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Boise, Idaho, USA

Recycling Wastewater to Build a More Resilient Future

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Equity, Health and Wellbeing, Technology

At a Glance


$570 million: Bond amount voters approved with 81% support in November 2021, funding Department of Public Works Water Renewal Services projects slated through 2030. 


50+: Number of open house events held at the city’s water recycling pilot site


6 million gallons: Amount of additional water Boise will add to its renewal capacity each day when fully its Recycled Water Program is implemented, strengthening the city’s resilience against drought, population growth and climate change.


2029: Year the brand-new water recycling facility is slated to open.

In Boise, climate change and population growth all pose a long-term challenge to the most precious natural resource: water. The city of about 247,000 people draws 70% of its water from aquifers and 30% from the Boise River. Both water sources are under growing stress due to rising demand for irrigation, shrinking snowpack and increasing drought frequency.

To build resilience and support growth, the City of Boise has embraced water recycling. In 2020, the Department of Public Works’ Water Renewal Service utility issued a data-driven strategic plan to ramp up Boise’s water recycling capabilities over the next 10 years, with a new focus on aquifer recharging. A centerpiece of the plan is construction of the city’s first recycled water facility.  

City leaders have worked to rally Boise residents around their vision to ensure an adequate supply of water for both residential use and new businesses. They built buy-in various ways. The City held over 50 community meetings to show trade-offs of water treatment models to address limited water supply. The result was a $570 million bond measure that passed in 2021 with voters’ overwhelming support (81% voted in favor). This allowed the City to move on major water renewal capital projects, including a new $420 million water recycling facility, with minimal sewer user fee increases.

Leaders also leveraged the annual budgeting process to build stakeholder support. In recent years the City’s budget has included tens of millions of dollars in water renewal capital project investments, including for an advanced water treatment pilot to test new technologies. The pilot site, which opened in 2023, tests five different filtration technologies including reverse osmosis and ultraviolet advanced oxidation, to remove all chemicals and pollutants from industrial wastewater. Notably, one goal for data from the pilot is to build trust with residents.  The City aims to show that the recycling treatment will produce safe water for the community. 

As Boise city officials and residents deepen their knowledge of innovative filtration technologies, which aren’t common in Idaho, a more resilient future is coming into view. In February 2024, the City purchased a 76-acre plot of land where it will build the new state-of-the-art recycled water facility. Construction will start in 2025, a key step toward a more sustainable Boise.

The WWC team at the Boise water facility.

“The open houses we’ve done with community engagement of this pilot, the ability to show people the technology and talk about it, is really incredible.”

Haley Falconer, Environmental Division Senior Manager, Public Works Department
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Luján de Cuyo, Argentina

Bajo Luján’s Journey to New Housing.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Environment, Equity, Health and Wellbeing, Infrastructure, Public Safety, Technology, Transportation

At a Glance


Relocated more than 1200 families who lived in flood-prone areas.


Created a workforce development initiative that employed residents, renovated public land and expanded access to recycling centers.


Improved access to territorial data, which made getting land permit data faster—going from months of waiting to just three clicks. The platform, Luján 3D, allows renovations and housing development to have substantial improvements.


Improved accessibility for residents with disabilities through an adapted bicycle program.

In 2016, a survey conducted by the city of Luján de Cuyo, Argentina, revealed a heartbreaking reality. There were about 3,500 families who lived in marginal or informal neighborhoods, of which 700 were concentrated in the Bajo Luján area, often without basic services. The most vulnerable residents lived near a flood-prone river, underscoring the urgency for change. As a result, the City developed an ambitious urbanization and relocation project, supported by the World Bank.

At the heart of the initiative was a resident-driven approach. Residents were surveyed to identify and prioritize needs, including proximity to employment, family size, and level of need to minimize disruption to their daily lives. Efforts to monitor the impact of this relocation were key. A survey and audit process was initiated, capturing residents’ experiences before, during and after the move. This data was visualized through PowerBI dashboards, allowing real-time tracking of project progress.

“Governing is making decisions. Doing it well requires exceptional use of data. If we intend to achieve real impact in the community, our public policies must be data-driven. We dream of becoming an international example of well-managed local government.”

Esteban Allasino, Mayor

The result was the construction of 700 homes in 11 neighborhoods.

This enormous initiative not only provided new homes, but restored a sense of human dignity and trust in government for those who had long been marginalized.

Seven hundred safe and practical homes is a significant achievement.

Additionally, the community intervened and regularized other settlements benefiting 500 families, completing a very ambitious stage that managed to reach more than 35% of the most vulnerable sector of the City.

But the government did not stop there. City leaders knew that housing is only one part of poverty. Thus, in an effort to create employment opportunities, the city turned its attention to residents who worked at the landfills as urban recyclers.

These families made a living collecting recyclable materials from garbage dumps. To help them, the following public policies were promoted: Closure and remediation of garbage dumps, Social inclusion of urban reclaimers, Inclusive Recycling Program – Centro Verde. In this way, the city, together with a group of neighbors, mainly women, officially formed a cooperative. The City provided land and necessary infrastructure.

The Fortress of My Earth, which now has nearly 30 members, launched a program that uses geographic information system (GIS) data to strategically place recycling bins throughout the city. This project successfully increased the number of Green Dots from 8 to 65, ensuring that residents could easily find a container within 500 meters of their homes. This caused a notable increase in recycling from 2021 to 2023.

The story doesn’t end there. In 2021, the City cut the ribbon on Luján Park,  located in the previously abandoned housing settlement Bajo Luján. The area has been transformed into a lively community space, with children’s play areas with equipment made from recycled plastic from the cooperative.

The Bajo Luján and Centro Verde projects reveal how intertwined initiatives can have an exponential impact on residents’ lives. They boosted citywide sustainability, helping hundreds of Luján de Cuyo residents achieve housing stability and financial independence and building much-needed trust in local government.

