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Digital Cities 2023: Developing Modern, Citizen-Focused Services

The 56 winning cities in this year’s awards from the Center for Digital Government focused their efforts on technology projects that impacts residents communitywide.

This year’s winners of the Digital Cities Survey awards from the Center for Digital Government* stepped up their municipalities’ digital offerings, providing citizens an array of contactless services and other conveniences delivered through modernized applications and new technology. Several cities also took huge strides to strengthen their IT workforces through additional training and benefits to both attract and retain highly qualified employees.

Here’s a look at the first-place winners in each category.


City leaders in Tamarac, Fla., a picturesque city north of Miami, have been laying the groundwork — literally — for several years, working to enhance connectivity through an expanded fiber network. Their work has paid off. The city now boasts over 40,000 linear feet of underground fiber cable that connects city buildings and parks and runs along bus routes and city streets, allowing Internet connectivity in many parts of the city.

The enhanced connectivity allows the city to install new technologies in previously difficult-to-reach areas, such as city parks.

“For the past several years, our city has been laying the groundwork,” explained James Twigger, chief information officer for Tamarac. “Now we are positioned to take advantage of the new technology out there.”

Twigger cited Caporella Park as an example of how the fiber network allows unique enhancements to city spaces. The city closed the park for about a year to allow for the underground fiber to be laid and other improvements to be deployed. It will reopen soon and debut as a “smart park.”

“We rebuilt this park from the ground up,” said Twigger.

The park has video surveillance cameras throughout that allow monitoring for public safety reasons.

“We can also use advanced analytics to know when people are in the park after hours when they shouldn’t be,” Twigger added. “We can count the people in the park automatically using software for crowd analytics.”

Twigger says there will be Wi-Fi throughout the park, as well as emergency phones and digital signs.

“These are not like signs by the road,” he explained. “These signs look like TVs. They will show events coming up and other things. There will be interactive kiosks and a park speaker system.”

In the event of an emergency — even a weather emergency such as lightning — city staff will be able to announce it in the park and emails will be sent to city staff to clear the area.

Tamarac also has updated its city buildings with Internet of Things technologies. Devices such as thermostats, lighting, exhaust control systems and generators are connected to the network and can be monitored centrally.

The city also has enhanced its website to offer more online services to residents 24 hours a day.

“We think of it as our online city hall open 24 hours a day,” Twigger said. “People can interact with us.”

Tamarac also enhanced its cybersecurity with funds from the state of Florida. The city contracted with ReliaQuest for 24/7 security monitoring.

“If there is any issue or threat, they are monitoring 24/7,” he says. “We are also integrated into the state of Florida operations center, so their staff will be alerted so they can lend a hand if needed.”

Click here to read about all the winners in this population category.


Over the past two years, Carlsbad, Calif., has implemented an innovative budget approach called the Strategic Digital Transformation Investment Program (SDTIP).

“It puts technology investments on par with capital investments,” explained Maria Callander, Carlsbad’s director of information technology. “It’s part of our city budget.”

The program establishes an annual investment plan and a five-year expenditure plan for digital transformation projects and outlines their revenue requirements. All technology investment occurs through the SDTIP through a process outlined by the city manager. The process allows for better long-term planning in tech projects and also greater transparency with the public, allowing them to track investments and outcomes. It also keeps the issue of tech improvements and digital enhancements front and center in the public eye in the same way road improvements or new buildings might be.

Carlsbad also has recently expanded its municipal fiber network through a joint project between IT and other city departments. The combined effort of the Traffic Division, Utilities, Public Works, libraries and digital equity working group leverages public-private partnerships to expand the fiber network, resulting in reduced infrastructure costs for multiple agencies. The new digital information network is expected to be completed by the end of the year and save over $2 million in infrastructure costs.

“It’s increased our capacity 100-fold,” Callander explained. “It has really set us ahead in the digital world.”

The new network is expected to streamline operations and enhance connectivity, thereby advancing the city’s digital transformation.

Callander said the city’s use of data in decision-making is also a point of pride. Carlsbad has increased its use of data in decisions about policy and resources, as well as in finding ways to improve services and evaluate program effectiveness.

“We are using data to make critical decisions for the city,” she said.

The city has launched a number of dashboards where data is available on such city functions as emergency response, construction projects and budgeting. The data leads to data-informed decision-making and also allows for more transparency with the public.

“We are transparent, making sure the public sees the progress on our goals,” Callander said.

For example, city staff and leaders studied the data on the hospitals that fire units were transporting people to the most — and least — and the capacity of those hospitals. Analyzing that data resulted in changes in where patients were transported at specific times.

Click here to read about all the winners in this population category.


Bianca Lochner, chief information officer for Scottsdale, Ariz., said via email that the city’s “digital transformation journey has been marked by innovation, collaboration, and relentless pursuit of excellence.”

“We have embraced emerging technologies like AI, IoT and data analytics to drive meaningful change across our city’s services, infrastructure and governance,” she said. “Through our digital initiatives, we have created a seamless and personalized experience for our residents, enabling them to access information, engage with their community and access essential services effortlessly.”

Lochner cites the city’s multichannel engagement approach as a way it has enhanced outreach and response to residents.

“We recently implemented a MessageHub solution that enables multiple staff to interact with a single citizen via SMS/text channels,” she said. “This tool captures inbound SMS/text messages, routes them to the appropriate staff group and enables bi-directional communication. It provides key information and links/URLs for city programs and initiatives.

“Point-to-point SMS/text is standard, but the ability to have a shared communication channel between multiple staff and a single citizen is more unique. The solution enables the Citizen Service team to respond to customers’ needs and not depend on a single resource.”

