SCHENECTADY — The mayor has said the city’s Smart Cities effort will broadly transform entire sectors of city government and have a “wide-ranging impact and value for every member of the community.”
But the extent of public engagement remains somewhat unclear.
Asked about holding public meetings, Mayor Gary McCarthy said: “It is not going to be a public meeting. It is an ongoing process from now where it’ll be public meetings.”
The city coordinated several events on Monday to generate buzz for the effort, which is poised to build out the city's free wi-fi network and monitor traffic patterns for starters.
Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli visited to formally release a report detailing how municipalities across the state are using technology to reform the delivery of government services.
DiNapoli delivered comments as crews deployed fiber-optic cable in front of a city fire station in Mont Pleasant, part of a mile-long strip that will serve as an experimental backbone for future applications.
At the same time, National Grid publicly installed a new LED-powered light at the corner of Third Avenue and Congress Street and demonstrated the technology as part of the utility provider’s ambitious project with the city to swap out thousands of outdated units by the end of this year.
McCarthy previously pledged to keep the public engaged.
“We will be hosting neighborhood meetings and informational sessions to gather additional feedback on this project,” McCarthy said at his 2019 State of the City address in mid-January.
The city isn’t shy on soliciting feedback when it wants to.
City Hall has coordinated numerous meetings this year to solicit feedback on everything from flooding remediation solutions in the Stockade neighborhood to streetscape improvements in Mont Pleasant and Hamilton Hill, all of which were multi-day affairs.
Shortly after the event on Monday, the city’s Engineering Department announced it will hold a public meeting this Wednesday on proposed corridor safety improvements along Brandywine Avenue between I-890 and State Street.
But McCarthy has stopped short of confirming if the city will facilitate comparable meetings about its Smart Cities effort.
The mayor pointed on Monday to a series of informal community event, including online surveys issued in conjunction with National Grid, Q&A forums and smaller community meetings, as evidence of public engagement.
“We’ve done some more limited ones,” McCarthy said, noting a previous test deployment on lower Union Street.
Conversations are also ongoing with neighborhood organizations, including Mont Pleasant Neighborhood Association and Crane Street Merchants.
McCarthy indicated there will be opportunities for additional feedback with some of the vendors that “we’re working with providing the technology and some of this hardware,” and hoped the emerging technology will spur a broader public conversation.
“Some of this is to raise the awareness of what we’re doing and also simultaneously talk about the options that exist with this deployment,” McCarthy said. “And so not all the ideas and real development are going to come from this side of the podium. They’re going to come from residents, from businesses within the community and people who may be visiting the community who are going to see opportunities in this full integrated deployment.”
The city has set aside approximately $5 million in its capital budgets over the past three years for the work, with $2 million included in the 2019 budget.
McCarthy is required to submit his proposed 2020 spending plan to City Council by Oct. 1.
Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo believes there should be more input from the public.
“It’s a huge chunk of money,” Perazzo said. “It should be a referendum on the ballot. Let taxpayers know where the money should be spent."
Mont Pleasant Neighborhood Association President Pat Smith said she’s been engaged with the city on Smart City efforts, including communication through the group’s newsletter.
But she still harbored questions at the roll-out event on Monday, largely surrounding how the technology would be used for law enforcement efforts, a key concern as quality-of-life issues have continued to mount this year.
Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association President Marva Isaacs said the city hasn’t had any Smart City-specific public meetings in her neighborhood.
Residents are generally unaware of the concept, she said.
"The mayor — or somebody — needs to get these people together to talk about Smart Cities and educate them on Smart Cities because a lot of people don't know,” Isaacs said.
John DeAugustine, president and publisher of The Daily Gazette, is a member of the city's Smart City Advisory Commission.