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Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA

Public Transportation Steered By Data

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Environment, Health and Wellbeing, Transportation

At a Glance


The percentage of residents who report using public transportation has more than doubled since their fare-free, all-electric public buses began in 2019.


More than 700 alumni of a 10-week civics course provided to residents by the City.


Increasing tree canopy by planting three trees for every one tree the City cuts down.

Rock Hill, SC, tried public transportation in the 1990s. It wasn’t a roaring success; people didn’t know about it and ridership was low. However, in 2015 a Winthrop University survey found that 80% of respondents identified transportation as a top need. With that data point, Mayor John Gettys knew it was time to give public transportation another go.

Data was a guiding force from the start. The City paired the survey with qualitative data from focus groups that also said fixed-route transit would minimize barriers and provide opportunities to residents. With the need established, choosing routes and schedules were the next items on the agenda. Again, the City leaned on resident feedback, partnering with United Way to hold interest meetings. At the same time, regional planning associations used census data and maps to plot routes that would most benefit residents who needed it most. For instance, they didn’t just look at neighborhood density, they looked at where residents without cars lived, and they made sure that routes passed parks, shopping centers, health care facilities and other places residents recommended.

Image Courtesy of the City of Rock Hill.

“The reason we accomplish big things is that we use data to drive decisions, something the City has done consistently over the last 20 years. I think being strategic and utilizing data to solve challenges attracts good representatives who want to come in and do big things, good things for our community.”

John Gettys, Mayor

“Basing decisions on data can minimize the vitriol of partisan politics, it’s an antidote to a lot of the divide we see in our country today.”

John Gettys, Mayor

My Ride not only improves accessibility, it’s making a more sustainable Rock Hill. The fleet of 10 buses are all electric and produced in South Carolina. The buses reduced about 337 metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions compared to diesel buses in just their first year, they’re also quieter for riders and cost less to operate.

Data guided My Ride’s funding decisions as well. Evidence showed that it was cost-prohibitive to collect fares, and city leadership knew how much the buses contributed to accessibility. Thus, the buses are fare-free. Federal Transit Authority (FTA) funds help meet the majority of the costs, the rest is covered by the City and partner organizations.

As My Ride’s success grows, so too do the City’s ambitious goals for the bus system. When the program started, their ridership goal was 4,100 passenger trips per week—a goal they met in less than two months. Despite the plunge in ridership due to the pandemic, ridership has bounced back. In FY23, My Ride’s monthly ridership goal was 16,400. They averaged 20,839 passenger trips per month. And they did all of those rides with only three customer complaints the whole year.

This isn’t the end of the line for My Ride. The four, hour-long routes already serve about two-thirds of city residents, and the City is constantly collecting feedback and setting goals for improvement. For example, in 2023 My Ride began to serve additional areas on the existing routes and improved system efficiency.

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New York City, New York, USA

A Data-Driven Process to Reach Net Zero Emissions: Climate Budgeting

Project Type:
Health and Wellbeing, High-Performing Government, Youth Development

At a Glance


100% of City agencies have already submitted emissions impact data with all capital project budget requests


April 2024: When NYC will publish its first Climate Budget.


$4 billion: Amount the City will invest in a school electrification plan, which will contribute a 3% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from government operations.

Climate Budgeting to Help Reach Zero Net Emissions

New York City has a goal to reach net-zero emissions citywide by 2050.

To reach that goal, city leaders must put data at the heart of day-to-day operations. One way the City is doing this is through a new municipal climate budget. As part of the climate budget, the City bolstered requirements for capital project budget requests to include projected emissions data, which are now being met by 100 percent of city agencies, contributing to a 27 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from government operations.

“Climate budgeting is a significant shift in how we think about the value of tax dollars and their potential to power change. It’s the only way to use every budgeting decision to bring our climate ambitions to life. There’s no time to waste.”

Eric Adams, Mayor

Climate budgeting is a governance system that mainstreams climate targets and considerations into decision-making through the budget process and aligns the City’s resources with its climate goals. It is a paradigm shift from the traditional budget process to a holistic approach that considers the impact of every dollar the City spends on meeting its climate goals.

NYC’s climate budgeting is a core component of the City’s strategic climate plan announced in 2023 and is being led by New York City’s Office of Management and Budget, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice (MOCEJ).

An early example of climate budgeting can be seen in the “Leading the Charge” initiative, a $4 billion plan now in motion, to ensure newly constructed schools will be all-electric and 100 existing schools will begin to phase out fossil fuel heating systems. The initiative will prioritize schools in low-income as well as predominantly Black and Brown communities which are particularly vulnerable to environmental injustices such as elevated rates of childhood asthma. The electrification plan illustrates how NYC is using emissions data to combat climate change and disaggregated demographic data to promote equitable health outcomes.


How else has NYC become a more data-driven government?

As one of the first big cities in the U.S. to adopt climate budgeting, New York City is showing how new decision-making processes can deliver urgently needed change. 

In 2024, it will implement a formal climate budgeting intake form for agency budget requests and publish its first Climate Budget alongside the Executive Budget. The Climate Budget will include a citywide greenhouse gas emissions forecast showing progress toward the 2050 net-zero goal, as well as data that shows how capital project plans could affect climate goals such as air quality and heat and flooding resilience. The 100% compliance rate across departments is a positive sign for standardizing climate budget processes and understanding the City’s emissions.

Does climate budgeting make funding decisions more complex? Yes. But the initiative is worth it. It allows New York City to understand the climate impact of dollars spent and then rally around forward-looking projects aligned to must-reach goals.

“By using a data-driven decision approach, our administration is delivering results for New Yorkers in the most efficient and equitable way possible. Data is more than just a spreadsheet — it is a tool to help government better improve services that impact the daily lives of residents. I’m proud that New York City is recognized as an international leader in operations and look forward to continuing to use data to improve the lives of New Yorkers.”

