SU Professor and Students Helping Syracuse's I-Team Tackle Infrastructure Problems

Feb 11, 2016

The City of Syracuse is continuing its partnership with an S.U. geography professor in an effort to tackle the city’s most pressing infrastructure problems.  University students will help the city’s innovation team with research and investigation in hopes of identifying solutions.

Syracuse's Innovation Team will use this sensor to detect leaks in old water lines like the one at left, and schedule repairs before a full water main break.
Credit City of Syracuse

  Assistant Professor Jonnell Robinson has been Syracuse’s community geographer for more than a decade.  Now as a faculty fellow with the innovation team, she knows there are challenges ahead to address infrastructure that’s hidden and taken mostly for granted.

"There's been decades of deferred maintenance, so we're starting to reach a critical point of needing to focus attention on it.  There are a lot of complex variables at play that affect and impact the current condition of our systems, and obviously we're limited by what we can do financially as a city."

Robinson says the issues are no different than those of any other industrial rust belt city.  I-team Analytics Coordinator Sam Edelstein says they’ve been meeting with city engineering, water, and public works departments in hopes of getting a bigger picture.

"They work very hard and do what they can, but they don't really have a chance to step back and say, 'how can we be doing this better.'  So that's were we step in.  A lot of it is just us going to them and saying, 'OK, take a step back, and how can we do things better.' But we have traveled to some different cities, we've done a lot of research about things that have worked in other cities."

Jonnell Robinson is an SU Assistant Geography Professor, Director of the Syracuse Community Geography Program, and Faculty Fellow with the city's Innovation Team.
Credit City of Syracuse

The other challenge for the innovation team is to digitize city records and maps, many of them dating back decades.  Team leader Andrew Maxwell says this will make it easier to locate and visualize problem areas.

"Our effort is to bring that together in a more holistic way, and to get a fuller snapshot of the nature of our infrastructure, its condition, its needs, where it's gone through stress, where we've had water main breaks, things of that nature.  It's really about having a more consolidated approach to it across the city."

The innovation team and the services of Professor Robinson are being funded through the Bloomberg Philanthropies grant.