Baltimore 2018 INSS conference events

June 8, 2018 Roundtable Session Description

The theme for the 2018 conference of the Integrated Network for Social Sustainability (INSS), led by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), was Localizing Sustainability: Local Challenges, Local Champions. The University of Baltimore (UB) and UNCC hosted conference sessions on June 8 and 9.

Baltimore participated by simulcast in two plenary sessions Friday and Saturday mornings at UNCC. Two speakers at the Baltimore Roundtable Friday afternoon June 8 provided an overview of the United Nations Sustainable Development goals (SDG) and data about the status of Baltimore with respect to these goals.  Baltimore is one of three pilot cities in the USA Sustainable Cities Initiative (USA-SCI) that are working to identify SDG-based city level development strategies. The session also heard from the Director of the Baltimore Department of Public Works (DPW) about the particular challenges the city faces with respect to water quality and affordability. Two discussants then provided their perspectives on sustainable development challenges.

Friday June 8 – 1:15 PM-3:30 PM: SPECIAL EVENT – Roundtable

Rachelle Hollander, National Academy of Engineering-retired, Facilitator

This session allowed participants to explore the relationships between the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Baltimore Sustainable Cities Initiative, and examine the particular challenge of affordability for Baltimore’s water supply.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals-Emphasis: 6-Water

William Kelly, American Society of Civil Engineers

Kelly’s talk highlighted UN SDG 6 – water and sanitation. Goal 6 sets 2030 as the year by which universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all should be achieved. Although there are places in the US without access, most individuals do have access of at least 20 liters per person per day at dwelling level, while the worldwide goal is 20 liters within one kilometer.  Affordability implies payment should not present a barrier, but further work is needed to establish agreement about method to assess affordability. The UN is looking for input on this. The review of SDG 6 this summer at the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development will give feedback on the SDG 6 Synthesis Report 2018 on Water and Sanitation, and Baltimore or the other cities in the Sustainable Cities Initiative could contribute to the discussion on affordability. A survey of Baltimore residents indicated 33% found water unaffordable. Kelly’s talk provided citations and links to relevant reports; see attached powerpoint slides.

Baltimore and the SDGs: What Progress Is Being Made? Who Is Involved?

Seema Iyer, University of Baltimore

Baltimore is one of three pilot cities in the USA Sustainable Cities Initiative (USA-SCI) that are working to identify SDG-based city level development strategies.  The city began this process at the difficult time when it was recovering from death of Freddy Grey in police custody in April 2015. The Jacob France Institute (JFI) at UB oversees the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, which collects, integrates and disseminates community-based quality of life indicators annually in the City’s Vital Signs report. Although JFI was unfamiliar with the SDG it accepted the responsibility for developing measures for all the goals, and working groups and a process by which to oversee and evaluate the results. The report at this address provides indicators for Baltimore and the SDGs. The measures for goal 16 – peace and justice strong indicators for Baltimore – are noteworthy; they required new thinking and independent development: public funding for legal aid for eligible clients, pretrial length of time in jail, civil legal aid attorney ratio, violent crime rate per 1,000 residents, and percent population who voted in the general election. Iyer points out that goals are selected because they are trackable, which means that goals that can’t be measured must be overlooked. JFI intends to continue working with the SDG and the Baltimore sustainability plan. A difficulty in participating in the SDG process is that SDG goals are different from those developed as part of that plan. One major benefit of participating would be the opportunity to connect to and learn from other cities.

The Baltimore DPW, Sustainability, and Affordability

Rudy Chow, Baltimore Department of Public Works

Issues of water affordability apply to cities and regions across the country, and particular history and circumstances are relevant to addressing the issues in specific cities.  Baltimore has three separate systems: drinking water, waste water, and storm water pipes.  It resembles many Eastern cities in that the water infrastructure is very old and needs a major infusion of funds for repair and replacement throughout the systems – a major rebuilding and capital investment. Breakages in the drinking water distribution system last year accelerated to 600 in an exceptionally unusual and very cold freeze-and-thaw three week period, where the average 12 month period typically sees 1200 breaks. Baltimore faces a specific constraint; the water systems are three independent enterprise funds – which means funds for the systems do not come from general tax revenue, rather the Department of Public Works gets its revenues for these enterprise funds solely from its ratepayers. In the past, keeping water and sewer rates low got priority, so these aging systems today suffer from the effects of deferred maintenance. The storm water system had little funding available, with its enterprise fund established in July of 2013. It is just now receiving the authority to issue its own revenue bonds. Federal regulations require heavy investments in the wastewater system to maintain and improve water quality; the DPW has received approval to extend the period of its consent decree with the federal government over which these improvements must be made, thus extending the period of time ratepayers must fund a massive construction program that will cost $2 billion. It also has started a systematic water distribution pipe replacement program, expecting to install new pipes at a rate of 15 miles per year, with priority to the most vulnerable sites, at a cost of $1.5M to $2M per mile including design and construction.  DPW has an array of assistance programs to help customers with their water bills, including a senior citizen discount program that reduces water consumption costs by 43%, a hardship exemption program that removes storm water and the State Bay Restoration fee from certain customers’ bills, a low income assistance program that provided $262 toward delinquent bills, and payment plan options to help customers get their accounts back to normal. Homeowners can also get a low-cost extended warranty on pipes from home to curb; but tight budgets, separate billing, and questions about the private company administering the program affects participation. DPW has taken advantage of low- and no-interest rate financing from the state and issues its own revenue bonds to finance infrastructure costs over the long term, but may have to go to the private market at some point. The interest rates offered in the private sector are much higher, which negatively affects the costs of project funding.

