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It’s no secret that in today’s economy city governments have to make the best of limited resources. The good news is that they have a powerful tool already at their disposal – one they’ve been gathering for years. That tool is data. As we congratulate the next group of cities and regions around the world to win IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grants, we pause to reflect on our long-term partnerships to help cities become better places to live and work, and revisit earlier winners to share news of their progress toward this goal.

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With the help of a Smarter Cities Challenge grant that was delivered in late 2011, the City of Syracuse, New York has figured out how to use data to make smarter decisions around its vacant property problem. The city has been able to target nearly 2,000 vacant properties to reclaim. This effort is revitalizing neighborhoods and is expected to provide the city with millions of dollars in back taxes over the next eight years. I recently had a chance to speak with Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner to understand how IBM’s data expertise is helping her revitalize communities in her city.

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Jen Crozier: How did the Smarter Cities Challenge grant change the way you make decisions for the City of Syracuse?

Stephanie Miner: The Smarter Cities Challenge enabled us to use data and analytics to help make decisions so we could focus the city’s resources on areas where they would be most effective. In some cases, some of our data goes back to the founding of our city. What we needed – and what the Smarter Cities Challenge team helped us realize – was a way to transform data into meaningful and actionable information. Working with the Smarter Cities team, we were able harness data from various city departments and use it in models to develop strategies for infrastructure and other types of investments to stabilize and revitalize our neighborhoods.

JC: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the state’s Land Bank Act into law just a few months before the SCC team arrived in Syracuse. How did the SCC team’s recommendations tie into this new legislation?

SM: The Smarter Cities Challenge grant helped us capitalize on the Land Bank law to use data – instead of anecdotes – to determine where to act. The subsequent success of our data-driven policies and decisions led to our being granted authority (in May 2012) to set up one of only five Land Banks in New York State.

The creation of the Land Bank has enabled the City to dramatically alter its tax collection policies, helping to bring in more revenue in delinquent property taxes. Between July and December of 2012, the City collected just under $1.5 million in delinquent taxes and fees. During the same period in 2013, the City collected over $2.5 million dollars. This represents a more than 69 percent increase in collection of delinquent property taxes and fees, and illustrates the impact that the Land Bank is already beginning to have on City revenues.

JC: How has establishment of the Land Bank impacted your communities?

SM: Since the Land Bank began acquiring properties in October, it has taken ownership of 139 properties, and has already completed its first six home sales to new owners. This demonstrates the Land Bank’s objectives of moving properties into the hands of qualified buyers who will pay taxes and complete projects that improve our community. We’ve been able to build new homes on what used to be vacant or deteriorated lots. These new homes are convenient to schools, jobs and businesses. They are optimally positioned to support all aspects of a vibrant urban community. As a result, people are flocking to these neighborhoods, putting down roots, raising families and starting businesses. These are the things that make communities strong. And from the city’s perspective, we also have the data to reinforce our investment decisions. We’re very excited about how our continued use of data and analytics will enable us to improve the quality of life for all of our residents.

Stephanie Miner is the Mayor of Syracuse, New York. A recent recipient of an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant, Syracuse is taking bold steps to revitalize its economy and its neighborhoods. Jen Crozier is Vice President of Global Citizenship Initiatives at IBM.

Related Resources:

IBM Awards Cities and Regions With Grants to Fund Collaborations
With IBM Problem Solvers

Vacant and Abandoned Properties: Turning Liabilities Into Assets

Targeting Strategies for Neighborhood Development

Data Analytics, Vacant Properties and a Smarter Syracuse

Bringing Syracuse Back, One Neighborhood at a Time

Read What Other Mayors Are Saying About the Smarter Cities Challenge

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