Philadelphia offers tips for bringing your city together

Thu, 2017-02-09 11:16 -- Kevin Ebi

You’ve heard it before: If you want to make your city a smart city, you need to get all of your departments working together toward a common vision. You need to tear down silos. But how do you do that?

In Philadelphia, it was a matter of striking up a conversation with people in different departments. That was actually one of our goals for the Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grant application process. We wanted people to talk to each other to discover how much they had in common and how they could work together.

As you’ll read below, that certainly worked for Philadelphia. And it’s an approach you can use in your own city right now. – Kevin Ebi

What do the water, air quality and revenue have in common? More than you might think.

The process of applying for the Council's Readiness Challenge Grant helped bring Philadelphia departments together. The application process prompted conversations between city departments, causing them to realize they were working on individual solutions to common problems.

"There's a story in the city of Philadelphia and it's not as fragmented as it might seem to be," said Ellen Hwang, the Philadelphia program manager for innovation management. "There is this unifying vision. ‘Smart cities’ is not an end to the means, but a larger goal of being a better government to our community. … At the end of the day we are one team with one goal: We want to serve the public better."

Start the conversation
The way your city is structured also plays a significant role in how conversations between departments develop and in the fruits of those talks.

Shortly after he became mayor, Jim Kenney created the Office of Innovation Technology, placing it within chief administration. It’s a single point for driving smart cities initiatives throughout the city. It’s also able to bring in outside help from businesses and universities.

“We have been building a coalition of city, community, business and educational institutions,” Kenney said. “They are all enthused and ready to help with smart city projects focused on the built environment, telecommunications and basic public services like water.”

Connections run deep
You can find connections virtually everywhere you look. For instance, smart water meters are one of the tools that can provide benefits well beyond your city’s water department. The water department may be exploring the meters to improve customer service, but more accurate billing is something the city’s revenue department can get behind. One project can provide benefits for both.

And that’s just the start.

“Some of the folks I met with didn’t even realize the potential for what ‘Smart cities’ means for their work,” Hwang said. “Our air control management unit wasn’t thinking about air quality sensors in the smart cities context, but it’s actually an IoT solution. It could be part of a more comprehensive solution.”

These conversations and combined with a smart cities initiative driven from the top of city goverment leads to shared planning, which prompts all city departments to more carefully consider the resources they are using individually and how they can work together to provide the biggest positive impact for the public.

“Doing this as a coordinated effort is the only way that makes sense,” she said.

Learn from Philadelphia and other leaders …
Join us at Smart Cities Week Silicon Valley, May 8-10 in Santa Clara, CA, to hear from all five Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grant winners, as well as other enterprising cities and world-renowned smart cities experts. Register today.