In the question and answer period, participants noted the need for connecting cities to share practices and promote technology facilitation mechanisms.  The UN SDG activities can provide an important resource to cities. Global aid might give priority to how cities can learn from each other. Chow reported that utility executives voice frustration also at the lack of federal resources to funds projects that are the result of federal mandates, which historically had been available.  They recognize that they could work to share efficiencies and need to promote asset management.

Discussants: Vanessa Frias-Martinez, University of Maryland; Brian O’Malley, CMT Alliance

Vanessa Frias-Martinez directs the Urban Computing Lab in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland College Park. It develops computational tools to analyze large-scale data to help cities make good decisions about issues ranging from natural disasters to transportation management. The Lab has worked with cities in South America, Africa, and the U.S. and it is also partnering with the University of Baltimore, JHU and Morgan State on a National Science Foundation planning grant to consider ways to improve connectivity in Baltimore for purposes of improving equity. One of the Lab’s focuses is on finding ways to complement expensive survey collection efforts with less expensive proxy data sources that reveal human behaviors, typically obtained from ubiquitous technologies such as cell phones, or geo-located social media. Proxy data can be very useful, for instance, in monitoring who is displaced in a natural disaster and the amount of time it takes for people to return to normal patterns. The Lab has also developed frameworks to predict socio-economic maps or to assess the safety of bicycle routes, which can help guide individual behaviors as well as city planning. These mappings can provide prediction frameworks that are testable and modifiable based on additional data and assumptions. There is much that could be learned by sharing insights and practices between cities.

Brian O’Malley of the CMT Alliance emphasized that transportation is an important aspect of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Cities are necessary sites to promote the SDG and efficient, accessible, and affordable transportation is necessary for impoverished city dwellers to gain opportunity. A major factor in creating and maintaining poverty is extended time commuting – whether for work or school or purchasing food or other necessities of daily life. Increasing housing and gasoline costs lead to foreclosures and unsustainable cities. Globally, transportation is a vital issue for climate change. The CMT Alliance has worked recently on two relevant projects. One is a transportation report card; its 12 indicators give the region a very low score. The report, 2017 Central Maryland Transportation Report Card is available through The second is underway – an analysis and evaluation of the 2017-2018 changes to the Baltimore bus system; LINK has been promoted as an answer to the city’s need for public transportation that promotes opportunity. The report is expected June 30, 2018. A CMT Alliance project getting underway will examine the new regional transit plan being developed by the Maryland Transit Administration; the new plan is due by October 2020.

June 9, 2018 General Discussion Notes

Saturday June 9 11:00 AM – 1 PM General Discussion Notes

Tylis Cooper, University of Baltimore, Facilitator

One or more participants indicated support for the ideas presented below. There was no attempt at the meeting to arrive at consensus, nor to develop recommendations.

Several participants thought mid-sized cities could benefit from sharing practices in order to facilitate adoption of ideas and technologies to promote sustainability.  The UN and its SDG programs could help champion connections and possibly provide consulting expertise.  Goal 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities directly addresses this need.

Some participants noted that there are constraints on developing connections – time and money being apparent ones. There are also differences between places that impede transferring programs. The metrics for sustainability can differ from place to place, so comparing as well as translating between them imposes costs of time and effort also. For instance, Baltimore has a key commitment to equity and its metrics would reflect this priority.

Several speakers and discussants mentioned project ideas for Baltimore to identify and test specific SDGs. A project might develop and test measures for commuter times; these could use “smart data connections.” Are there potential funders for tests of Baltimore’s water programs or for the development of other efforts to meet the SDGs?  A project could test various ideas for meeting water requirements and maintaining affordability. System requirements when people may go “off grid,” and many want to conserve and consume fewer resources, add complications to this task.

The UN wants to make connections to localities and Baltimore could build on its initial connection. The metrics Baltimore has identified for social justice might be adapted or adopted in other cities. These metrics include the requirements for legal representation, demands for bail, and eviction numbers and procedures. Shut-off policies are another possible metric.

