Episode Archive

SCP E206 Summer Series: Smart Lessons from New York City, with Dr Amen Ra Mashariki

Hi #smartcommunity friends! Welcome to 2021, can you believe it? And welcome back to the Summer Series here on the Smart Community Podcast. As you know, we’re taking a little break from new content over the Australian summer holidays, and instead we are sharing the replays of a few of your all time favourite episodes. I’m also walking my talk this week and having a digital break so even though the podcast is still going out and my team will be popping some posts up on the socials, I’ll be giving my brain and body a much needed rest and getting back to nature. This week we’re sharing my interview with Dr. Amen Ra Mashariki, from way back in Episode 89. This episode was right at the beginning of 2019, soon after we’d shifted from the Smart City Podcast to the Smart Community podcast. 

At the time of recording, Amen was the head of Urban Analytics at global GIS company, Esri, but now he’s Global Director, Data Lab at the World Resources Institute. Amen has a really interesting background, ranging from computer science and being a software engineer at Motorola, to bioinformatics and Cancer Research Analytics, to being a Political Appointee in the Obama Administration and then the Chief Analytics Officer at the Mayors Office in New York City. He shares with us the personal story that sparked his interest in this Smart Community space and the key lessons he’s learned about developing Smart Communities over his career. We talk about what Urban Analytics is and why it’s so valuable in developing Smart thinking, and how Amen works with cities and operational officials in the areas of data science, analytics and location intelligence. Amen tells us about his visit to Australia to meet with some of those operational officials, as well as an interesting case study where data and analytics are being used to prevent housing discrimination in NYC. We discuss why Integrating for the sake of integrating almost never works and what to do instead, and the emerging trends of sensors, drones and blockchain being used in cities by cities. We finish our chat talking about the growing international trend of Civic Tech Engagement and Amen tells us how he sees the role of a Smart Resident in a Smart Community.

We’ll be sure to get Amen back on the show in the future for a full update about what he’s been up to and also how our thinking has progressed since this conversation. But in the meantime, we hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as we enjoyed making it!

Listen here: 

What we cover in this episode:

  • Amen’s interesting and varied background and how a personal story sparked his interest in the Smart Community space
  • Key lessons Amen has learned about developing this Smart City or Smart Community
  • Urban Analytics: what it means and why is it so valuable in developing and fuelling this Smart thinking
  • What Amen does now and how he works with Cities
  • The opportunities and challenges for population density and urbanisation
  • What Amen sees as the top priorities should be for governments to take on this way of thinking
  • An example of how cities can use location intelligence to allow for safer, Smarter emergency services responses
  • A little bit about Amen’s recent trip to Australia
  • A case study on using data to prevent housing discrimination
  • How Amen believes we can better integrate across disciplines, industries and government 
  • The emerging trends of sensors, drones and blockchain being used in cities by cities
  • A case study of Civic Tech Engagement and proactive city responses 
  • The role of the Smart Citizen or Residents are in these Smart Communities


“When you watch certain movies, oftentimes, directors will tell you the city is another character in the movie itself. You know, cities have this way of being and cities themselves, the way that they’re constructed and built and designed, have an impact on your life.”

“A lot of us talk about planning for smart cities, but what I’ve learned is that Smart Cities are responsive cities. You can plan…but what you have to be prepared for are things that happen day to day, hour to hour, minute by minute in cities. Cities are such a tactical, fast-paced moving entity that any number of things can happen.”

“Every city has its own personality, its own level of complexity and its own complexion. What urban analytics says is, devoid of those differences, there are ways that you can think about being useful and being able to solve problems for a city, and these are the core ways that you use data and data science and location intelligence to solve those problems.” 

“Smart City thinking is how do you think innovatively and thoughtfully around solving urban challenges? We have to now, we can’t rely on the same solutions that we’ve had, that we’ve relied on historically to provide a high quality of life for all of these people that are moving into these urban centres. So the opportunity here is that we have the space to think differently.” 

“I mostly meet with officials who are in a space where they want to grow their ability to use data analytics to solve really complex problems in the city, and part of that growth is about how we think about data collaboration, sharing data and providing a platform and capability for data to be shared across the city. Because once you grow your data infrastructure, your ability to use analytics, data science and location intelligence grows exponentially.”

“Integrating for the sake of integrating, coming together for the sake of coming together almost never works. We’ve tried that tons of times. You have to have a shared challenge, a shared problem. So what’s the question you’re looking to solve?” 

“Democracies provide pathways for citizens to engage with their government. Data, and particularly open data, makes those pathways far more salient and powerful.” That’s the role of government in terms of using open data as a mechanism for providing a tool for citizens to be more thoughtful, be Smarter, and be able to engage in a more impactful way.”

“This relationship between citizen and government is growing exponentially and data and analytics is the linchpin for that growth.”


Find the full show notes at: www.mysmart.community 

Connect with Amen on Twitter @amashariki

Connect with me via email: hello@mysmart.community 

Connect with My Smart Community via LinkedIn or Twitter and watch on YouTube

The Smart Community Podcast is produced by Perk Digital.


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