KC's smart city lesson: Build on your successes (and your data)

The announcement this week that Kansas City is expanding its Smart City program didn't come as much of a surprise. The program, which kicked off two years ago in conjunction with its KC Streetcar project, was initiated in relatively small but scalable, replicable phases. And they were successful. Now, city officials are looking for candidates to help them take their smart city initiatives to the next level. It's a thoughtful, practical approach other cities may want to consider adapting for their own smart city upgrades because it minimizes risk and allows for course corrections along the way . — Doug Peeples


 Kansas City has issued Requests for Proposals (RFP) for a public-private partnership to help it develop smart city infrastructure along Prospect Avenue in conjunction with a Prospect MAX bus line upgrade. The Smart City program's latest phase also will include continuing to upgrade basic city services, expanding its free public Wi-Fi network to benefit more citizens and focusing on ways to increase life expectancy.

Building on previous successes
The city's strategy is very much one of continuing to expand by building on previous successes. The city's Smart City program started small but scalable: a new 2.2-mile street car line, smart LED streetlights, informational kiosks and free public Wi-Fi in a limited section of downtown. The next phase took those additions to a larger area and added more services — and more ways to collect valuable data that would be used to focus on projects that would provide the most benefit for the most citizens.

In addition:

  • Council Global Lead Partner Cisco (one of the city's long-term technology partners), established a Cisco Networking Academy at a local high school to help prepare students for jobs in the tech industry.
  • The city is testing a Pothole Predictor which uses smart city tech and predictive intelligence to determine where roadway rehabilitation may be needed.
  • Travel times on Main Street have been reduced by dynamic traffic signal timing.
  • Car rental company Avis, in partnership with the city, is running what is said to be the country's largest trial of connected vehicles.

A better city experience
City leaders have been very aware of the value of the data they've been collecting from the smart city technologies they're deploying. The sensor-collected data is helping guide the city as it works to improve city services, the "city experience" and support and encourage entrepreneurship and economic development.

"Kansas City's implementation of smart city technologies has helped deliver services to our residents more efficiently, while transforming our city into one of the most connected and cutting-edge communities in the country.," said Mayor Sly James when he announced the Smart City program's expansion. "This RFP will ensure that we continue to use data to innovate and work with skilled, visionary partners to make life better and more equitable for all our residents."

For city Chief Innovation Officer Bob Bennett the Smart City program expansion also is an opportunity to host and support technology development. "We are building a 21st century city for our 21st century residents. Our smart city projects will allow corporate partners to field test emerging technology and concepts in a public service space."

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