Transforming Syracuse into a Data-driven City

Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative

Car driving on snowy road


As one of the snowiest cities in America, Syracuse devotes a large portion of its municipal operations to managing the significant amounts of snow that blanket the city each year. Diving headfirst into snow management, the City of Syracuse began to look for new ways to use a geographic information system (GIS) and leverage spatial data and insights to make better government decisions and provide efficient, effective, and equitable services to residents.

15 minutes

Snowplow data refresh time

When Mayor Ben Walsh took office in 2018, the city was still using the same paper snowplow maps that they had used in the 1960s when Walsh’s grandfather was mayor.

Through coaching conversations facilitated by the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, the mayor decided to invest in GPS units for all snowplows to optimize routes and track the location of plows in real time so routes could be adjusted based on resident need.

City staff prototyped a map allowing residents to see when their streets had last been plowed. It proved so valuable that the city worked with a mapping vendor, Esri, to develop a more resilient version that could be more frequently updated, plus offer separate views for constituents and for city staff, who can improve performance by tracking and analyzing metrics including the percentage of streets plowed and the number of trucks in service.

In 2022, the city won a Special Achievement in GIS award for this work.

Before the Bloomberg Harvard program, we used very little data to inform our snow clearance operations. Mayor Ben Walsh
Syracuse, New York

Ongoing Work

  • Mojdeh Sadat Mahdavi Moghaddam GSD 2022 served as the 2019 Summer Fellow with a project that focused on smart city design for economic opportunity. She went on to work with the city in data and innovation roles for two years.

  • Nicolas Diaz MPP 2020 was also a 2019 Summer Fellow in Sioux Falls focusing on making public transportation more effective and financially sustainable. When Syracuse was looking for a Chief Innovation and Data Officer, they hired Nicolas after the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative introduced them.

  • Pablo Uribe MPA 2022 started a two-year City Hall Fellowship in 2022 focusing on building a collaborative and integrated community-based approach to addressing gun violence in Syracuse.

Next story

Stay up to date on our latest work to improve cities