Digital Cities 2019: Winners Gear Up for a New Decade

The winners of this year’s Digital Cities Survey from the Center for Digital Government are those making smart investments in technologies from infrastructure and citizen engagement to data storage and cybersecurity.

by , / November 14, 2019
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Hover over points on the map above to learn more about each winner. Red indicates 1st place winners, yellow indicates 2nd place winners, green indicates 3rd place winners, and blue indicates winners that placed 4th through 10th.

1st City of Miami, Fla.

The city of Miami jumped from fifth place to first in its population category in 2019, with a focus on using technology to improve quality of life for residents. First, the city set its sights on mobility this year, welcoming six companies to begin piloting e-scooters in April. The city and these companies are working together to share data and revise data privacy policies during these pilots. Miami has already realized the benefits of e-scooters in bolstering is mobility efforts, as they function like mobile IoT sensors that provide data on things such as highly used routes and time-of-day activity, which in turn helps planners make decisions on where to place new mobility infrastructure like bike lanes. Also on the topic of mobility, Miami was one of the founding jurisdictions of the Open Mobility Foundation, an international coalition launched this year to help manage the evolving urban mobility landscape.

Miami also looked to technology to improve resident engagement with the official launch of its new website. The city placed significant emphasis on user feedback and testing, gathering data from a beta version of the new site launched last year. The final version has more than 170 services and 500 informational pages to help residents find what they’re looking for. The look and navigation of the site was redesigned to ensure that all content is searchable, discoverable, universally formatted and ADA compliant.

The city is also working on some new digital tools for residents. In partnership with Code for America fellows, Miami is developing a data portal that residents can use to find affordable housing. The city is also building a tool that will allow local entrepreneurs to launch a business right from their smartphones.

2nd City of Durham, N.C.

One goal that’s highlighted in the 2019-2021 strategic plan from second-place Durham, N.C., is “shared economic prosperity.” The city has partnered with Duke University Health System, North Carolina Central University and Durham County on a $6 million initiative to connect all city facilities — including Durham public housing — to a high-speed fiber-optic network.

Durham also outlined its Web-based participatory budget initiative in its city plan. The city engaged residents and students ages 13 and older with pop-up voting, text voting and online voting. Residents brainstorm city spending ideas, develop proposals that are assessed by experts, vote in dividing the $2.4 million budget among the proposals, then monitor the government implementation of the proposals. Successful projects include Wi-Fi in public parks, LED lighting and security cameras, and technology for schools and community centers.

For the third year, the city and county have partnered with six startups (narrowed down from 28 applicants) for Innovate Durham. For 12 weeks, city and county staff work with the startups, testing ideas to improve local government. The 2019 cohort includes a company that provides a real-time registry for disaster response and another company that aims to reduce garbage and other waste.

3rd City of Virginia Beach, Va. 

The Virginia Beach City Council conducts a retreat each year where it develops its annual goals. This year’s event incorporated citizen feedback as well and yielded several focus areas, including stormwater, flooding, and sea level rise; economy and jobs; and cybersecurity.

As a coastal community prone to flooding, an initiative to mitigate flooding and sea level rise is of extreme importance to the city and the Information Technology department is partnering with a regional cooperative in deploying dozens of flood sensors and using predictive modeling to aid in response. The sensors yield data that is shared with the public, local universities, emergency management, public works and the EOC. The city holds regular, public meetings on sea level rise to try and develop a citizen-centric and strategic approach to responding to the issue.

Another major initiative is the economy and the focus there is to attract and retain diverse talent as well as industry and opportunity. To that end, the Council seeks to leverage Virginia Beach’s fiber landing points and data centers and the two subsea cable projects, which provide the highest speed data connections from Spain and Brazil. A third subsea cable is being developed with oversight from the IT department that will connect Virginia Beach to the French Atlantic coast. It is hoped that these efforts will position the city as a forward-thinking, inclusive digital hub.

As part of its efforts to address the cybersecurity threat, the city recently implemented a Cybersecurity Training Program, which provides basic training to all users throughout the year. The city uses metrics to evaluate its response to phishing, credential, business email and virus attacks. The response and training changes as the threats evolve. The city also went through a penetration test, resulting in four initiatives: 1) network segmentation, 2) data management and classification, 3) service account management, and 4) application security.

4th City of Wichita, Kan.

Wichita has constructed an innovative, yet pragmatic, approach to innovation. Last year the city started the Wichita Innovative Learning Lab (WILL) to bring together representatives of various departments. WILL’s process is to first assess a problem, then gather baseline measurements, institute a proof of concept for the solution and then compare the results to the baseline. This brings innovation more in line with needs and ensures that solutions are truly bringing about change. Among the city’s projects are sensors to prevent copper theft (which cost Wichita about $233,000 in 2018), new vehicle-tracking technology that helps reduce idle time and save money, and new gunshot detection sensors that work differently than current market solutions. 

The city has also pursued extensive collaborations with the private sector and local academic institutions to try new things. Graduate students at Friends University have tried to hack the city in a simulated environment and presented findings for IT to fix, while Wichita State University students have helped Wichita move toward more centralized data governance standards that it hopes to institute across all departments. This project supports a push for greater data-driven decision-making, such as dashboards for city council members to show them all citizen-generated issues broken down by the districts they represent. The city has many more initiatives in the works in various stages, so more innovative advancement seems likely in coming years.

5th City of Kansas City, Mo.

