Thirty-three cities — including eight in the U.S. — were selected as recipients of IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge grants for 2012. The grant program provides cities with technology and services from the company’s experts to help address local issues.
Now in the second year of a 100-city, $50 million program, each Smarter Cities Challenge grant is worth $400,000. This year’s winning cities were selected for projects in the areas of economic and workforce development, transportation, sustainability, health, education and urban planning.
An IBM expert lives in a selected city for three weeks, studies an issue plaguing the community and then makes recommendations for how to solve the challenge. In an email to Government Technology, Ari Fishkind, media relations manager for IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs, said getting the pulse of each unique setting is a key part of the program.
“We want them to live in the city for a better part of the month to absorb the culture, rhythms, dynamics and texture of local life as they interview many dozens of people involved,” Fishkind said. “Taking note of these qualities help inform the tone and content of our team's recommendations to the city at the end of the project. You can't get that from just phoning it in, working remotely.”
Fishkind said the grant-winning cities all had a clear direction that they want to pursue and specific initiatives in mind.
“They were willing to share as much data during the engagement so that we can make sophisticated recommendations about their next steps,” Fishkind said.
The 2012 Smarter Cities Challenge Grant Winners (U.S. cities listed first):
• Durham, N.C.
• Jacksonville, Fla.
• Louisville, Ky.
• Omaha, Neb.
• Pittsburgh, Pa.
• Accra, Ghana
• Ahmedabad, India
• Birmingham, UK
• Cheongju, Korea
• Chonburi, Thailand
• Curitiba, Brazil
• Da Nang, Vietnam
• Dortmund, Germany
• Eindhoven, Netherlands
• Geraldton, Australia
• Ishinomaki, Japan
• Jurong Lake District, Singapore
• Malaga, Spain
• Medellin, Colombia
• New Taipei City, Taiwan
• Nanjing, China
• Nairobi, Kenya
• Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
• Pune, India
• Rabat, Morocco
• Rosario, Argentina
• Siracusa, Italy
• Surrey, British Columbia, Canada
• Tshwane, South Africa
• Toluca, Mexico
One of the 2012 grant winners, Louisville, Ky., is asking IBM to help lower the rates of respiratory illness there through complex data analysis. The city is involved in a program called Asthmapolis, where 300 to 500 “smart” emergency asthma inhalers will be outfitted with GPS technology that in real time will record the location and time the inhaler is used and transmit that automatically to a database. The inhalers should be distributed to patients throughout the city in the next couple months.
According to Chris Poynter, communications director for Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, the city hopes IBM’s experts will analyze the inhaler data in combination with weather, pollution and flora information to get a definitive handle on why the area has high levels of respiratory illness.
“What we’re wanting in the short term is to have IBM help us understand if there are any results they can find from the data so far, and use their brainpower to say what we are missing or what we should be looking at,” Poynter said.
IBM also will provide the grant winners with special assistance through City Forward, a website designed by the company with the help of public policy experts. The site allows diverse groups to contribute data that explores trends and visualizes statistics.
Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.