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Baltimore Takes Step Toward Becoming Smarter, More Tech-Savvy City

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake released a draft of her Smarter City Task Force Report, which says the city must continue to innovate by taking greater advantage of technology to fuel new growth.

by / June 19, 2015
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at a news conference after protests turned violent. (AP/Patrick Semansky)

On June 19, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake released a draft of her Smarter City Task Force Report, which lays out a range of strategies and recommendations for making Baltimore a smarter, more technologically-savvy city.

The task force report – which will be open for public comment for the next 30 days – says the city must continue to innovate by taking greater advantage of technology in order to fuel new growth.
“While Baltimore has been at the cutting edge in some areas of technology, entrepreneurship and start-up companies, it was clear to me that more planning was needed to lay out a path for our city’s digital future,” Rawlings-Blake said in a press release.

The task force has been working on the project since May 2014, when Rawlings-Blake named 27 individuals -- including representatives from Comcast, Verizon and Johns Hopkins University -- to create a strategic plan for making Baltimore a smarter city. The task force then created work groups to focus on four areas: infrastructure, economic development, digital divide and civic engagement.

According to the report, the city should ensure that new technology is working to accomplish a range of economic development goals including: encouraging the growth of current businesses, attracting new business to generate more jobs; encouraging collaboration among key industry sectors; and providing the best environment for startups.

The report also examines the need to bridge the digital divide, a challenge the task force acknowledges may be more significant in Baltimore than in some other big cities. 

“There are no precise estimates of how many people in Baltimore lack access to broadband Internet. While national surveys suggest that about 20 percent of Americans do not have broadband at home or a smartphone, it’s reasonable to conclude that the percentage of Baltimoreans who lack broadband is higher,” the report states. “Baltimore has a large population of African Americans and people who have low incomes or low educational attainment – three demographic and socio-economic groups that nationally are significantly more likely to lack home broadband access.”

The report outlines several strategies to help enhance broadband assets in Baltimore through public-private engagement and coordination as well as the designation of a coordinator to lead a collaborative effort with community stakeholders to implement a broadband plan for the city.

“It is critical that for Baltimore to thrive, all residents must be equipped to succeed, with access to new technology and the ability to take advantage of it,” according to the report. “This includes three specific goals: ensuring digital access for all residents, providing digital literacy and training for all residents and teaching digital responsibility for Baltimore’s young people.”

Some of the task force’s other recommendations include:

  • mapping all public, private and institutional fiber in Baltimore, with an eye toward identifying gaps for future projects;
  • including spare conduit as part of major public works projects to provide for future broadband needs;
  • development of a citywide “report card,” to be updated annually quantifying progress and providing a benchmark to measure Baltimore against other cities; and
  • creation of a committee of stakeholders who will help govern priorities and oversee implementation of task force recommendations.

The draft of the complete Smarter City Task Force report is available at smarterbaltimore.org