10 (Almost) Questions: Todd Fabozzi

Todd Fabozzi is an urbanist, writer, teacher and drummer. During his twenty-two-year career as a regional planner he has been an advocate for cities and sustainable design. He has lectured extensively on suburban sprawl and its consequences and has been involved in numerous urban planning, climate action planning, and watershed protection studies. Todd is an expert on the use of Geographic Information Systems and has taught a course on GIS at UAlbany for the past thirteen years. Todd has also published two books of poems and anti-poems. He lives in the city of Saratoga Springs, NY.

I caught up with Todd at NYGeoCon for a short discussion on life and GIS….

eSpatiallynewyork:  How long have you been with the Capital District Regional Planning Commission (CDRPC)?

Todd:  I’ve been a professional urbanist for the past twenty-two years, twenty of which have been with CDRPC.

eSpatiallynewyork:  What’s one of the best examples of how GIS is used in your organization?

Todd:  I was charged with building the Commission’s GIS back in 1996. One of the first products from that effort was a regional atlas, which we published in oversized hard copy format (this was still pretty much pre-internet). The maps portrayed a whole variety of characteristics at the regional scale, giving the public a bird’s eye view of the spatial patterns of the Capital District for the first time. In addition to applying GIS in most of our program areas, I continue to create, update and publish regional maps (see www.cdrpc.org). I think understanding regional demographic, environmental and land use patterns is central to regional planning and GIS is the best tool for doing so.

eSpatiallynewyork: What professional associations or groups are you affiliated with?

Todd: Over the years I’ve tried out the American Planning Association, the Association of American Geographers, Progressive Planners Network, Congress for New Urbanism, and the NYS GIS Association. I also served for nine years on the NYS GeoSpatial Advisory Council. While for the most part I support the work of these groups, I’m currently unaffiliated (though with CNU and NYSGISA, it’s simply because I haven’t gotten around to renewing). I have to say though that in general I’m not a joiner, perhaps the anarchist in me keeps me at arm’s length from groups and group think.

eSpatiallynewyork:  If you had an extra $50K in your budget, what would you do with it?

Todd:  If it was a yearly allocation I would establish two part-time paid internship positions. CDRPC has been working on a climate and energy issues over the past few years and there are some interesting ways that GIS can be applied. So for example, a good intern project might be to identify (by analyzing the utility zones, solar orientation, area requirements, land uses and zoning laws) the places where community distributed solar might be feasible (community distributed solar allows one to receive solar energy from an offsite location).

eSpatiallynewyork:  Biggest professional accomplishment?

Todd:  Using GIS, imagery analysis and photography to document and portray sprawl and urban decline in the Capital District and through over two hundred presentations inciting a regional conversation on these issues back when it was politically and professionally risky to do so. This was the same presentation I made at the first NYS GeoSpatial Summit in 2006. http://www.nysgis.net/nygeosummit/year/2006/speakers.htm

eSpatiallynewyork:  What do you think of GISP certification?

Todd:  I don’t. I’m not concerned with merit badges. I’d rather let mapping do the talking.

eSpatiallynewyork:  Open Source or ESRI?

Todd:  We’re an ESRI shop but I’m open to whatever works best in a given situation…and the lower the cost the better.

eSpatiallynewyork:   If you could change one thing here in New York that you feel would make GIS more widely used, or more appreciated and understood – what would that be?

Todd:  Start teaching kids how to use GIS as part of the middle and high school curriculum.

eSpatiallynewyork:  What advice would you give to the next generation of individuals starting a career in GIS here in New York State?

Todd:  I’ve been teaching an Intro to GIS course at UAlbany for the past thirteen years and I think I counted seven different people at the most recent NYGeoCon that had taken my course and were now working professionally in NYS using GIS, which is satisfying. I reinforce to my students that GIS is a tool for something else, so get knowledgeable about something else, and then use GIS to help.

eSpatiallynewyork:  Any thoughts on the future of government GIS in the State of New York?

Todd:  There’s not much that state and local governments do that doesn’t have a spatial component, so the more we integrate GIS into government operations the more efficient those operations will be. I’ve heard you sing the gospel of web services for data delivery and I get that and think that is largely the direction things will head. Web-accessible GIS for basic tasks will also continue to proliferate, though there will still be a role for the desktop user with the full suite of tools at their disposal. I saw a presentation at the recent NYGeoCon about the City of Rochester’s various GIS applications that I found quite inspiring and think they’re setting an example of how GIS can be used in local government.

eSpatiallynewyork:  What would you be doing if you weren’t working with CDRPC?

