How our Readiness Challenge winners are plotting their smart cities course

Representatives from the Smart Cities Council's 2018 Readiness Challenge Grant winners shared their smart city planning priorities and observations during a panel discussion at Smart Cities Week Silicon Valley. From left to right: panel moderator Jennifer James, Council Readiness Program Director; David Ihrie, CTO for the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology; Don Jacobson, Las Vegas Business Partner for Innovation; Chris Seidt, Information Technology Director for Louisville-Jefferson County; Randall Woodfin, Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, and Terry Yates, Smart Cities Program Manager for Cary, North Carolina. SCC photo

The panelists had a lot to say about their plans to improve and expand transportation, public safety and other services for their communities. They also had a few key takeaways for other cities planning or implementing smart city projects: 1) It's not all about the technology—it’s about using the technology to benefit citizens. 2) As one panelist summarized, "You don't need to go it alone." Bring all stakeholders in to the process from the very beginning. 3) Don't forget about your citizens. It's critical to keep them informed and engaged in the projects you're doing, from planning through implementation. — Doug Peeples


The challenges cities are facing—and what they're doing about them
For Chris Seidt, Director of Information Technology for Louisville-Jefferson County, public safety is a primary concern. Despite Louisville's ranking as one of the top four safest cities in the country, instances of gun violence have risen over the past three years. And after adopting ShotSpotter gunshot detection and location technology, he said the city found that 80% of gunshots weren't being called in to law enforcement. The city and county are working toward using data to guide law enforcement strategies and intervention.

Seidt also explained that traffic has become a health issue during summer months. As he explained, "We live in a valley where the air doesn't flow through during the summer. We’re adding tree plantings. It's not at all a technical approach." But he added that data still drives solutions that aren't technical.

For David Ihrie, CTO for the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology, the issues are state-wide and a primary challenge is closing the "digital divide" for all communities. A prime concern for his office is the difference between urban and rural transportation needs. The Center is looking across its entire infrastructure to determine if broadband can be used effectively in rural locations, how it could be connected with transportation emergency management and other solutions, all with a theme of finding commonalities.

Water is a key health focus for Cary, North Carolina's Smart Cities Program Manager Terry Yates—as it is for many communities. "How are you going to provide water for a growing community?" Cary has undertaken several improvements in its water treatment and distribution network, including advanced metering and predictive analytics to help its water utility address leaks, water quality, wastewater management and provide citizens with a better understanding of how much water they're using.

"As mayor, my most important job is to keep people safe," said Birmingham, Alabama Randall Woodfin. To that end, the city has added a 311 system to make it easier for citizens to report repair or other issues to city departments. It also is working toward a metropolitan area crime center to enable law enforcement agencies to quickly share information with each other. The city also has installed ShotSpotter technology on power poles and surveillance cameras.

How citizen engagement can help solve problems
Don Jacobson, Business Partner for Innovation with the Las Vegas IT department, sees enhanced public safety as a key responsibility for the city. With a population of 625,000 and a steady stream of visitors, safe mobility and public safety are tightly interconnected. In response to a question from panel moderator Jennifer James about what civic engagement means to Las Vegas, Jacobson explained that citizen engagement was essential to the city's public safety efforts. "We use social media to let citizens get in touch with us with questions or concerns. We have 300,000 followers on Twitter so it's an important resource."

In an effort to stem the increase in bicyclist and pedestrian deaths, the city is using its social media platform as well as cameras installed in its downtown innovation district. As Jacobson explained, "The returns are enormous in terms of what you can do to modify people's behavior about things like public safety." With that available information, he said, "We can examine that behavior to see how we could change it"—adding that data analytics also could dictate street design and law enforcement strategies to support those changes.

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