Though her background is in climatology, Grace Simrall is perfect for her new job as Chief of Civic Innovation for the City of Louisville. How is that possible? Because both fields involve analyzing data and using that information to better serve the community at large. Grace went on to become a tech entrepreneur, founding local company iGlass Analytics and then going to work in the healthcare industry. It is a combination of all these experiences that made her realize that for our community to grow and succeed the playing field needs to be level. Not every Louisvillian has access to computers or the internet, and without that inclusion, our city can never truly be a “smart city.” Louisville is a very civically engaged city and a city of compassion. Combine those traits and add innovation sourced from all over the community, and great things in this city are on their way under the watchful eye of this smart, engaged woman. When she’s not behind a computer or digesting data, she’s eating at some of the best (under the radar) places in town; check out her favorite restaurants — it’s worth printing it out and going to all of them. Till then, get to know Grace Simrall, today’s FACE of Louisville!
Tell us what your job entails as the Chief of Civic Innovation for the City of Louisville.
As the Chief of Civic Innovation, I am responsible for developing public-private partnerships that leverage innovation and technology to solve core challenges facing our city today as detailed by Mayor Fischer’s strategic plans.
You studied to be a climatologist. How is this course of study similar to what you do now?
A climatologist is trained to take a systems-view approach to research and solve problems through data collection, modeling and simulations. I have made a career of applying both the problem solving approach and big data tools to other sectors and will continue to do so in my new role as Chief of Civic Innovation.
How can we harness the information/data we generate in this city to create value for our broader community?
Louisville Metro Government has been a leader in our open data and open performance initiatives. It’s time to take it to the next level and work with our community to offer digital services that provide actionable information. We also can’t take our eye off of the digital divide in our community and providing a clear pathway for digital inclusion. Compassion is one of our core governing principles, and all members of our community should have the opportunity to fully realize their human potential. In our increasingly digital world, they won’t be able to without access to high speed internet.
Do you feel like Louisville is on the right path of innovation? How do you perceive Louisville compared to other cities in this regard?
Louisville is leading the way for other municipalities when it comes to innovation. Mayor Fischer was recently recognized on Politico by his peers as being the most innovative mayor, and it is his vision that created the first Chief Innovation Officer position in a municipal government. We are certainly on the right path as we solve real challenges, but we are not one to rest on our laurels. There is opportunity for continuous innovation, and it’s a primary goal of this office to strive towards achieving it.
You moved here from Chicago over 10 years ago and decided to make it your home. What made you decide to stay here rather than the “big city”?
Louisville is a lovely city! It has most of the amenities of a larger city (arts, culture, food, nature) with fewer of the drawbacks. The people are genuinely friendly, and I’ve never lived anywhere that is so civically engaged.
What are some things you are working on now that we can look forward to seeing in the not-so-distant future?
I am fortunate to have inherited a strong portfolio of projects from my predecessor, Ted Smith. It includes projects such as Air Louisville, which uses the help of our citizen scientists to develop a hyperlocal view of rescue asthma inhaler usage. Through these hot-spot maps, we can identify areas that can benefit from traffic re-timings to reduce congestion as well as opportunities for targeted tree plantings to mitigate harmful VOCs and other particulate matter. The work that examines the relationship between air quality (and other environmental factors) and public health will continue to evolve over time as we learn from the project and others. We are also opening the LouieLab soon — one of the first open, public innovation/co-creation spaces offered by a municipal government. Above the LouieLab is the CNET Smart Apartment, and we’ll have the unique opportunity to explore the intersection between the Smart City and Smart Home together.
Give us a peek at your agenda. What’s a typical day or week like for you?
The one thing that is constant in my new role is that there is no such thing as a typical day or week! As a public servant, I try to be nimble as I respond to new challenges and opportunities that we face as a city. So having the Mayor’s strategic plan and my initiative in alignment to serve as a North Star is important while we adjust to the changing needs of our community.
What advice do you treasure?
The world is your oyster.
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my __________.
Polarized sunglasses (it’s a throwback to my time as a geologist and climatologist).
Where can we find you hanging out around town?
Main Street and Market Street. I love the urban services district.
Favorite thing to do in Louisville?
Are you a night owl or early bird? What do you do during that quiet time?
Night owl, though my new role has me shifting my schedule. I use that time to catch up on work and to read.
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
I have too many to name them all, so here is a sample:
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
Evicted by Matthew Desmond and Triumphs of Experience by George S. Valliant. I also just finished a trilogy by Cixin Liu (The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End) and cannot recommend it highly enough.
Lightning round! Give us your:
Candy or junk food splurge: Ritter Sport Cornflake chocolate bars
Tearjerker movie pick: An Affair to Remember
Standby nail polish color: Hen Party by Butter
Cartoon alter-ego: Buttercup from the “Powerpuff Girls”
What are three of your favorite things right now, aside from faith, family and friends?
- Autumn — it’s my favorite season.
- Strong, black coffee
- Honeycrisp apples
The beautiful photos of Grace were shot by Adele Reding Photography on location at Louisville City Hall downtown.
Read about more inspiring women in Louisville in our FACES of Louisville weekly features here.