Long noted for its pioneering smart cities work, Kansas City, Mo., continues to power ahead with a fifth-place finish in 2019. Officials are currently working on a Smart City Action Plan set to be complete in 2020, aimed at making sure smart cities initiatives are placed within the context of the city’s general priorities. One way this has manifested is in concerted efforts to make sure smart endeavors benefit all citizens. This focus on equity explains the expansion of upgraded transit options into traditionally underserved areas, offering hybrid buses with free Wi-Fi, high-tech trip planning help and other features. Kansas City is also bringing more startup energy into its operations through a modified Innovation Partnership Program, turning toward small-scale trials over large-scale deployments and allowing for experimentation around issues like privacy.

Kansas City also puts a premium on performance, using many tools to make sure the organization is working at peak efficiency. In a test of language communications, for example, delinquency letters to licensees were thoughtfully reworded in plainer language, resulting in an expected 22 percent increase in compliance. Staff also worked with vendor partners to develop a bot to help answer routine missed trash and recycling calls that inundated 311 staff. This spirit of innovation will surely prove valuable as Kansas City merges the KCPD IT Department with that of the city. The One IT effort, formally kicked off in July, is projected to save $6.5 million in the next five years by cutting duplicative services.

5th City of Plano, Texas 

While the big boom days are mostly behind it, Plano, Texas (population 284,000), remains a growth-oriented city in the Dallas-Fort Worth corridor and is home to some of the country’s largest and most recognized corporations (Alliance Data, Keurig Dr Pepper, J.C. Penney). For the city’s government the focus is on quality, which has translated into an emphasis on governance for the IT department.

At its core is a new ITSM (information technology service management) system that has improved the effectiveness of operations across the enterprise, including incident, problem, asset and change management. As part of its improved governance strategy, the city has also been investing in upgrades to business intelligence and data analytics tools. Currently, Plano uses dashboards, such as Tableau and Socrata, but is also investigating new tools that will make its data more operational and intelligent. For example, Plano is exploring the use of Redshift for a cloud-based data warehouse, as well as Spark and MapR for more refined analytics, including AI.

The city has invested in several IT upgrades for other services, including $6 million for a new public safety radio communications system and $2 million for overhauling its land management, permitting, planning and inspection system. But it’s not just about big purchases. The city consolidated its voice and data networks, saving $1.4 million with an additional $11.1 million in one-time and recurring cost savings expected over the next five years. Partnerships are also part of the city’s ability to leverage new tech solutions. By partnering with Argonne National Labs and the local school district, Plano has installed IoT sensors to monitor air quality. It has also partnered with Waze to monitor traffic conditions.

6th City of Madison, Wis.

Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison made a strong showing in this year’s survey for its efforts in using IT to improve outcomes across the government enterprise and also in the community. The IT department’s goals align closely with the city’s 20-year Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2018, and its work focuses on efficiency, equity and accessibility. Supported by a new data analytics team, Results Madison is an outcome-based budgeting program that’s working with agencies to identify data sources and key performance indicators to measure and track progress. Going forward, the initiative will build Power BI dashboards to track those KPIs and eventually make them public-facing.

In the interest of making government more accessible and equitable for all Madison residents, public  meetings are available via livestreaming and Facebook events in order to engage those who cannot leave their homes to attend in person and also reach the city’s more diverse and underserved populations. Getting those communities more connected is also a goal of Madison’s work toward a 311 system that will help identify needs across the city as well as serve as an emergency notification system for those without Internet access. To help address this digital divide, the city offers digital literacy clinics and offers low-cost devices and device repair for citizens.

Some of Madison’s other strengths include a strong social media presence, an emphasis on security education to create a cyberaware workforce, ongoing smart cities efforts and the use of emerging technologies like AI and drones to boost city work.

7th City of Long Beach, Calif.

Long Beach took seventh place this year, and it’s no surprise given the work the city’s more than 150 IT professionals have been doing to prioritize cloud infrastructure and emerging technologies for service delivery and modernization.

The city devoted 25 percent of its IT budget to cloud and infrastructure services this year, channeling that money towards innovative solutions like its “MarinaGo” application, which lets customers of the city’s marina pay bills or manage relevant documents through online accounts, accessible via computer, smartphone or tablet. At the same time, the city has also partnered with a cloud-based mapping and analytics service provider, RapidDeploy, which gives emergency dispatchers the ability to more accurately locate wireless callers and dispatch appropriate responders. It also continues to invest in other cloud-enabling platforms that manage, secure or integrate cloud systems, as well as prioritize cloud training for city staff. 

Long Beach has also prioritized emerging technologies not merely as a more efficient means of service delivery, but as a local economic driver and job creator. In 2019, the city launched a startup accelerator, the goal of which is to create a space where early stage tech startups are given the legal, financial and business planning they need to succeed, while also gaining access to capital from different sources. The city also completed its first year in the Startup in Residence (STiR) program, which allowed several city departments to work together with startups to develop solutions to pertinent issues, including traffic calming and mapping resources, artificial intelligence hiring and digital wayfinding. 

8th City of Henderson, Nev.

Henderson, Nev., appears in this year’s survey with another strong showing as the city continues its work toward becoming innovative, data-driven and cloud-forward. In March 2019, the city adopted a new strategic plan, and the CIO’s office directly contributes to the priority of being a “high-performing public service.” To that end, a Data Steering Committee has been working to create a data governance framework, making sure all departments use key performance indicators to measure progress and justify funding requests, as well as an open data policy, which includes moving more data to the cloud. As more data and systems move off-premises, Henderson is also establishing a cloud security strategy and has brought on a managed security services provider. