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Kansas City, Mo., Maps Data Related to Digital Inclusion

Visualization shows poverty rates along with available Internet speeds.

As Kansas City, Mo., CIO Bob Bennett is fond of pointing out, his community has the largest smart city footprint in North America, complete with a collection of smart streetcars that collect data for public-facing websites — data that gets as specific as the location of open parking spots.

“We will be the smartest city on Earth within five years,” Bennett has said.

There’s no exact metric for gauging if Kansas City is, in fact, the smartest city on our continent at present, but it’s doubtful that many other U.S. cities would want to call Bennett out on the legitimacy of his claim. Kansas City’s smart city infrastructure is strong — strong and advancing rapidly. Now, as it continues to move forward, city officials have added a new data visualization map aimed at keeping track of digital inclusion efforts as well, so that all populations within the city will benefit from the technological growth of its infrastructure.

This new map contains information about Internet speeds provided by AT&T, Google and Time Warner (now also known as Spectrum), with speeds pegged by a Federal Communications Commission support, and it cross references that info with U.S. Census data about poverty levels, creating what is quite likely the first map developed by a government entity in the country to do so. In addition, the locations of Kansas City’s popular smart street cars are also available there in real time.

Rick Usher, Kansas City's assistant city manager for small business and entrepreneurship, heads up the city’s digital inclusion efforts, and he said the idea behind this map is to create a reference point for both the public and also for city officials seeking to know more about digital equity in their jurisdiction. The map, which was crafted by frequent Kansas City open data collaborator Xaqt, grew out of Kansas City’s ongoing Digital Equity Strategic Plan, which was first published on March 9.

“We’re seeing this digital equity plan as a way of making sure we’re not leaving anyone behind with this technology,” said Usher.

The map is a new feature, live for less than a month, and Usher expects its future will involve demonstrations at local meetings about digital inclusion. He also envisions it as a great tool for community groups and neighborhood associations, one they could potentially use to help economically distressed residents find affordable deals on high-speed Internet connections for their homes. Already, Usher said that the map has led to internal meetings about what officials are seeing.

In the future, more data sets could be added to broaden the digital inclusion relevance of this new visualization platform, all broken down by geography as well. Such info could include average life expectancies, rates of building demolitions, number of code violations and more.

As work in Kansas City has begun to proliferate around digital inclusion, Usher said he found himself noticing that the parts of the city most at risk to suffer from digital equity deficits are the same areas that the housing authority and health department have flagged for concern. 

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.