Sheena Wright, First Deputy Mayor

Charleston, South Carolina, USA

Creating a One-Stop-Shop to Track Progress on City Goals.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Environment, Equity, Housing, Infrastructure, Public Safety, Technology

At a Glance


Charleston’s TIDEeye app helps the city and its residents monitor the effects of severe weather by providing real-time data on road closures and weather information.


Charleston has added almost 800 affordable housing units since 2016, and 500 more currently in the pipeline.


Data has shown that 86% of the affordable housing units in development are within .5 miles of public transit.


Known as a tourist destination with idyllic horse-drawn carriages, the City optimized equine waste management with GPS tracking. The system helped reduce cleanup time from 40 minutes to 20 minutes.


Using outcomes-based performance management practices to understand if programs are achieving their intended impact.

For cities with competing priorities and limited resources, making city-wide strategic goals built on data and evidence is an achievement in itself. But tracking progress, engaging residents and strengthening accountability is a tougher feat.

In 2022, the City of Charleston outlined six mayoral priorities and launched PriorityStat, an online dashboard and public meeting series to increase transparency and help the City and residents track progress on these six goals. While traditional city open data dashboards are organized around departments or services, PriorityStat takes a more innovative approach and is centered on City—and residents’—priorities.

For instance, FloodStat, one of the dashboards, is focused on protecting the City from sea level rise and flooding. In the 1950s, Charleston was impacted two  days per year on average by nuisance flooding. In the past five years, that average is now 61 days per year. Traditional dashboards would have relevant metrics, such as police complaints about flooded roads and properties, and city carbon emissions, in different dashboards since they’re in different departments. But addressing flooding and coastal challenges requires many departments to effectively work together. FloodStat helps break down silos by developing and regularly tracking metrics that require cross-agency collaboration. Additionally, it gives residents one place to see a more complete and clear picture of how the City is combatting its challenges.

Another one of the mayoral priorities is affordable housing. Home prices have jumped 78% since 2011 in Charleston—an unsurprising trend for a City with a 25% population increase since 2010 and more than 7 million visitors each year.

HousingStat allowed Charleston officials to develop a 10-year comprehensive plan to improve housing. To eliminate affordability gaps by 2030, the City learned that it needs more than 16,000 affordable units. HousingStat has also led to new programs, such as a Senior Homeowner Initiative, that has already helped 18 seniors become first-time homeowners. Regularly disaggregated data has helped the City allocate resources where they are needed most and develop more targeted strategies.

“We’ve been able to cut red tape on affordable housing initiatives. This is the largest, most ambitious affordable and workforce housing initiative in our city’s history.”

John Tecklenburg, Mayor

The City is clear that PriorityStat is still a work in progress. Two more dashboards are on the docket for 2024: one for mobility and transportation, and the other for neighborhood livability and resident quality of life. While these are being built, the City is actively seeking feedback and encouraging residents to watch public meetings on Charleston’s YouTube page.

PriorityStat is a performance management grand slam for the City. But more importantly it’s a win for residents. An unwieldy and unorganized performance management dashboard isn’t a platform that performs for residents. Charleston’s PriorityStat is different: by embedding accountability, transparency and collaboration into the fabric of the City’s strategic goals, residents know the City is making strides with them in mind.

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San Francisco, California, USA

San Francisco: Building Stronger Neighborhoods and a Data-Fluent City Hall.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Communications, Environment, Health & Wellness, High-Performing Government

At a Glance


Since becoming one of the first local governments in the country to pass an open data policy in 2009, the City has continued to build on its commitment to transparency and putting data at the core of decision-making.


Surveyed 500 residents in five neighborhoods to determine and address the top concerns that have the greatest impact on the residents’ quality of life.


Implemented data skillbuilding courses for City staff resulting in each saving an average of 1.4 hours weekly — translating into $1.7 million in savings annually for the City.

San Francisco’s Fix-It Efforts

Residents of San Francisco’s Glen Park neighborhood gathered one evening with city staff outside the local BART train station in preparation for a Fix-It walk. The group would spend the next two hours walking around, noting problems such as street light outages or traffic congestion and developing a plan for repairs.

Judy, a Glen Park resident for 30 years, says she joined the Fix-It effort so that she could “get involved before the changes are implemented, rather than complaining about them after the fact.” That’s exactly what Fix-It Director Sandra Zuniga wants. “Doing fixes the community doesn’t want me to do is a waste of my time,” she explains.

Fix-It Director Sandra Zuniga speaks with a resident before a Fix-It walk in San Francisco’s Glen Park neighborhood.

The late Mayor Ed Lee launched the Fix-It initiative in May 2016 as part of his Safe and Clean Neighborhoods Promise to improve the quality of life in San Francisco. Making the city a better place to live and providing more efficient government services are part of his vision for San Francisco’s open data strategy as well. Since passing an open data policy in 2009 — becoming one of the first local governments in the country to do so — the City has continued to build on its commitment to transparency and putting data at the core of decision-making.

Fix-It is a great example of how data can ensure that cities are targeting the neediest communities. Initially, Fix-It was rolled out in five pilot neighborhoods where the City received a lot of complaints. Before Mayor Lee decided to expand the program into 20 more neighborhoods, the team surveyed some 500 residents in five languages in five neighborhoods to determine the top concerns that have the greatest impact on residents’ quality of life. The team then worked with the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation to map data from 311 and the San Francisco Police Department to visualize where those three concerns were most concentrated, leading to the identification of new target neighborhoods.

A handout distributed to attendees of the Glen Park Fix-It walk maps problem areas they identified during a community meeting held a few weeks prior.

