Smart city strategy: Why Las Vegas takes the "start small" approach

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to planning a smart city. Cities have different needs, capabilities, budgets, strengths and weaknesses. Some cities can and do start with major city-wide digital transformation projects. Others start on a smaller district or neighborhood-scale. Either option can be a good one as long as it's the right fit for your city.

Las Vegas, in collaboration with Council Global Lead Partner Cisco, chose to take the incremental approach by using a city district as the test bed for an array of technologies and services. The story below explains the reasoning in detail, but the key takeaways are that city leaders determined smaller pilot projects provide them with the community feedback they need before making larger commitments — and with the assurance that the technologies they chose meet their expectations. — Doug Peeples


With a population of about 600,000 residents Las Vegas is far from one of the country's largest cities. But its nightlife, casinos and entertainment draw 42 million visitors annually. So when city leaders assess  improvements in the city environment that would make it more livable and enjoyable, they consider those millions of visitors as well as the residents.

The city will take on a broad spectrum of smart city improvements, from traffic management and transit to security, waste management, water, parking and more. And through its partnership with Cisco, it will use the company's sensors, connected cameras and platforms to gather and analyze data in all of those areas.

Las Vegas CIO Michael Sherwood said in a ZD Net interview that the partnership was a natural progression because the company is already providing the city government's phone and networking. Test projects with Cisco technologies are for now focused on the city's innovation district (also referred to locally as the 'digital playground') which was initiated last year for that purpose.

Instead of going out and doing what others might do, which is go ahead and buy one system and just plonk that into their entire city, we test it in a small pilot area, we get reactions from the community, we get reactions from the government leaders, and we see how that technology works," Sherwood explained.

"We're able to work with them in that playground and short of refine it, hone it and test it out. And then, once it's good, we can expand it throughout the community."

Traffic a major priority
Fixing traffic congestion is one of the city's top concerns. Sherwood said the data collected will help the city determine where traffic could be re-routed, enhance public safety and make streetlights more efficient — as in no more waiting at a stoplight at 1 AM when your car is the only one in the intersection. It also will help the city understand how not only motorists, but bicyclists and pedestrians negotiate city streets. Looking ahead, Sherwood added that the data also could assist the city in its preparations for driverless cars.

The innovation district pilot project approach is also very much about security. As Sherwood explained, "That's why we created the innovation district, where we can test these technologies out in a smaller but real-life environment, and it gives us an opportunity to see the security concerns we might have, how we can guard against those threats before we scale it out to the entire community."

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.