Saturday, September 10, 2016

Visitng Dallas City Hall

Recently I got a chance to visit Dallas City Hall by way of a non-profit organization I volunteered for.
The visit included a tour of city Hall, a discussion with city staff on Resilient City Initiatives, another meeting with city Chief Technology Architect on vision of a Smart City. We also got a chance to visit city traffic control center and to talk to a senior traffic engineer. In the end we had a short meeting with Mayor Pro Tem.

It was a sunny Friday when we visited the Dallas city hall. It was my first time there even though I have been to downtown many times before. The city hall is a big 7 story complex with a beautiful pool in its front courtyard, and a view of the gorgeous downtown skylines.

walking toward the entrance of city hall
Courtyard of City and Downtown Skyline
We were greeted by city staff Kevin and Yolanda at the entrance. Kevin was our guide for the tour and Yolanda was our escort for the whole visit. Kevin gave us a brief description of the building structure and color code for each section of the complex. Then we were on the way to the flag room, where city officials conduct press conference and major civil events. There Kevin talked about its usage and the press conference about the July Shooting Police Incidents.  Another major stop was the council chamber where we saw on TV so many times. Of course the broadcast of city council open meeting on WRR 101.1. He also answered question about how a citizen can attend the open meeting. There are many picture frames in the hallways which represent different periods and aspects of city history and landscapes. There are also many wood 3D models of many city landmarks. The gift chests outside  Mayor's office is another interesting place to see.

City Hall Guides Kevin and Yolanda

Atrium of the City Hall

flag room
Council Chamber
gift exhibit
Trinity River Project Model
The more interesting part of this visit was to have meetings with city staff about major city initiatives.  We first met Katy from office of resilient city initiatives. Resilient City Initiatives are sponsored by Rockefeller Foundation, Dallas was one of the 100 cities around the world to be chosen. The foundation sponsored two positions in city hall to champion the resilient city initiatives - the chief resilient officer and an executive assistant. The resilient city office worked with existing agencies to asses city's current status, areas to work on and developed a comprehensive plan to address issues to make the city more resilient. It was a lively meeting - while she presented her materials, we had many questions for her, including quite a few from myself. Their work was really impressive and inspiring. 

A second meeting was on smart city initiatives, which was conducted by city chief technology architect Girish. His two page overview charts led to 20 minutes back and forth questions, answers and comments. I asked him about what a smart environment entails - he used the LED sensors in parking lots as an example. The sensors inform drivers if a parking lot is full or not, if not where the open parking spot is. This information will reduce the time driver drives around to find parking spot, and consequently reduce CO2 emission from vehicles. The question was that sensors and information system cost energy as well and the energy consuption can be big since those sensors are on all the time, we need a net reduction in CO2 emission to claim that the sensors equipped parking lot is really smart. He had the answer ready - in the parking lot example he gave, it was calculated that CO2 emission from cars running around would be 40K ton for a year, and CO2 emission per LED operation is less than 10% of the amount. Since I only considered the convenience of sensors and IoT before and this discussion enabled me to see the same issue and solutions from different angles and viewpoints - it is enlightening!!
Smart City Presentation
We also got a chance to talk to the senior traffic control engineer. He explained how traffic is controlled and what they to do to the traffic signals when there is an accident. How traffic signal is controlled is a question I ponder frequently during my commute - in fact through observations I know how traffic lights are controlled and typical traffic patterns on the routes I use during my typical driving time. So I had quite a few questions for him and got the answers I need. One side of the conference room wall was formed by window blinds, and at the end of the discussion, he opened the blinds and we were pleasantly surprised to see the traffic control center ...
Traffic Center
The visit to city hall ended with a meeting with Mayor Pro Tem Monica Alonzo. She introduced herself, described how she won her first election into city council 7 years ago by beating a 10 year incumbent, her passion for her constituents, how she worked through the city council politics, winning most of her legislation by building consensus with a majority ....we asked some questions and she answered and added additional comments, and the meeting was 30 minutes longer than scheduled! Doubled the time she allotted to us. We had a group photo with her at the end of our visit. Not necessarily agreeing with some of her opinions,  her ability to talk  and her passion impressed me.

This visit to city hall is much more than a tour, it included informative presentations and stimulating exchange of ideas. It gave me a glimpse of how the government works, I was pleased from what I saw and heard on this day.

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