In City Hall, Chief Data Officer Joy Bonaguro directs efforts to ensure that the broadest, best use of data is embedded in the City’s culture through DataSF, a team responsible for maintaining the City’s open data portal and supporting staff with data. DataSF offers a four-month engagement to departments that identify a challenge ripe for data science. Receiving the assistance is a two-way street, however, so each department must remain committed to a service change, if that’s where the data leads. The first cohort has been tackling issues that include keeping WIC-eligible women and their infants enrolled in a nutrition program and increasing eviction prevention.

Since 2014, Data Academy, a partnership between DataSF and the Controller’s Performance Unit, has grown from a handful of workshops on data visualization to nearly 20 courses on behavioral economics, information design, lean process mapping, and more. The goal, according to Bonaguro, is to “empower staff with the data skills that help them thrive.” In turn, they’re helping the City thrive as well. By March 2017, more than 1,700 city staff had attended training, and by taking what they’ve learned back to their teams, they are each saving an average of 1.4 hours weekly — translating into $1.7 million in savings annually for the City.

The City’s Performance Director, Peg Stevenson, notes that increasing staff capacity has prompted employees to help each other to problem-solve. There’s another ripple effect as well: policymakers are more frequently asking for data, and there are clear benefits for residents, too.

As the City continues to apply data to efforts promoting “real-time democracy on the ground,” as Bonaguro describes Fix-It, residents like Judy are showing up and demanding it.

She may just be starting to see the presence of Fix-It in her neighborhood, but Judy already seems to have a hunch that the effect of small fixes can really add up.

“It’s these little things that make your life good or bad,” she says.

Read more about San Francisco’s data journey here.

“Data helps people better understand what they should be expecting from the government.”

Deputy Chief of Staff of the Mayor Kate Howard

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San Diego, California, USA

San Diego: Customizing its Own Portal and Building a Smart City.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Environment, High-Performing Government, Infrastructure, Technology, Transportation

At a Glance


Utilized an open source code to automate the publication of data sets to staff and residents in real time, saving time, resources, and reducing the potential for human error.


Created an app to allow residents to more efficiently report complaints and track progress by the response crews.


Relied on data to prioritize road repairs and how to time them with other infrastructure improvements, such as replacing water or sewer lines, to maximize efficiency.

Making Data Transparent

The City of San Diego has its own way of getting things done. While many of the cities leading the way in data-driven governance have been at this work for years, San Diego was a late bloomer. Most of the City’s open data efforts began in 2014, as Mayor Kevin Faulconer was taking office. Since then, Mayor Faulconer has created a Performance & Analytics Department, and the work has taken off. The City passed an open data policy and, soon after, hired Chief Data Officer Maksim Pecherskiy to begin implementing it.

After coming on board, Pecherskiy’s first order of business was to launch the City’s open data portal, and thanks to his background in programming, he brought a fresh perspective to the task. After reviewing several vendor options, he found that none allowed him to realize his vision. So, he set out to build his own, basing it on an open source project developed in Philadelphia. The portal, which only costs the City around $7 a month to host, launched with an initial 44 data sets voted on by the public for priority release.

Pecherskiy has also leaned on open source code to automate the publication of data sets to the portal. Most cities, he explains, have to publish data sets internally and then externally via distinct processes that can consume between 10 and 20 staff hours per month. But Pecherskiy has made it so that any public data sets automatically publish in both locations, saving time as well as reducing the potential for human error. Staff receive daily email digests with the most updated data, and residents gain access to new data sets nearly in real time. Pecherskiy says there’s also the potential to tie the automation to performance by triggering emails to management when data falls below a certain level.

San Diego also took an unconventional approach to starting its 311 program. The City has never had a designated call center for complaints, so residents often resorted to calling 911 or a non-emergency police number, but the latter was also answered by emergency operators. A resident satisfaction survey showed that 80% of San Diegans didn’t even want to make phone calls to report problems, so the City bypassed the traditional 311 model altogether and went straight to launching its Get It Done app. “We didn’t want to create a new call center that would likely become obsolete in the near future just because that’s how cities have always done it,” says Almis Udrys, Deputy Chief of Staff for Innovation & Policy.

After learning that 80% of San Diegans didn’t want to make phone calls to report problems, the City bypassed the traditional 311 model altogether and went straight to launching its Get It Done app.

Using Get It Done, residents can now report and track progress on a variety of complaints directly from their mobile phones, and response crews are closing the loop by sending “after” photos to residents, who can rate their experience with a thumbs up, thumbs down, or a comment. The app is helping the City become more efficient, too. Before the launch, paperwork for a resolved complaint might sit on a desk for weeks before being reflected in the data, meaning departments couldn’t track how quickly they were responding to issues. Get It Done data is also helping the City in other ways, such as identifying sanitation hazards while partnering with the County to address a recent outbreak of hepatitis A.

The City has applied its newfound data prowess to Mayor Faulconer’s doubled investment in road repairs and ambitious goal to fix 1,000 miles of road by 2020. “I think infrastructure is the ticking time bomb in most cities today,” says Udrys. “Our mayor is really getting out ahead of the problem.” By using data to prioritize repairs and time them with other infrastructure improvements, such as replacing water or sewer lines, the City is ahead of target, and residents can see the progress for themselves on the StreetsSDportal.

By using data to prioritize repairs and time them with other infrastructure improvements, the City is ahead of target on its goal to fix 1,000 miles of road in five years.

Across the City, the world’s largest Internet of Things platform is being rolled out through the installation of street lamps equipped with “smart” technology, part of a partnership with General Electric. Staff can monitor outages and adjust the brightness of the lights remotely, at the same time that sensors in the lamps are providing invaluable data. By monitoring pollution levels, the lamps can help the City better advance its Climate Action Plan, which calls for eliminating half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the City and aims for all electricity used in the city to be from renewable sources by 2035. The sensors will also help the City more effectively monitor parking spot usage, traffic patterns, pedestrian safety, and more.

Street lamps equipped with “smart” technology help the City gather invaluable data from pollution levels to pedestrian safety.

