Smart City initiative. One example is installing more energy efficient lighting on streets.

The city’s lighting bill comes out to about $1 million per year, McCarthy said, and he estimates Schenectady can save about $370,000 by switching to the more efficient lights.

Some changes have already been rolled out in what McCarthy called test deployments. New lights have been installed on lower Union Street, and similar changes are planned for State Street.

“We’re looking to see what works and what doesn’t,” McCarthy said.

Once the new lights are installed, officials could look into mounting Wi-Fi transmitters, cameras or environmental sensors that could help the city operate more efficiently. For example, a sensor perched atop the light could allow city officials to get a temperature reading and deploy salt trucks to that area in the winter.

McCarthy acknowledged during Tuesday’s forum that some residents expressed initial concerns when the city set up cameras in high crime areas. However, once the cameras proved effective, McCarthy said neighbors no longer worried about a “big brother” effect.

“Once they got accustomed to it, they wanted it to be part of their neighborhood,” he said.

Motion sensors can also be attached to the lights, which would allow them to dim when there’s no traffic, and then brighten when a vehicle or pedestrian is detected in the area to further save on energy costs.

“When you’re changing the lightbulb, there are these opportunities put all this other technology in place,” McCarthy said. “There is an expense with it, but it’s not unattainable.”

Cost will be a factor for any community looking to implement these types of technologies, said Peter Baynes, executive director of the New York Conference of Mayors. However, he said municipalities have to “spend money to save money” in this case.

Other Capital Region officials spoke at the forum, including Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner.

Woerner, who represents the 113th assembly district, said some cities in her district have police cruisers mounted with license plate scanners to improve safety and identify drug dealers or other criminals.

Sheehan said Albany has a diversity of neighborhoods — including some with row houses and some with suburban settings — and using technology can help officials improve services. She explained that by using data chips to monitor which areas were recycling most frequently, officials could then target the other areas with more educational programs.

“You have to be able to assess within your community what level of feasibility there is and where to start,” she said.

McCarthy appointed an advisory committee in January to provide recommendations on how to proceed with implementing the new technology in Schenectady. Once the committee gathers feedback on the initial technology deployments on Union and State streets, they will determine how to move forward throughout the rest of the city.

The plan is to roll out some of the devices and changes in 2017, McCarthy said; however, the city is likely looking at a 24-30 month deployment period. That process will involve communication with key partners, such as Verizon, Cisco and National Grid, which owns the light posts.

Ultimately, McCarthy said he hopes to create an example for other communities, emphasizing coordination and collaboration during his Tuesday presentation.

“We have the opportunity in New York state to work in a comprehensive manner, in a coordinated effort to provide a game-changing environment for our communities,” McCarthy said. “I want this to be not just for Schenectady’s benefit. We want to share.”

Reach Gazette reporter Brett Samuels at 395-3113, [email protected] or @Brett_Samuels27 on Twitter.

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