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Alexandria, Va., to Pilot its ‘Sticky Wicket’

Under the Safe + Smart Cities pilot program, the city wants help to solve the issue with the most legal and technology challenges -- which has yet to be determined.

by / January 14, 2014
View from King Street Metro Station in Alexandria, Va. Flickr/juehuayin

Alexandria, Va., is just weeks into working on what its deputy city manager calls the city’s “sticky wicket” -- the project that presents the most challenges, but officials don't yet know which project that will be.

Last year, Alexandria was selected to begin the Chesapeake Crescent Initiative's (CCI) Safe + Smart Cities pilot program, under which the municipality receives pro bono expertise and recommendations to help achieve its safe and smart goals.

CCI -- a public-private collaborative that supports technology innovation -- estimates that each pilot project has a value between $500,000 and $750,000 that is provided to localities at no cost to taxpayers.

“Some of the resources they bring are harder to do for local government, such as dealing with technology and attorneys,” said Deputy City Manager Laura Triggs. “Great ideas are great ideas, but they’re just on paper. The opportunity to sit with all those people and say that this is something we’re considering is something a little different.”

In selecting its pilot recipients, CCI looks for municipalities with visionary leadership at the state and local levels. Newark, Del. -- the initiative's first pilot recipient chosen in September 2014 -- was selected for its citizen-focused initiatives aimed at improving community services, such as the installation of smart energy and water meters.

“Alexandria also has progressive leadership that is keenly aware of the need to deal with regular flooding incidents, replace its sewer system, and otherwise upgrade its safe and smart infrastructure,” said Stephanie Carnes, CCI’s managing director.

Though the specifics of Alexandria’s pilot project are yet to be determined, CCI will outline recommendations for improving and integrating critical infrastructure functions such as buildings, public safety, energy, transportation, water, wastewater, and information and communication technologies.

“We have 10 to 12 issues, and we want them to help us solve the one with more legal challenges and tech challenges,” Triggs said. “They run the range: resiliency, other smart technology, how to engage with tablets and Wi-Fi. It might be the toughest one that they’re willing to take is the one that we’ll select.”

The project is expected to take three to six months to complete, and will follow these steps: 

  • CCI offers recommendations to provide pragmatic and feasible options.
  • The two groups identify tools to implement the city’s safe and smart vision.
  • CCI creates a blueprint for a tangible, actionable and comprehensive Safe + Smart Cities program.

Before presenting the city's wish list to CCI, Alexandria representatives will vet potential solutions with its city council and incoming city manager. Some of the projects that Alexandria is exploring include:

  • building a metro station;
  • traffic light sustainability;
  • managing flooding by the city’s waterfronts; and
  • engaging citizens to use the city’s new bus rapid transit lane.

While the city will present its own plans, Triggs said that CCI also may bring forward an idea that had not been considered. Since the city will likely need to allocate expenditures to maintain the project, the city council will lean toward programs that are in alignment with the current strategic direction.

 “We’re hoping it’s something we’re already looking at,” she said, “and they’d bring a better way of doing it. For example, if it something about the waterfront, it’s already a very important initiative.”

Although the pilot may not produce a financial return on investment, Triggs said that there is also a happiness meter to consider. For example, if the city can help mitigate floods, citizen save money on sandbagging costs. Additionally an entrepreneur may open a store on the waterfront where one would not have done so before.

“We think we’ve got a huge opportunity to solve something that’s a challenging issue that normally we might not take on because of resources, funding or other constraints,” Triggs said. “We can think bigger and implement bigger.”

Jessica Renee Napier Contributing Writer

Jessica Renee Napier is a California-based writer who began her journalism career in public broadcasting. She teaches yoga, enjoys traveling and likes to stay up on all things tech.

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