Meet Marlana Zink. City Worker and Director of the Intelligent Community Forum

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Photography by The Jae Era

Tell us who you are and what you do.
My name is Marlana Zink. I’m a born-and-raised Rochesterian, and a lover of food, words, and laughter. I currently work for the City of Rochester’s Department of Environmental Services and most of my work is split between GIS (geographic information systems) mapping projects and smart city initiatives for the City.

As a young girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wrote a really adorable journal entry in the third grade about wanting to make the world a better place by replacing old buildings and schools with new ones, and by planting flowers and trees in vacant lots. I have no recollection of writing it, but found it during my first year of college as an urban studies student. It’s funny how there are fundamental parts of who we are and what we care about that we carry with us throughout our lives.

As I got older, I thought a lot about being an author, school principal, or superintendent. I had an angsty, eye-opening moment in high school when I realized that my life as a young person was school. In 2012 when the world was supposed to end, kids were sharing a really depressing group on Facebook along the lines of “If the world really ends in 2012, my entire life will have been wasted in school.” At that point, I really started to wonder, if we can’t change some of the problems we experience in life, can we at least make schools or other community spaces ones that we look forward to? There are a lot of people who have the same question and are doing incredible work to make that happen (shout out to Ruth Turner!!!) and I don’t necessarily know where I fit into that picture yet, but it’s still something that I want to inform my work as I explore my career.

What is your favorite part of working for the City of Rochester?
Definitely the people and that our “bottom line” is always the community. There are so many talented, passionate, and kind people who work for the City and do work that wouldn’t get noticed unless it didn’t happen. It’s humbling when you realize that that’s a lot of what public service is: a lot more than what you see on the news or on social media.

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Tell us about your involvement in the Intelligent Community Forum conference here in Rochester?
From October 21-23, 2019, the City of Rochester is planning the Intelligent Community Forum Smart21 Global Cities Announcement and Conference. Each year, the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) names the world’s most Intelligent Community. This process starts with the announcement of the Smart21 Communities of the Year, semi-finalists for the award. The City of Rochester has been on the Smart21 list twice in the past 3 years (!) and was asked to host this year’s announcement of the top 21 most intelligent communities of 2020. In addition to local leaders and smart city-enthusiasts, we’ll also be hosting guests from around the country and world to share best practices from their communities as well.

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What aspect of the conference are you most excited about?
I’m really excited that Rochester will have the honor of hosting a global conversation not just on best practices in smart city initiatives, but how we as a community and world can make more strategic decisions about our digital future. This is an important conversation because technology is and will continue to shape both our social and physical infrastructure, and it’s critical to have people communicate about what we want our digital values to be as a community.

Being involved in planning an event like this has pushed me a lot to reflect on what it means to be a young woman of color in this field, and it’s something that I’m learning how to navigate every day. I’m learning a lot about how to be a better advocate for inclusion, especially when struggling with the feeling that I’m lucky to be at the table at all. I’m grateful that we were able to bring a digital equity and inclusion angle to this year’s announcement event. We’ll have awesome workshops on digital equity in infrastructure, criminal justice, and literacy. The other element to this conference is a focus on entrepreneurship and economic development and I’m excited for this event’s ability to connect people in our City to global innovators, and also to celebrate the huge accomplishment of being named on this list in recent years! Will we make it again this year? Join us to find out!

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Name some fellow locals that inspire you.
Imani Olear and Sarah Rutherford, without question. I keep trying to write this paragraph but struggle because how can you even capture what they do in words? They’re not afraid to let people know that they see them and not just their pain, but also their healing. I’m really grateful to both of them and get misty when I think about it too much.