City governments are tasked with ensuring that the highest quality services are provided to citizens each day to improve livability within restricted budgets. Whether it’s to address issues related to traffic congestion, provide public safety or simplify a utility bill paying process, cities are in charge of governmental functions that affect citizens in a magnitude of ways from getting to work, to staying safe, to keeping the lights on in their homes.
While being chartered with delivering a variety of services to constituents, cities are facing challenges from two different sides. On one hand, many cities are still reeling from the fiscal pressure following the Great Recession. At the same time, cities are experiencing an urban revival, with the largest cities attracting the greatest influx of new residents.
This situation of tight budgets and growing city populations creates a sort of “perfect storm” for city government innovation. The “smart cities” movement has focused on encouraging the use of innovation and intelligent design to help growing cities provide more efficient services to meet current and future needs. In this movement, technology and innovation intersect with the most impactful areas of city governance. To illustrate this trend, we wanted to provide a quick overview of the solutions being adopted within city governments across the country and highlight how local governments are innovating in the quest to become a “Smart City.” For more in-depth analysis on each of the innovations briefly mentioned below, download our latest whitepaper "Smart Cities: How Cities are Investing to Enhance Livability" for free here.
Engaging the Mobile Citizen
The City of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania is following the trend of engaging the mobile citizen by creating an application that modernizes the way citizens contact the city in non-emergency situations. Innovating the traditional 311 non-emergency call system, the city developed Philly311, a mobile app that serves as a gateway to contact the city with a wide range of inquiries such as how to start a business, waste collection day schedules, and to report common issues like traffic signal outages, pothole and roadway defects and graffiti removal. While the traditional call center is still available to use, the app offers another way to connect with the city in non-emergency situations, reducing the call load on emergency services and giving cities as direct way to communicate with city officials.
According to a recent article in Route Fifty, around 90 city police departments throughout the U.S. who use a system that detects and locates gunfire using audio sensors were able to more quickly investigate and verify reports of gunfire during the recent Independence Day holiday weekend. The technology provided by ShotSpotter uses these sensors mounted on streets or in other area to pick up a sound that resembles a gunshot. This sound registers with the company’s cloud software and ‘boom’ or ‘bang’ noises are quickly classified by an automated intelligent computer system that has learned the difference between these sounds, according to ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark. While these systems certainly aid in triaging reports during festivals and celebrations, they operate year round to allow offices to more quickly learn about gunfire and quickly triangulate the location of that gunfire. One city where ShotSpotter has been successful is the City of Camden in New Jersey, where a recent analysis found that gun incidents decreased by 48.5% in the first half of 2014 versus the first half of 2013.
Innovating Police Officer Gear
In recent months, Onvia has researched the growing body worn camera market extensively, including the issues that arise in regards to storing and hosting the video footage, as well as making the recordings available to the public. While city governments are still figuring out how to address privacy and accessibility concerns, many are well underway implementing the technology and establishing a chain of custody to store, host and manage the body camera footage. One example is the City of Tulsa in Oklahoma, which released a bid in March 2015 that included specifications for a system to download, archive and retrieve recorded videos.
Adaptive traffic signal technologies are gaining popularity in cities throughout the U.S. A recent article in TIME discusses how the City of Bellevue in Washington is able to grow rapidly with less worry of increasing traffic by using adaptive traffic signals. According to the article, these signals “have led to significant declines in both the hassle and cost of commuting.” Alex Stevanovic, Director for the Laboratory for Adaptive Traffic Operations & Management at Florida Atlantic University, sees growth in adoption of these signals: “Only 3% of the nation’s traffic signals are currently adaptive, but the number of smart signals in the U.S. has jumped from 4,500 in 2009 to 6,500 in 2014.”
Improving Transit Busses
The need to get people to and from their place of work quickly and efficiently is a top challenge of any growing city. With tight budgets and rapid growth, mega-transit projects like building out rail based rapid transit isn’t always an option. Many U.S. cities are instead turning to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as a quick and cost-effective alternative. These systems are designed to emulate the efficiency of rail rapid transit systems at a fraction of the cost. According to a recent article in City Lab, agencies like the City of Boston in Massachusetts are attracted to common BRT system features such as dedicated lanes, prepaid fares and all-door boarding.
Making Parking Smarter
Another area of transportation that is being addressed with “smart city” technologies is parking, an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to solving increased traffic congestion. One leader in the smart parking industry, Streetline, says on its website that smart parking solutions help drivers find parking quickly, generate additional revenue for the city, increase foot traffic in business districts, improve parking policy through analytics and can help reduce traffic congestion. The cities of San Mateo and San Carlos in California collaborated with Streetline and Cisco to implement smart parking in their cities. With smart parking solutions in place, the cities also have the ability to add additional capabilities easily, such as more robust traffic monitoring systems.
Mobile Bus Fare Payments
A recent article in Government Technology highlights how Harris County in Texas plans to innovate the way its residents pay their bus fare. Part of a larger effort that is expected to increase ridership by 20%, Harris County approved a $244,090 contract with GlobeSherpa for a payment system that will allow riders to purchase and display fares on their phones.
Making Biking Easier
One final example of how cities are getting smarter to improve citizen livability is in innovation around making a bike-friendly atmosphere for cycle commuters. Bikes are certainly not a new technology, but successfully implemented bike-sharing programs have shown to be successful in reducing congestion while also promoting a sustainable form of transportation. A recent article in American City & County discusses the upcoming bike share program launch in the City of Grand Rapids in Michigan. Sam Schwartz Engineering recommended implementing a bike-sharing program in the city “during a recent Grand Rapids Parking Commission meeting as a way to reduce the number of cars in the city’s core.” In addition, the firm reported that bike sharing is “essentially a pedestrian accelerator that allows people to cover a larger walkshed in a shorter amount of time.”
The examples presented here span a wide range of ways that cities are becoming “smarter” but there are many more innovative technologies being implemented around the nation. Our latest whitepaper titled "Smart Cities: How Cities are Investing to Enhance Livability" reports on each of the above innovations in more depth, if you haven't had a chance to read it yet, it's available for free download here.
Have you seen more examples of how Smart Cities are improving livability through smart uses of technology? Leave a note in our comments section below!