Todd:  Assuming I was retired and didn’t have to earn a living I’d be playing my drums, writing, and traveling.

eSpatiallynewyork:  Your band is in the studio working on its 11th album – what can you tell us about it? 

Todd: Well, as some of my planning and GIS colleagues know, I’m also a professional drummer, and over the past eighteen years I’ve been the conga player for a twelve-piece original salsa band called Alex Torres and His Latin Orchestra. It’s a fun alternative to the office. We get to make people smile and dance, which isn’t something urban planning usually accomplishes. We did a ten-day tour of Shanghai, China this past March, which was a high point for us. And as you noted, we are currently in the studio working on our 11th album. We’ve been in the early rounds of the Latin Grammy’s with a few of our past records. Maybe this will be the one in which we nail it? For anyone interested in the band see: www.alextorres.com.

Reflections on NYGeoCon 2013

The 2013 New York State GIS conference was held November 12-13, 2013 in Saratoga Springs, New York.  Organized by the NYS GIS Association, this is the first year the state conference has been rebranded as NYGeoCon which will be held alternating years with the Geospatial Summit.  With conference registration topping 300, including students, single day attendees, and vendors, the two-day event included a wide range of topics including nearly 30 individual presentations and a dozen workshops/panel discussions.    Among the many topics offered –  mobile technology, shared services, and open data themes – were common conversation points throughout the conference.  The conference also included special efforts to involve college students and contained an Education Tract highlighting statewide higher education GIS instructors.  Conference vendor support was equally impressive with 19 companies exhibiting during the course of the conference.

Beyond the normal opening day conference welcome by out-going NYS GIS Association President Al Leidner and the usual “State of the State” presentation by NYS GIO Bill Johnson, the conference began in earnest with an impressive keynote presentation by Jack Levis who is known to many as “the United Parcel Service (UPS) guy” in the Penn State Public Broadcasting production The Geospatial Revolution.  Levis has keynoted at other GIS/location-based conferences over the past several months presenting the company business message about how UPS used to be a trucking company that used technology, but is now a technology company that happens to use trucks.  His presentation focused on how UPS uses data (much of which is mobile gathered) to support enterprise descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, and prescriptive analytics in helping build and refine the UPS delivery model.  Interestingly, Levis feels, in general, much of the available digital street center line files (public/commercial) still need updating and improvement.  It was an excellent presentation which had a major underlying geospatial component.  Levis fielded several questions from the audience after the presentation.  Both the conference welcome and Levis presentation are available for viewing on the conference homepage.

The annual business meeting of the NYS GIS Association, which was held at lunch on the second day of the conference, demonstrated the tremendous growth of the Association as an independent, professional voice and presence in statewide geospatial programs.  The nearly hour-long meeting included several committee reports (Membership, Communications, Conference, Legislative, Private Sector, Education, Regional Groups, and Professional Development) as well as general discussion on issues such as GISP certification, types of membership (professional/associate, etc.) and collective efforts for continued growth and influence across the state.  One of the more impressive statistics taken from the meeting was that nearly one-third of the nearly 500 members of the Association are from the private sector.  A very encouraging number which suggests, for now, that New York State geospatial business and industry representatives are  supporting the underlying efforts and long-term goals of the Association.  The business meeting also included the introduction of incoming President Julie Tolar (Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority) and President-Elect Susan Nixson (City of Ithaca), as well as three new Board members:  Rich Quodomine (NYS DOT), Julia O’Brien (FEMA Region 2) and Mickey Dietrich (Tug Hill Commission).

Looking forward, the Association will hopefully continue to align its professional and conference efforts with like-minded statewide professional organizations which leverage geospatial technologies.  Overall, the 2013 event should be considered a success given ongoing struggles in attendance at similar geospatial conferences in the Northeast.  One of the few speed bumps the conference hit was placing the ESRI Sponsor Workshop – against other ongoing presentations – in the very last time slot of the conference which resulted in woefully poor attendance.  As a conference Platinum Sponsor, ESRI was deserving of much better placement on the agenda.

Kudos to the NYS GIS Association conference committee in organizing the successful 2013 NYGeoCon.  We look forward to the 2014 Geospatial Summit.