How can City Halls move beyond business as usual and deliver tangible results for citizens? This fundamental question drives the work of the Innovation Teams, laboratories in city government that work to solve tough problems like neighborhood blight and broken infrastructure using dynamic new approaches.

But transformative change is about more than changing systems and processes. It’s also about how these innovations ultimately impact the lives of people. That’s why we asked the i-teams to hit the pavement and bring us back stories of real people, some who their work impacts, and others who make it possible. Here is a first look at what they came up with.

Geneva - Syracuse, NY

Geneva, former sharecropper, mother of two, grandmother of four, and one of the hardest working medical professionals you’ll ever meet, has been living on Croly Street for over 30 years. She has seen the street evolve, and is proud to call it her home. Unbeknownst to her, Geneva lives on one of the lowest rated roads in Syracuse which means that it is in very poor condition and in desperate need of attention. Years ago, the city simply paved over railroad tracks on the street, and hasn’t come back to repair the road correctly. Now the street is in a state of disrepair, but Geneva still has hope that it will be updated and that the giant cracks and potholes in front of her house will be mended.

Alicia - Syracuse, NY

Alicia bought her house at the end of August 2015. When she moved in, she described her street as being in “pristine condition.” Then, in November things started to change. First, Syracuse’s gas and electric company, National Grid, came to her street and dug up the road in front of each house on the street. They also dug into Alicia’s front yard. On New Year’s Day there was a water main break directly in front of Alicia’s driveway. Unfortunately the city’s first attempt to repair the leak was unsuccessful, which caused Alicia and her neighbors to go without water for an entire day. Cuts to Syracuse’s water, gas and electric utilities have compromised Alicia’s street, and it is now cracking and buckling in many places. She says that she misses driving down her smooth road and hopes that the infrastructure will be repaired and that her road will once again look nice.

The Syracuse i-team is improving the city’s physical infrastructure using high-tech devices and data-driven overhauls in maintenance procedures. Read about these and other innovations piloted by the i-team on the Innovate Syracuse blog.

Jane Gerdes, Public Works Department - Peoria, IL

Jane has been hard at work on the City’s combined sewer overflow problem for nearly a decade. Maintaining focus on the same issue area for so long can take a toll on a person’s ingenuity and creativity. When the i-team entered the picture, Jane was excited to start looking at the issue from a fresh perspective. When asked how she approaches work differently now that she works with the i- team, Jane said:

“I look up more now. Instead of looking down to study hydraulic models and write compliance memorandums and calculate gallons of sewage, I look up and see how green infrastructure improves the urban landscape, how refreshing and energizing plants can be, how our built environment can mesh with people and art and a sense of place. I’ve visited other cities in other states, I’ve met so many new people who are generous and cheerful resources about green infrastructure. And, yeah, I use a dry erase board just about as much as my computer these days! Thanks, Peoria i-team! Here’s looking up at you!”

The Peoria i-team is working to mitigate the city’s Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) issue, in which sewers carrying both sanitary wastewater and stormwater are periodically overwhelmed by snowmelt and stormwater. These overflows discharge waste into the Illinois river. The i-team is identifying ways for Peoria to leverage the tremendous expense of solving this issue while simultaneously improving the lives of residents in impacted areas through such means as job creation, sustainability and reinvestment. To find out more about the CSO problem and the work that is currently underway, visit the i-teams website.

Najat - Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel

An Eritrean refugee and a single mother, Najat lives in south Tel Aviv and works as a translator for a health clinic located at the central bus station in the Neve Sha'anan neighborhood. During a tour of the facility that the i-team led with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Najat had a chance to have a personal chat with him. She told him about the hardships of raising children in Neve Sha'anan as a single mother working long hours and about the resulting cultural and language differences between her and her children.

The i-team in Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel is improving quality of life for residents in the neighborhood of Neve Sha’anan, composed largely of refugees who struggle with overcrowding and a lack of access to health and other services. The team is looking to tackle these issues by providing municipal and community services and addressing the friction points between the immigrants and the veteran Israeli population.