In response to the talk by Patterson, several participants urged that closer connections be developed between the University of Baltimore group and the NAACP Environmental Justice and Climate Change program. How does or might the NAACP work more with UB groups on these problems? UB faculty and students have outreach programs with very impoverished neighborhoods in West Baltimore; its Community Fellows program is in its third year.  Inclusion is a goal, but it is difficult to achieve in a fractured community concerned with daily survival. Help with routine, ongoing programs such as cleaning up streets and alleys might be best accepted.

A graduate student in the audience pointed to factors that make it difficult to do successful outreach. Community members are overburdened and find approaches to collecting information intrusive and time consuming. While passive collection methods offer relief, they also pose issues of privacy and outside control. These difficulties need to be addressed, and perhaps could be were different persons and organizations to work together to set up a process of exchange that would alleviate fears.

The following organizations may help in developing connections: 

Alliance for Innovation –

UN ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability –

UN SDKP – Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform –

Speaker and Discussant Biographies    

Rudolph S. Chow, P.E., Director of the Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW). Since becoming Director in 2014, Chow has made cleaning the neighborhoods and revitalizing the aging water system his top priorities. DPW has distributed municipal trash cans to every residence that receives City trash service, overhauled the water billing process and replaced miles of water and sewer lines. DPW is developing a comprehensive long term strategy to comply with the City’s sanitary sewer consent decree by rebuilding hundreds of miles of sewer mains and by upgrading the capacity of its Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant. Director Chow is committed to ensuring that the management of DPW is the best in its class. The DPW Water Mentoring Program allows selected Baltimore high school graduates to participate in a training program leading to jobs in water management. In August, 2016 Baltimore City DPW was recognized as a “Utility of the Future Today” by the Utility of the Future (UOTF) Recognition Program, which celebrates the progress and exceptional performance of the nation’s best-run wastewater utilities. Chow previously served as the Department’s Deputy Director and head of the Bureau of Water and Wastewater. He has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from George Washington University and a master’s degree in environmental/water resources engineering from the University of Maryland. He brings more than 30 years of executive and managerial experience from both the water industry and public works.

Vanessa Frias-Martinez is Assistant Professor in the School of Information Sciences at University of Maryland College Park, and an affiliate assistant professor in the Computer Science Department. Before that, she spent five years at Telefonica Research, developing algorithms to analyze ways in which mobile digital traces can help to understand human behaviors and promote social development in areas like Smart Cities, Public Health or Education. She obtained her PhD and MSc in Computer Science from Columbia University and enjoyed internships at Google, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).  She is a recipient of La Caixa Fellowship and has extensive experience in international development having worked on pilot studies in Bolivia and Peru.

Seema Iyer, Ph.D., is Director of the Real Estate and Economic Development (REED) program in the Merrick School of Business (MSB), University of Baltimore. She also is Associate Director for the Jacob France Institute (JFI) — MSB’s economic research center. She oversees the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance at JFI which collects, integrates and disseminates community-based quality of life indicators annually in the City’s Vital Signs report. Dr. Iyer is a recognized expert on strategic planning in community development; her projects range widely, from criminal justice innovation planning, to housing to energy initiatives, focusing on the role of data sharing in collaborative public innovation processes.  Prior to joining UB, Iyer was chief of research and strategic planning for the Baltimore City Department of Planning and managed Baltimore’s division responsible for data and policy analysis, geographic information systems services and population forecasting. Iyer holds a Ph.D. in urban and regional planning from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and has extensive international research experience. Dr. Iyer was a 2017 Fulbright-Nehru Scholar in Bangalore, India, researching the role of urban governance for metropolitan economic competitiveness.

William E. Kelly, Ph.D., P.E., retired as director of external affairs at the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). At ASEE, his responsibilities included the engineering dean’s council, ASEE’s K-12 activities, and ASEE’s ABET activities. Prior to joining ASEE in September of 2007, he was a professor of civil engineering at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. where he also served as dean of the school of engineering from 1996-2001. While dean, he served on the JETS board and the board of directors for the Washington ACE mentor program. Dr. Kelly was on the ABET Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) from 1993-2003 and was chair in 2001-2002. Currently he is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Committee on Sustainability and is teaching sustainability as a practitioner adjunct faculty member at George Mason University. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Civil Engineering Certification Board. Dr. Kelly received his Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of Notre Dame and received an engineering honor award from his alma mater in 1999.

Brian O’Malley, President & CEO, joined the Transportation Alliance in 2008. He began his urban planning career in 1999 in Chicago with NORBIC, an industrial economic development organization. In 2003 he joined the Planning Department of Carroll County, Maryland, ultimately overseeing the adequate public facilities program as Concurrency Manager. Brian is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance was formed in 2007 as a diverse coalition of corporate and civic leaders uniting business, philanthropic and institutional sectors around a common agenda: improving and expanding transportation options for the citizens and businesses of Central Maryland. Its singular focus is to be a catalyst for improving the region’s transportation.