Much has been made about the future of cities and what the 21st-century city will look like. Government officials are quick to reference their ideals for smart technology creating more efficient governance and more livable conditions, but how do we tell the difference between cities that do it for press releases and news coverage against those using the tools in a constructive, cost-efficient way?
The difference, according to Bob Bennett, chief innovation officer for Kansas City, Mo., is the use of data.
"Data is what makes it smart,” said Bennett. “Technology makes it cool, but data is what makes it smart.”
Smart cities are the ones, according to Bennett, who “strategically collect data, analyze it and use it to make decisions.”
Kansas City has gone on to serve as both a cool and a smart city. With popular projects like its Internet-enabled kiosks or the Uber-inspired on-demand public transit program, the city has mirrored these tangible projects through data analytics and understanding what specific needs the city has.
Public officials believe wholeheartedly that collaboration with private actors through the city’s open data portal in improving government services is the recipe for success. The portal launched in 2013 but was revamped in 2014 due to Mayor Sly James’ open data policy — and has inspired third-party actors to take advantage of the available data and add their contributions to the city.
Dominique Davison took that challenge to heart.
Through Davison’s PlanIT Impact online tool, cities can compare municipal data with hundreds of federal data sets to make the best decisions on city planning and design. In order for continued growth of the city’s smart initiatives, infrastructure will need to be planned sustainably and responsibly.
PlanIT Impact creates geo-specific solutions for city planners, designers and architects. The tool ultimately aids “smart modeling for smart cities,” said Davison. The tool helps localize data about potential infrastructure being built with regard to energy, water use, stormwater drainage, greenhouse gas emissions, proximity to public transportation and more.
It all comes back to open data, said Davison. While only working with Kansas City currently, the company is looking to expand its usage to other cities including New Orleans and Austin, both of which bring unique challenges.
The key to being a smart city development is to know that a universal solution does not exist. All cities must tailor technology to their own specific needs. In New Orleans, for example, the use of PlanIT Impact likely would be used to tackle water drainage, while potential city partners in California are concerned with water efficiency and the use of graywater.
“Sustainability is not one-size fits all,” said Davison.
Kansas City has embraced this philosophy and is working to overcome its unique challenges through creating these partnerships.
“We have to make sure we provide the opportunity to fully develop those ideas, validate them and make them available to other cities,” Bennett said. “The partnerships are the critical note; what we have learned in Kansas City is that the city itself is a part of a much greater ecosystem.”
Ryan McCauley was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine from October 2016 through July 2017, and previously served as the publication's editorial assistant.