Deputy Chief Operating Officer David Graham recently recalled seeing a young couple and their children among attendees at a demonstration of the lamps. When he asked what inspired them to come, their answer was simple: they wanted their son to be safe if they allowed him to walk to school, and data would go a long way in helping them make the choice.

“We didn’t just want to dump data out there; we wanted to put it out there in formats that people could actually utilize. The data belongs to the people, so they should be able to access it.”

Councilman Mark Kersey

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Phoenix, Arizona, USA

 

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Communications, Cross-Sector, Environment, Equity, Finance, Infrastructure, Public Safety

2023 Platinum Certification


Phoenix instituted data governance across departments and continuous community engagement to inform key policies, including the City’s climate action plan, contributing to the average Phoenix resident using approximately 34% less water today than the average resident in 1990.

2020 Silver and 2021 Gold Certification


Continually using data-driven planning and decision-making to prepare increasing temperatures and population numbers.


Crafted a narrative using date to make the case for increased funding for water infrastructure improvements, getting ahead of more costly potential future water shortages down the road.


Used automatic vehicle location (AVL) technology in garbage trucks to collect detailed data tracking pickup routes and analyzed which ways to pick up trash more efficiently, while maintaining safety.


Created HeatReady, a program that identified the highest temperatures and the lowest amount of shade cover, tracked and enabled equitable distribution of investment to support vulnerable areas exposed to extreme heat.

Rapid Growth in Phoenix

You might call it a good problem to have. Every single day between 2010 and 2019, the Phoenix metro area grew by about 200 people. Phoenix has been among the country’s fastest-growing cities for years, according to U.S. Census Bureau data — and it’s expected to double in size by 2040, up from nearly 1.7 million people right now.

“Phoenix was born to grow. For decades, since the 1950s, we have stretched our boundaries and reimagined what a modern desert city can be. And today, we are growing vertically as well. Strategic use of data has been an incredibly valuable guide as we continue to invest in infrastructure, technology, and services that ensure an equitable future for all residents.”

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego

All this rapid growth puts pressure on essential services — things like water, public safety, and waste management. Ensuring they remain reliable and accessible to all Phoenix residents takes careful planning that aligns infrastructure and services to where growing numbers of people live, work, and play. This is not a new challenge for the desert city, where the average daily high temperature is 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Phoenix’s population began taking off in the 1950s, when air conditioning became commonplace.

The city’s population isn’t the only thing on the rise, however. Climate change is pushing average temperatures higher in the Sonoran Desert, making Phoenix one of the fastest-warming cities in America. But not all residents feel the same heat. The hottest neighborhoods in Phoenix tend to correlate with lower-incomes.

With a hotter and more crowded future on the near horizon, the City of Phoenix is preparing through data-driven planning and decision-making. You can see this in how it is securing the most precious desert resource: water.

Staving Off a Drought With Data

One of Phoenix’s primary sources of water, the Colorado River, is becoming less reliable. City officials know this because they constantly forecast water availability while tracking regional demand and seasonal weather patterns, along with long-term climate change. The data doesn’t look good.

“Water is the lifeblood of any city, especially the fifth largest city in the nation located in the middle of a desert,” says Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher. “We have never taken water for granted. Continuous strategic planning throughout the decades, with data at the forefront, has allowed us to effectively manage potential supply challenges and opportunities for growth.”

With trend lines clear, city officials leveraged data to sound the alarm. Kathryn Sorensen, the Director of Phoenix Water Services, stood in front of the Phoenix City Council presenting data integrating economics, hydrology, geography and other subjects. An image of a black swan swam across the slides to underscore the possibility of a “black swan event.” Phoenix taps could run dry if the drought continued and the city remained so reliant on the Colorado River.

The Colorado River, one of Phoenix’s primary sources of water.
Photo by Mark Capurso courtesy of the City of Phoenix.

Elected officials never enjoy raising the costs of essential services. What Phoenix shows is that when the decision-makers have access to data that tell a clear story, hard decisions are made a little easier.

“Part of what we had to do to get the Council to fund big water infrastructure improvements was tell a story about what you’re getting, and why it’s worth it,” Zuercher says. In fact, by acting when it did, the Council avoided a more painful rate jump down the road, when water shortages might be imminent. “Because we started early enough with the 6 percent increase, we don’t have to do an 18 percent increase later,” he adds.

Smarter Trash Collection

Along with water, Phoenix’s rapid growth has increased demand for another basic service: trash removal.

Every 2,000 new homes typically requires a city to expand waste management services with an additional truck and worker, generally speaking. But impressively, for the past 11 years, as an additional 40,000 homes appeared in Phoenix, the city’s Public Works Department has not added one additional garbage truck, waste management worker, or increased collection fees. How did it pull this off? By using data to improve efficiency.

Using automatic vehicle location (AVL) technology in each of its garbage trucks, the city was able to collect detailed data tracking pickup routes across three months in 2019. It then analyzed those routes in search of ways to pick up trash more efficiently, while maintaining safety. Could school zones be avoided while school is in session? Could collection days for residents be strategically changed? Could dangerous left-hand turns be minimized?

AVL was implemented by the department 10+ years ago to fulfill the need of the operations team for real-time data and actionable data. In the beginning, installation of any AVL monitoring device on trucks was done using a phased approach since the collection trucks could not be taken out of service all at the same time. Nowadays, the newer solid waste trucks delivered to the city are already equipped with AVL monitoring devices and technology, per the city’s specifications.

With the help of AVL technology, the department was able to implement “New Way, Same Day” in 2012, which streamlined collections through route-balancing. “New Way, Same Day” allowed the department to collect trash and recycling containers on the same day, resulting in cost savings of about $1 million annually.

The operations team, in collaboration with the information technology and data services teams, have continuously updated and upgraded Phoenix’s AVL technology.

After diving into the geographical and logistical details, the team emerged with new collection routes that balanced safety requirements with the city’s pickup needs. This hadn’t been done since 2009 — a full 10 years prior. With strong communications about the reasons for change to both residents and the waste management workers on the ground, the department successfully updated its collection routes and systems.

Through data and efficiency, despite rapid population growth, the Public Works Department was able to maintain its monthly residential fee for trash and various waste diversion services for 11 years.

Just recently, however, the Phoenix City Council approved a rate increase to the monthly residential fee. Along with the increasing cost of providing a service, China’s stricter recycling policies, announced in 2017, greatly impacted the U.S. recycling industry resulting in a decline in Phoenix’s recycling revenue. The decline in revenue hindered Phoenix’s ability to maintain the current level of trash and recycling service it provides. But through an extensive community engagement effort to educate residents, the City Council felt confident that an increase in solid waste rates was needed to keep up with the demands of a growing metropolis.

“After more than a decade, the recent residential solid waste rate increase allows our department to maintain the same level of trash and recycling services our residents expect,” said Moreno. “We will continue to rely on good data to streamline our processes and make good decisions in managing our resources.”

Everyone Deserves Some Shade

Phoenix is the hottest major city in the United States, and it’s getting hotter. But rising temperatures threaten some residents more than others — parts of Phoenix are less hot than others due to the presence of shade and certain pavement materials.

To understand climate change’s impact on the city from an equity perspective, the city created HeatReady, a program to identify, track and respond to the dangers of urban heat. The program was funded through the Mayors Challenge, a Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative to help U.S. city leaders develop innovative ideas that tackle today’s toughest problems.

The first step was to gather basic data on heat across Phoenix. To do this, the city partnered with Dr. David Hondula, a professor at Arizona State University, who installed heat monitor sensors in eight locations.

“The Bloomberg Mayors Challenge really set us on course to begin coordinating all efforts to address the growing threat of rising urban temperatures in Phoenix. Data continues to guide us in identifying the areas of our city with the highest temperatures and the lowest amount of shade cover, enabling an equitable distribution of investment to support those most vulnerable to extreme heat.”

Deputy City Manager Karen Peters

Building on its long-standing partnership with Arizona State University, the city collaborated with researchers at ASU’s Urban Climate Research Center to gather and synthesize meteorological data from all across the city and install new sensors. Among the key findings: on the hottest days of the year, surface temperatures varied by up to 13 degrees between different neighborhoods, depending on greenness, shade cover, and other factors. The hottest spots were often in low-income communities. Dr. Hondula and his collaborators are now collecting long-term data in some of the city’s hottest neighborhoods to help the city track its progress over time in reducing heat inequities.

“Our partnership with the city on urban heat is a point of pride for the urban climate research community at ASU. We share the city’s desire to identify and prioritize the hottest and most vulnerable neighborhoods for future cooling investments. The opportunity to work in real-world settings also gives us unparalleled access to learn more about how the urban climate system works and how it can be improved, knowledge that we will work to translate into solutions with city and community partners.”

Arizona State University Professor Dr. David Hondula

The city plans to continue working with its partners at Arizona State University to place sensors throughout the city, and leverage data by strategically improving the built environment. For example, it will create shade in places where residents are in greatest need of walkable routes to public transit, and has begun resurfacing roads in pilot areas with lighter-colored pavement that doesn’t retain as much heat. There is potential for new buildings to be oriented to create better airflow and more shade in high-need places. The city continues to partner with non-profit agencies to offer cooling stations with free bottles of water and heat-safety information, at locations chosen based on heat data and public transit ridership.

Phoenix’s flyer on the warning signs of heat exhaustion
Source: Phoenix Summer Heat Safety.

HeatReady has just begun — the city is currently seeking additional funding for the program and planning to implement a comprehensive shade and cooling plan built from gathered data. But the program already shows a valuable way forward for cities on the frontlines of climate change. The city and Arizona State University are in the final stage of the development of a HeatReady assessment to measure a city’s “heat readiness.” Phoenix will be the pilot city to complete the assessment this year.

Read more about Phoenix’s journey here.

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Norfolk, Virginia, USA

Building Climate Resilience Through Data Infrastructure in Norfolk.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Communication, Environment, Health-Wellness, High-Performing Government, Technology

2023 Gold Certification

Norfolk  hosted a “Datathon” that led to tree canopy recommendations to reduce extreme heat for low-income residents. The City’s CivicLab hosted its first annual Datathon in 2022. Using publicly available data, including tree canopy data from the City of Norfolk, the winners developed a model to better understand and assess demographic equity of extreme heat and direct sunlight exposure due to lack of tree canopies. Their work has been published in a peer-reviewed journal and now helps Norfolk’s tree planting program prioritize neighborhoods with shade inequity. In 2023, The Forest Service awarded Norfolk a grant to increase tree canopies in underserved communities. By empowering and facilitating data-driven solutions from residents, Norfolk is improving public health and creating a more climate-resilient city. 

2021 Silver Certification


Developed and launched STORM, an app that displays data collected by residents and City staff during a storm event detailing flooded streets, downed power lines, and other problems.


Improved resident decision-making around flood risk by allowing them to look up their property to identify the risk of flood across their mortgage period.


Collected and analyzed data for Norfolk City Council to demonstrate which neighborhoods are in need of more local, healthy grocery options.

Data Helping Norfolk Weather the Storm

Tropical Storm Elsa battered the east coast of the United States in July 2021, slamming cities like Norfolk, Virginia with 50 m.p.h. winds and heavy rainfall. With more than 50 million people under flash flood warning, local governments sprang to work, preparing for potential damage caused by the storm. Luckily for the residents of Norfolk, the City’s long-term investment in data infrastructure prepared them well.

