In the press release announcing her hire, WGI had this to say: “Lisa’s experience spans work in the private, non-profit, and public sectors, including federal and local government agencies. At the Unit- ed States Environmental Protection Agency, she developed pioneering policy for sustainable community design, including guides and regu- latory support for low-impact development and redevelopment. She brings a practical approach to helping clients through new planning methods, interactive public engagement, zoning-code reform, and best practices that deliver multiple benefits. “WGI clients are aware of both the potential, and challenges, asso- ciated with technology related disruption and change. Lisa helps de- mystify trends, engaging clients to develop both long-range scenarios and near-term roadmaps. This helps cities of all sizes incorporate new technology into existing planning efforts while anticipating potential and probable changes in transportation and land use.” Nisenson’s hire comes on the heels of other major, forward-looking developments for WGI, all of it pursuant to the firm’s 2025 vision for 1,000 associates and $200 million in revenue. In January, it acquired Austin, Texas-based multidiscipline firm Big Red Dog, and in 2017, acquired Michigan-based Carl Walker, Inc., which specializes in sustainable parking structures. Last year, the firm named Greg Sauter as its president. While Sauter checked all the tra- ditional boxes for a top hire, he also brought something novel to the table. Sauter was the founder of Smart City Works, an accelerator for early-stage companies focused on civil infrastructure, a nice dovetail with Nisenson’s background. Nisenson joins WGI as the world of urban planning and mobility, and public expectations about both, are being revolutionized by technology and innovation. Amazon’s purchase of old malls and their subsequent conversion into fulfillment centers is one of the big headlines, and it points in the direction of last-mile delivery, autonomous vehicles, and the ongoing transformation of grocery getting – all of which will change the urban landscape. “It’s a whole new world,” Nisenson said. There’s a fever pitch out there right now, as communities large and small are consumed by the fear of missing out on the latest tech and trends, and fumbling the competitive advantage that allows them to recruit the workforce of the future. Tech companies are cashing in, or attempting to cash in, by pitching their services to cities. But city leaders must be prudent and not fall into the trap of adopting technology for the sake of adopting technology. In that case, a community could be left holding the bag on something that is quickly left behind by the marketplace. “You can’t adopt the tech because you think it’s cool,” Nisenson said. “You have to solve a problem.” The smart-city grid here in the U.S. is still in its infancy, and a lot of problems must be solved before the curbsides and sidewalks of the future are figured out. A big issue right now is one of speed. How do
you mesh together various modes of transportation – pedestrian, bike, electric bike, scooter, and even moped – without creating chaos in the right-of-way? Nisenson might need to read the crystal ball, something she’s more than willing to do. “You’ve got to get the infrastructure right,” she said. A Conversation with Lisa Nisenson C+S: You were recently named the VP for New Mobility & Connected Communities at WGI. What are your goals in this role? Lisa Nisenson: The scope of innovation in the types of smart city and smart transportation is enormous, from smart streetlights that collect and distribute data to connected cars and even scooters. Less covered are the secondary impacts of all this technology on our built environ- ment and infrastructure. As a full-service engineering and design firm, this means technology impacts every facet of what we do. My goal is to make sure we are prepared and ready to provide solutions to our clients that meet their existing needs as well as adapt to a changing future. C+S: In the press announcing your new position, WGI talks about place-making, shared-use mobility, smart cities, and autonomous ve- hicles. The firm is adding expertise in this field as part of its strategic plan. What does the firm see on the horizon? LN: Yes, we have a lot of talent in-house, and see the need to constantly evaluate trends and what it means for designing communities and in- frastructure. Because it’s difficult to tell exactly how technology will evolve, we look at two things. One are “tried and true” practices that stand the test of time. For example, we are working on a Complete Street in West Palm Beach that will support walking, biking, access to transit, and vehicles. The lesson here is not so much about technology, but about creating a street that supports not only mobility, but a sense of place. This in turn adds economic vitality. Second, adaptable infrastructure will be critical, such as our garage design called FlexPark.TM. Parking right now is being impacted by technology, notably transportation network companies (TNC) like Uber and Lyft. This is particularly true for entertainment districts, since ridehailing customers note the ability to avoid drunk driving as the top reason for using a TNC. Many experts see further shifts in parking, which means garage owners may seek to repurpose parking spaces for other activities. Some of the emerging issues we are watching are things like the rise of e-commerce. If retailers want to get you anything you want within a couple of hours, imagine what that means for warehousing and the constant stream of deliveries on sidewalks, in streets, and overhead with drones. We are also mindful of the need for resilient infrastructure as trends play out with more frequent, dangerous storms. This affects all aspects of design, from buildings to infrastructure to land use and economic development.
csengineermag.com january 2020
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