Cities have learned that residents offer an important real-world reality check of technically centered and data-driven work.
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The idea of smart cities was not on someone’s radar in 2005, but New Orleans got a head start on data-driven decision-making thanks to Hurricane Katrina.
After Katrina struck and the city’s dikes failed, the city began using data to improve and speed up decision making to support the city’s recovery.
Amsterdam was again an early adopter in 2009 with the Amsterdam Smart Cities Initiative. The team used data to address depression and increase treatment for people who did not receive help. By combining statistics from insurance companies with information about the costs of treatment for depression, the project team found hotspots in the city where people with depression did not receive appropriate care.
Steph Stoppenhagen, director of smart city solutions for business development at Black & Veatch, said that public-private partnerships (P3s) are an effective way to make smart city projects successful.
“That’s where you make those P3s to build a consortium and do this project that way,” she said.
Stoppenhagen said that smart campuses are a growing trend in P3 smart city projects. Sprint has recently announced a smart campus project with Arizona State University to take advantage of the 5G service. Sprint works with the University and the Greater Phoenix Smart Region Consortium to create a Sprint 5G incubator on the Novus Innovation Corridor of ASU and to conduct joint research and development.
SEE: Smart cities: a guide for business leaders (free PDF)
This retrospective of smart city projects in the past decade highlights what did and did not work.
Successful smart city work
There are many ways to measure what makes a city smart.
IDC takes nominations for its second annual Smart Cities awards program with 12 categories. In the first round of prizes, Albany, NY, won the smart water category and NYCx Co-Labs in Brownsville, Brooklyn, won for digital equality and accessibility.
Easy Park’s second Smart Cities index scored 500 cities on 24 criteria covering everything from recycling to blockchain. Vienna won a 10 for waste management and San Francisco achieved the highest score for blockchain.
In 2017, the What Works Cities division of Bloomberg Philanthropies started a certification process to evaluate how well cities use data to improve the quality of life for residents. So far, 13 cities have achieved gold or silver certification with two honorable mentions:
- Arlington, TX – Silver in 2019
- Boston, MA – Silver in 2018
- Kansas City, MO – Gold in 2019 and Silver in 2018
- Los Angeles – Gold in 2018
- Louisville, KY – Gold in 2019 and Silver in 2018
- Memphis, TN – Silver in 2019
- New Orleans, LA – Silver in 2018
- Philadelphia, PA – Silver in 2019
- San Diego, CA – Silver in 2018
- San Francisco, CA – Silver in 2018
- Scottsdale, AZ – Silverin 2019
- Seattle, WA – Silver in 2018
- Washington, DC – Gold in 2019 and Silver in 2018
The certification assessment process has 45 criteria in eight categories:
- Data Management
- General management
- Open data
- Performance & analysis
- Results-oriented contracting
- Involvement of stakeholders
Louisville has won for building an open-source, cloud-based system Waze Analytics Relational Database Platform (Waze WARP). The platform uses WAZE data, collision reports and data from the environment to conduct real-time traffic investigations.
More than 900 government agencies now use this platform to perform both historical and real-time queries and analyzes to improve mobility, pedestrian and bicycle safety, road conditions and emergency assistance.
The Right Care, Right Now pilot project in Washington, DC is designed to guide 911 callers to the right kind of assistance. Operators now hand over callers with non-life threatening conditions to a nurse trained by EMS, who determines the most suitable services. The nurse can schedule an appointment for the same day at an urgent or primary health care institution and coordinate transport via Lyft.
Earlier this year, Kansas City adopted a regulation to ensure its commitment to data-driven governance and to protect the city’s priorities for transparency. A challenge for smart city work is to ensure that data transparency and access survive the transition to a new mayor.
American cities were confronted with unintended consequences as a result of one data-driven idea. To improve public transport in low-income communities, cities have begun building apartments and apartments near stops to achieve this.
Instead of expanding educational and employment opportunities, these developments encouraged gentrification and pushed the same people away for whom the project was designed. These new developments often increased rents in poor neighborhoods and outpaced the people for whom the expansion of transit was intended.
The San Diego Union Tribune studied the developments in four cities in California, where about 400 multi-family buildings were completed or were under construction within half a mile of a transit stop.
In neighborhoods where most families earned less than $ 64,000 a year, newspaper analysis showed that the monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment was more than $ 3,500. In some areas where the average family income was less than $ 30,000, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is still more than $ 3,300.
Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs led one of the biggest smart city failures in the last decade with Sidewalk Toronto. After several years of discussions, Google released ambitious plans in June 2019 to build residential, retail, and office buildings on the Toronto waterfront.
The project included public Wi-Fi, along with other sensors to collect “urban data” to better inform housing and traffic decisions. By October Sidewalk Toronto leaders had scaled back their plans due to complaints and questions from residents.
Stoppenhagen said that the Sidewalks team had great intentions in Toronto, but that no residents and neighborhood organizations were sitting at the table.
“This has taught a lot of us to learn a lot of lessons from always bringing the community to the table to make sure they are in line with the plan so that it doesn’t blow up in smoke,” she said.
Stoppenhagen added that one of the biggest challenges facing cities is addressing privacy issues.
“We need a better educational plan to explain why we want to use this data and how it will affect someone in their future,” she said. “We have to show some use cases to the public.”
Community involvement is crucial
Bas Boorsma, vice president of the Today Today institute, has a list of 10 reasons why smart city projects fail and technology myopia and solution focus are at the top of the list. Urban leaders fall into these pitfalls when the goal is to implement a new technology instead of using technology to solve an urban problem.
This error is often the result of a related problem – not talking to residents who are most interested in quality of life issues, such as access to an internet connection and pits. Stoppenhagen said that this is the frame of reference that she uses for smart city projects.
“When I think of smart cities, this means more time back for that citizen, how can we be more efficient and give someone more time back?” she said.
In a column on smart city projects, Kendra L. Smith, associate director of community engagement at the Center for Population Health Sciences at Stanford University, said that smart city leaders should embrace non-digital issues such as legacy governance, social justice , politics, ideology, privacy and financial elements that are not as smart, efficient or resilient when planning for smart cities starts. ”
Smith wrote that city leaders must answer these questions about smart city projects to succeed and be relevant to residents:
- Who decides what the city really needs and continues to work?
- What does it really cost to develop a smart city?
- What influence does a smart city have on social justice in my city?
The key is to ensure that digital goals can withstand the real-world reality check of residents and long-term city operations.
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