For cities like Norfolk, water is king. Boasting the world’s largest naval station, the City’s port and maritime areas have been an economic and cultural hub for hundreds of years. While water is a source of opportunity in Norfolk, it is also a source of challenges. With climate change bringing rising sea levels and an increase in extreme weather events, the coastal city is experiencing more frequent flooding. But thanks to the City’s investment in an in-house data and innovation team, CivicLab, and its robust Open Data portal, Norfolk is better equipped than most to gather real-time storm data and translate it into informed action.

Flooding in Norfolk. Image courtesy of the City of Norfolk.

“Through CivicLab, we connect employees and residents to data, create tools for analyzing this data, and catalyze exploratory work that offers new approaches to local government. Applying this approach to resilience efforts is critical to how Norfolk addresses challenges like Tropical Storm Elsa.”

CivicLab Director Peter Buryk

A Two-Pronged Strategy

Norfolk’s data-driven resilience strategy is a two-pronged approach that focuses on both residents and the City’s own flood management efforts. On the external side, IT developed and launched STORM, an app that displays data collected by residents and City staff during a storm event detailing flooded streets, downed power lines, and other problems. The data from this tool was later posted to the Open Data Portal so everyone could access it.

In March 2021, the City took its resilience efforts to the next level with the launch of the Flood Risk Learning Center. Expanding on the City’s successful TITAN application, which shows residents the flooding levels from past storm benchmarks based on the Norfolk Tide Gauge dashboard, the new Learning Center gives residents the ability to generate personalized flood risk reports based on their building address. Reports also include FEMA resources and tips to lower flood insurance costs.

Built with Civis Analytics, the Learning Center incorporates audience-specific messaging to improve resident decision-making around flood risk. By allowing people to look up their property and identify the risk of flood across their mortgage period, the information has more impact. “When you give them information like: ‘There is a 96 percent chance of 1.25 feet of flooding happening during your 30-year mortgage’ — that’s when you see the aha moment,” says Matt Simons, principal planner in the City’s Planning Department.

Part of an address-specific flood report created by the Flood Risk Learning Center. Image courtesy of the City of Norfolk.

Even during its pilot phase, the Learning Center’s improved floodplain mapping services was partially responsible for Norfolk’s increased score in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS), which incentivizes communities to go beyond minimum NFIP flood management practices. The City is a top CRS community in Virginia and in the top 10 percent of cities nationwide. This increased score has translated into a 25 percent reduction in the premium for Norfolk’s flood insurance policyholders, amounting to $2.5 million in annual savings — about $200 per policyholder.

“Through the Learning Center, we are translating data to help people make improvements to their properties that reduce flood risk, buy more appropriate flood insurance plans, and save money on their existing policies,” Simons says.

The most tangible improvements made through Norfolk’s resilience strategy may be in the City’s impressive system of tide gauges. Before their installation, staff had to monitor certain areas for flood risk, driving around to visually check for rising waters. Now, every six minutes, tide gauges record a water level reading. Data flows to the Tide Gauge dashboard, helping the City determine when to close its flood gates. All of this is done remotely by staff monitoring flood risks in real-time. They’re able to efficiently dispatch crews to targeted areas for mitigation efforts and alert residents about flood risks (or actual flooding) via digital devices.

One of the City’s tide gauges. Image courtesy of the City of Norfolk.

In neighborhoods plagued by regular flooding — like Tidewater Gardens adjacent to downtown — these sensors are informing plans for new stormwater systems that incorporate more drainage systems, pump stations, and green space for rainwater absorption. All of this data is stored for long-term use, helping to inform engineers’ designs and predict water levels 36 hours out. Another benefit of the data: It helped the City and state win large grants, including a $100 million flood control project via the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A Strong Foundation, Then Results

Norfolk’s data-informed resilience work is built upon the City’s long-standing commitment to building a data culture that prizes foundational practices like stakeholder engagement, open data, and performance & analytics. Starting in 2017 with guidance from What Works Cities (WWC), Norfolk developed an open data policy, formed a data leadership committee with members from across departments, and selected data champions to train others. WWC introduced the team to Sunlight Foundation, which selected Norfolk as a pilot city to expand its use of open data outside of City Hall and into the communities it serves. One example of this: For each new data set made public, the City writes a data story to help explain how the stats impact residents.

To help better organize ongoing efforts, city staff pitched the idea of an in-house data and innovation team to City Manager Larry “Chip” Filer. Filer quickly agreed to support the new group, and CivicLab was born. Since then, CivicLab’s efforts have steadily grown.

It had also applied the City’s extensive data infrastructure to address a range of challenges, such as improving Norfolk’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. CivicLab helped identify possible locations for vaccine pre-registration and mobile clinics, pinpointed census tracts with low vaccination rates and socially vulnerable populations, and tracked current vaccination rates across the City. Norfolk then successfully used this data to convince FEMA to establish a vaccine supersite in the City, leading to the administration of an additional 83,571 shots. Another example of CivicLab’s data chops in action: Its team collected and analyzed data for Norfolk City Council to demonstrate which neighborhoods are in need of more local, healthy grocery options.

“With all of this work, we aim to use data to make better decisions. Our hope is to be a living laboratory for resilience, where well-informed ideas can really take off and accelerate.”

Principal Planner Matt Simons

“Our partnership with What Works Cities helped City staff get comfortable with thinking of data as a citywide resource.”

CivicLab Program Manager Pamela Marino

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Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Minneapolis’ Data-Driven Green Cost share Program Delivers Environmental Justice.

Project Type:
Cross Sector, Economic Development, Energy, Environment, Equity, High-Performing Government

WWC - Silver Certification Badge for year 2021

At a Glance


Prevented more than 11,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere through a data-driven incentive program to help Minneapolis property owners invest in energy efficiency upgrades and other green projects.


Developed a Green Career Program to increase solar and energy-efficient jobs, economic opportunities, and awareness – particularly in underserved neighborhoods where data showed less participation in green initiatives.


Created the 4d Affordable Housing program for building owners to keep units affordable and maintain energy efficient upgrades for residents.

