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Rutgers University-Led Team Awarded $2.3 Million Smart and Connected Communities Grant from National Science Foundation

The grant will advance digital public services for the City of Newark and aims to mitigate the digital divide caused by service conflicts

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a three-year, $2.3 million Smart and Connected Communities Grant to Rutgers University faculty from the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (New Brunswick) and the Transparency and Governance Center (TGC) in the School of Public Administration and Affairs (SPAA) (Newark) to partner with the City of Newark, NJ, for developing strategies and tools to create inclusive and equitable digital public services. The research team consists of principal investigator Desheng Zhang, assistant professor in the Rutgers Department of Computer Science, and co-principal investigators Suzanne Piotrowski, SPAA associate professor, and Gregory Porumbescu, SPAA assistant professor, who are the director and assistant director of TGC, respectively, and Peter Jin, assistant professor in Rutgers Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, along with collaborators from the University of Virginia, Stony Brook University, and the University of Connecticut.

Cities depend on technologies, such as intelligent traffic control and air quality control, to improve residents’ quality of life. As cities rely more on technology to coordinate service provision, avoiding disruptions that compromise safety and performance is crucial, yet challenging. Researchers have accumulated abundant knowledge on how to design these services independently, however, less is known about how to manage their simultaneous deployment, thus creating the potential for service conflicts.

“In this project, we will explore the implications of smart service conflicts for social inclusion,” said Zhang. “This is important because when service conflicts occur, their impacts are likely concentrated in less affluent communities, meaning that some groups of residents will experience lower quality services than others. Put differently, digital service disruptions contribute to a digital divide in service provision that we aim to mitigate.”

For Newark officials, the team plans to develop a digital service dashboard and open data portal and provide relevant training. For Newark residents, the team will create a state-of-the-art mobile application that expands access to government information and public services and conduct a series of digital literacy workshops.

“I am enthusiastic about collaborating with Rutgers University on this important project that will enable residents, public officials, planners, developers and others to easily access comprehensive information about every property in our city,” said Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka. “We have wanted to create one interactive map to be the sole source of information for every land parcel in Newark on a web site that will be intuitive for residents to use. This is a big step toward that goal. We witness once again how our partnership with Rutgers is critically important in helping us achieve a more equitable, empowered, collaborative, educated, and healthy city.”

The key outcome of this project will be the development of technological tools that make it easier for Newark residents to provide input on identifying and prioritizing community improvements, while enabling the City of Newark to more easily and efficiently gather that input and more effectively plan and coordinate the city services required to implement needed improvements. It is anticipated that the methods and tools developed ultimately will help improve services not just in Newark, but in cities across the U.S. and internationally.

“This is a perfect project for Rutgers Transparency and Governance Center because it allows us to use our expertise in accessing government information to work with the City of Newark and make a meaningful contribution to the community,” said Piotrowski.

“The real-world implementation of this theory in Newark will show its effectiveness and broader impacts on a diverse set of public service delivery and conflict management stakeholders from city operators, to service providers, to average citizens,” said Porumbescu. "It is also exciting that this project will allow us to partner with different departments in the City of Newark to make tangible improvements to the quality of life of Newark residents.”

Rutgers University's Computer Science Department
Founded in 1966, the Department of Computer Science in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University–New Brunswick is a center for research and education and has strong research groups in areas of artificial intelligence, robotics, foundations of computer science, scientific computing, and systems.
https://www.cs.rutgers.edu

Rutgers University’s Transparency and Governance Center
The Transparency and Governance Center (TGC) in the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) at Rutgers University–Newark focuses on programming, research, and projects related to public sector transparency and governance at both the local and global levels.
https://spaa.newark.rutgers.edu/tgc

Rutgers University's Civil and Environmental Engineering Department
As the oldest engineering discipline at Rutgers, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the School of Engineering is recognized in the areas of infrastructure evaluation and monitoring, intelligent transportation systems, transportation design and planning, and air pollution monitoring and control.
https://cee.rutgers.edu


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