The city also launched Speak Up Scottsdale, a hosted online platform that allows participants to share their feedback about city initiatives, city services or local issues. The city partnered with Scottsdale-based research and design firm ATOM Innovation to create the platform. The effort has attracted hundreds of community members, facilitating dialog and collaboration. It is part of Scottsdale’s implementation of the Collaboration and Engagement chapter of the voter-approved Scottsdale General Plan 2035.

In response to growing citizen concern over short-term rentals (STRs), the city also implemented a portal where residents can see a map of the STRs through the city and report any problems to authorities.

Scottsdale also has made great strides to gauge citizen feedback about its services through numerous polls.

“Through targeted email marketing campaigns, we have increased our constituent engagement using Polco, a platform for customer feedback, by an impressive 144 percent,” Lochner said. “This has resulted in valuable insights and input from citizens through nine different surveys conducted in the last year. Our emails have also demonstrated exceptional performance, with an open rate exceeding the industry standard at over 45 to 50 percent.”

Click here to read about all the winners in this population category.


Long Beach, Calif.’s Technology and Innovation Department (TID) deployed technology in a big way over the past year to study the city’s problem of homelessness and provide more services to those who are unhoused.

“This year has definitely been challenging with the homeless emergency declared by our City Council in January,” said DIT Director Lea Eriksen. “It was all-hands-on-deck with that.”

TID had more than 20 team members volunteer to serve on committees to address the homelessness crisis. Employees and others in the city looked for ways to use technology to bolster services for the unhoused. Long Beach’s homeless dashboard was born out of the process.

“It uses data to show the state of homelessness in our community and how it has changed over time,” explained Eriksen. “It shows the makeup of our population of homeless and the efforts the city has made to address housing needs, mental health, and access to services and education.”

“The department also helped to develop and launch a survey with over 3,000 respondents to gauge community perception of homelessness and their knowledge of the services [the city is] providing in that area,” she added.

Out of the effort, the city established a mobile access center for unhoused people’s tech needs and disseminated information on such issues as RV dumping stations. They also established a text messaging process to advise those experiencing homelessness on where to access services.

“We had volunteer signups for our employees to call landlords to ask them to accept Section 8 vouchers,” Eriksen said. “We really partnered with other departments.”

Eriksen said she is particularly proud of her department’s launch of the Long Beach Collaboratory, also known as LB Co-Lab. LB Co-Lab, part of the city’s Smart City Initiative, is a data-informed initiative that focuses on four pilot neighborhoods. The city is enlisting volunteers who will be paid a stipend of $1,000 to participate in a collaborative process to design and implement a technology project in their neighborhood that addresses a problem. The program will not only allow residents to work together to address problems, but also will provide participants with training in technology skills, which could later result in jobs for them.

Eriksen says the city also worked to improve overall digital access and inclusion for residents, partnering with community organizations to get computing devices into the hands of residents, bolstering the number of hot spots in the city and providing digital training for “our community members who need it the most.”

TID also co-created a departmental values statement through focus groups that defined what it means to have an exploratory mindset and other values. They delved into what excellence, respect and agility mean.

“We incorporate the values into our daily efforts,” Eriksen said. “It has been great in transforming our culture.”

Click here to read about all the winners in this population category.


COVID-19 drove many cities throughout the nation to dramatically increase the number of online services available to residents. Los Angeles is one such city.

“The COVID-19 pandemic forever obstructed our world,” explained Ted Ross, CIO and general manager of the city of Los Angeles Information Technology Agency. “As a result, L.A. made it a point to be contactless and people-centered. Why should someone have to come in contact with another person to get something done? … Why can’t it be online?”

“Contactless government is extremely impactful,” Ross added.

To offer more online services, the city first inventoried all of its software to determine what makes each piece modern or legacy. IT employees then identified available platforms, best practices and lessons learned to develop recommendations to modernize all apps across every city department. All told, more than 130 apps have been modernized.

“We wanted to take advantage of the horrible situation that COVID-19 was to be a better government and a better digital government,” Ross said. “It allowed us to recover to a new better, not just a new normal.”

Ross also cites the city’s efforts to strengthen its IT workforce as one of its most critical IT achievements in the past year. Between March 2020 and December 2022, he said some 25 percent of L.A.’s IT workforce left their positions.

“We know that IT employees are uniquely at risk of seeking other job opportunities,” Ross explained. “And we knew if we were going to implement the tech Angelinos expected, we needed to dramatically change how we recruit and retain IT employees.”

Ross said the city committed to a 12-step IT workforce plan, which said that Los Angeles would need to focus on hiring and retaining more than the “stereotypical young person who can code.” To meet that goal, the city, working with a consultant, developed four categories of tech talent: emerging technology architects, modern system developers, heritage system experts and flexible technology leaders.

The city outlined a recruitment plan, highlighting specific places to find new talent. It laid out what attracts new IT talent and what drives it away. City leaders also updated job classifications. To help retention, Los Angeles increased the ways tech employees could connect, communicate and “hang out” together, either in person or digitally.

Ross said that since the launch of the plan, L.A.’s IT workforce has seen a 23 percent reduction in IT vacancies, an 81 percent reduction in IT staff departures, and various increases in project delivery and incident response productivity.

Click here to read about all the winners in this population category.

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology’s parent company.
Pamela Martineau is a freelance writer based in Portland, Maine. She moved to Portland in 2019 after a 30-year stint living and working in California. A UC Berkeley graduate, Pamela worked at numerous daily newspapers including The Sacramento Bee. As a freelance writer, she has written about health care, education, technology, climate change, and water issues. She has two adult sons and a mischievous cocker spaniel.