Minneapolis’s Efforts to Reduce Greenhouse Gasses

The City of Minneapolis has a long history of enacting progressive policies to tackle climate change. Back in 1993, it joined forces with neighboring St. Paul to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses (GHG) into the atmosphere with its Urban CO2 Project Plan. In 2012, Minneapolis set the ambitious goals of cutting GHG emissions 30 percent by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050.

That same year, Minneapolis took another innovative step with the creation of its Green Cost Share program. It was launched by the City’s Department of Health as an incentive-based — rather than punitive — way to reduce pollution and address climate change. The basic idea is this: The City offers matching funds to residential, commercial, and industrial property owners as an incentive to invest in energy efficiency and pollution reduction projects. The resulting improvements help the City move closer to achieving its climate change goals while also addressing public health inequities.

Data-driven performance management and open data are at the core of the Green Cost Share program — and are playing a growing role in the City overall. In recent years, Minneapolis has strengthened other foundational practices as well, including general management and data governance, all of which help in the City’s efforts to monitor and utilize relevant data. Leaders of the Green Cost Share program collect data on dollars invested, estimated lifetime energy bill savings, and pollutants reduced. And they make everything public through a dashboard presenting all the metrics.

“From how we track progress toward program goals to how we target underinvested parts of the city overdue for environmental justice, data is in many ways the engine of Green Cost Share,” says Patrick Hanlon, who runs the program as director of environmental programs for the City of Minneapolis.

The program kicked off by building partnerships with dry cleaning companies to end their use of perchloroethylene, a cleaning solvent and known toxic air pollutant that may cause asthma, birth defects, and cancer. By 2018, Minneapolis became the first city in the country to be completely “perc”-free.

A rooftop solar project incentivized by the Green Cost Share program. Image courtesy of the City of Minneapolis.

That was just one program goal. By offering property owners 20 percent of project costs (up to $20,000), the Green Cost Share program has also incentivized the installation of solar arrays, insulation, high-efficiency water heaters and furnaces, and other pollution-reduction improvements across the City. The program’s specific impacts since 2013 are detailed in the dashboard: 580 projects have received match funding, saving 31.8 million kilowatt hours of energy. That’s prevented more than 11,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere — the equivalent of taking over 2,400 cars off the road. Combined, program recipients will be saving over $50,000,000 over the lifetime of their projects.

“Tracking and analyzing data has helped us both define and prove success, as well as course-correct as the program has evolved over the years.”

Director of Environmental Programs Patrick Hanlon

Data-Driven Course-Correcting

The Green Cost Share program’s use of data goes beyond demonstrating impact, however. To ensure the program helps improve public health measures and delivers environmental justice, staff have ramped-up efforts to engage property owners in areas of Minneapolis defined as high-need.

In 2017, program staff noticed they weren’t receiving many applications from areas designated as Green Zones. Mostly located in north and south Minneapolis, the zones were defined by community groups based on demographic, economic and public health data provided by the City. They have higher concentrations of low-income residents and communities of color, and histories of practices like redlining and lease covenants. Not coincidentally, these areas also often have high levels of pollution related to traffic and stationary pollution sources, brownfield sites, and substandard housing. The City’s Green Zone task force expressed a desire for more investment in renewables, energy efficiency, and green jobs.

With the goal of inspiring more projects in the zones and support from the mayor and City Council, the Environmental Programs team adjusted the program’s match funding formula. It began offering a 30 percent match rate of up to $30,000 to applicants in the Green Zones or Great Streets program, another revitalization program that targets areas where people of color and low-income residents are concentrated. Before 2017, only about 20 percent of program participants were environmental justice properties. Today, the figure is 58 percent.

The City of Minneapolis has developed various strategies to support economic recovery from the pandemic and address racial inequities. As part of that comprehensive approach, the Green Cost Share program matches 40 percent (up to $40,000) of the cost to rebuild properties damaged during protests last year following George Floyd’s killing at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, which sparked a national movement for racial justice. The program continues to look for ways to provide additional incentives, prioritize projects, and build relationships in environmental justice communities. One way it is doing this: A Green Career program launched last year in partnership with the Department of Community Planning & Economic Development (CPED) that focuses on training residents in BIPOC communities for jobs with solar and energy-efficiency contractors. The City is tracking data to evaluate program outcomes.

Green Career program participants and city staff. Image courtesy of the City of Minneapolis.

For all its activities and projects, the Environmental Programs team collects and analyzes data to identify areas for improvement. One need that’s emerged from analysis: a better group purchase program allowing solar developers to aggregate smaller projects like single-family homes to be submitted in bulk to both take advantage of the incentive and reduce overall project costs.

The team also received community feedback about the lack of energy-efficiency projects being done in larger apartment buildings with low-income tenants. A data analysis bore this out, so the Environmental Programs team partnered with the CPED department on its successful 4d Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing program. The 4d program, which provides incentives for building owners to keep units affordable, has successfully helped building owners make energy efficiency upgrades after they signed up for the incentives. The results were significant — Green Cost Share projects in buildings with over 1,000 tenants rose sharply, from three to 49.

“Those are the kind of opportunities that can be revealed by regular, robust project data analysis.”

Contract Manager Isaac Evans

The program is also working to obtain better demographic data about project applicants to make further progress on environmental justice goals. Applications can request (but cannot require) demographic data from applicants; the team is working to improve data sharing between city departments to supplement information and improve demographic data tracking.

“The Green Cost Share program can’t succeed in a silo and it can’t succeed without strong data practices,” Hanlon says. “To align with the City’s overarching climate and equity goals, we know we have to work hand-in-hand with colleagues across city government and residents in need. Sustained collaboration and proactive data-driven performance management are both key to success — for all City programs, really.”

“We look at this program as a way we can intentionally invest back into communities that have been discriminated against historically.”

Director of Environmental Programs Patrick Hanlon
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