Infrastructure

New Kensington, Pa., Pushes into Smart City Space with State Grant

The $800,000 grant will help the city to implement a wireless in-street sensor network among other things.

by Matthew Medsger, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review / October 23, 2017
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(TNS) -- New Kensington officials want to make the city smart, but they need help.

Following the implementation of the Corridor of Innovation, city officials are turning their sights toward their next step in the process of revitalization, dubbed the “New Kensington Smart Growth Revitalization Plan.”

The plan, funded by an $800,000 grant through the state's Keystone Communities Program, will focus on integrating municipal services and building the infrastructure required to gather data about what is happening in the city and when.

The idea is simple, according to Councilman Doug Aftanas.

“One of our biggest issues right now is to make sure all of our departments are on the same page and working with the same information so that we are not crossing paths when trying to figure things out,” he said.

Aftanas, who heads the city's public safety department, said the first step will be completing a geographic information system for the city. That system will allow officials to quickly access information about the city's property lines, streets and the utilities running underneath them.

In-street sensors, which will measure how much snow may be on a road or how heavy traffic is, will then be integrated with that system to allow police, fire, public works, and code enforcement officers to easily identify when and where their services are needed most.

Council also plans to install what officials have called a “smart city network” throughout New Kensington.

That will allow city workers to link wirelessly with other city departments and allow residents to get information about their government — meeting minutes, city ordinances and maps — through a virtual city hall.

Once the network is in place, city officials will be able to monitor emergencies and routine city functions in real time.

Traffic lights and cameras will be integrated to ensure the ease of traffic flow and determine where city resources are needed.

“It will integrate city hall, public works, fire departments, and the police and do all of these fun things,” said developer Brian Clark, whom the city hired to help bring the process to fruition.

Finally, the city hopes to finalize a “Complete Streets” program that will enable ease of access for pedestrians, bicyclists, cars and public transit.

Clark said that the first thing residents will notice is project construction — laying wires and installing cameras and sensors.

What they will see eventually, Clark said, is more efficient, and therefore cheaper, city services.

If it all sounds ambitious that's because it is, according to Aftanas, who acknowledged the city's plan for how to use the Keystone Grant has been painted with fairly broad brush strokes.

That's just the plan for now, though.

The process of coming up with these ideas can only go so far into the conceptual stages, according to Mayor Tom Guzzo, before the city has to get input from residents to make sure things are going in the right direction.

Residents interested in submitting ideas are encouraged to do so by visiting a web portal the city has established for that purpose, Guzzo said.

The city has received the grant money, and will be putting out a request for bids on the installation of the citywide network soon, Clark said.

©2017 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.