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What's New in Civic Tech: Amazon Announces ‘City on a Cloud' Innovation Challenge Winners

Plus, 12 cities join Chicago's effort to preserve deleted federal climate change research data, Seattle's open data portal gets a new look, and the FCC weighs whether to strip local governments of siting authority as 5G tech becomes more common.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has named 19 winners throughout three award categories — “Best Practices,” “Dream Big” and “Partners in Innovation” — marking the culmination of a three-month competition aimed at recognizing innovation among local and regional governments.

The winners, which were announced at the 2017 AWS City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge at the AWS Public Sector Summit in Washington, D.C., were divided into large and small cities. Winning efforts included predicting coastal flooding in Virginia, cloud-based solutions for mapping roadwork in London, and a number of efficient data uses in smaller jurisdictions. Past winners have built open data, work order and inventory management, and IT modernization projects, among many other things.

“We continue to be amazed by the work that our customers are doing around the world to better serve citizens,” said Teresa Carlson, vice president of Worldwide Public Sector for AWS, in a statement. “This year’s City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge produced inspiring applications from cities, police departments, school districts, and our partners that use real-time data analytics, IoT services, and open data projects, all on the AWS Cloud. AWS is proud to recognize this year’s winners and showcase the innovation to improve our roads, provide digital learning to all students, and benefit first responders.”

Of major cities in the U.S., Louisville won the most prominent accolade, excelling in the “Dream Big” category for its use of machine learning, real-time traffic data, and IoT to build an adaptive traffic flow management system that can sense detrimental systemic changes to traffic and automatically adjust city infrastructure to mitigate the impact.

For more information on the winner’s projects, click here.

Seattle Creates New Look for its Open Data Portal

Seattle has updated the design of its open data portal, aiming to make it easier for residents to interact with the many data sets the city continues to make available.

Seattle explained the necessity of improving the portal’s design in an online statement, pointing to how an update was needed in the wake of research showing that 25 percent of users are accessing it through mobile devices. The old design was not optimized for mobile. Ongoing feedback from residents also told showed that the site was difficult to navigate, and many visitors struggled to find what they were looking for.

“We are confident that this new design will greatly improve both experiences,” the city’s online announcement stated.

As part of Seattle’s 2017 Open Data Plan, the city identified five main priorities. One of these goals was to “increase the discoverability of our Open Data to the public.” The redesign is in service of doing just that.  

Seattle is not alone in its efforts to make its open data sets easier to access by using a friendlier, simpler design. Many cities have started to move in this direction, one of the most prominent of which is Boston, which rolled out a major effort to accomplish this in March, dubbed Analyze Boston.

12 Cities Join Chicago in Posting Climate Change Data Online

In the wake of President Donald Trump announcing that the United States would withdraw from the landmark Paris Agreement, which seemingly united global efforts to reduce emissions and combat climate change, more than a dozen cities have come together to use tech to emphasize their collective ongoing commitment to long-term sustainability.

These cities are doing so by posting research that was formerly on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Change Website, before being removed by the Trump administration in April, on their civic websites. Chicago led this effort with the creation of the City of Chicago Climate Change is Real Website in May.

The cities now joining Chicago are Atlanta; Boston; Evanston, Ill.; Fayetteville, Ark.; Houston; Milwaukee; New Orleans; Philadelphia; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; Seattle; and St. Louis.

In announcing its participation in this work on its own website, Boston wrote, “we know climate change is real and we will continue to take action to fight it.”

In an effort to facilitate other cities joining these efforts, the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology has uploaded the relevant information to an open source website, where it can be appropriated by other municipalities. This data includes information on the basic science behind climate change, as well as the different ways that weather can be impacted from increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office announced the collaboration effort via a post on Medium.

FCC Proposes Stripping Municipal Governments of Siting Authority

The Federal Communications Commission is weighing whether to pre-empt local government regulations pertaining to siting antennas and other infrastructure in public spaces, including power poles, street lamps and traffic signals.

The National Association of Counties (NACo) recently detailed this issue with a post on its website, and it’s one that could become increasingly prominent as cities take steps to move toward small cell and 5G wireless, which stands to increase connectivity speeds. No actions are forthcoming, and the FCC is currently seeking input on whether the agency should take over local controls.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who assumed control of the agency under President Donald Trump, is quoted by NACo as saying he has heard that the current state of rules is impeding the fast implementation of infrastructure that can make 5G a reality. One measure the FCC is weighing is whether to deem siting applications as granted if local governments don’t respond to them fast enough.

Opponents to FCC overriding local controls worry that such measures will drive up the costs or processing applications by forcing local governments to hire increased staff so that they can meet the new timelines. Another concern is that FCC involvement will limit local governments’ abilities to negotiate with providers for services and guarantees in exchange for accessing public rights of way, and these negotiations often ensure that schools and low-income communities receive equitable connectivity.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine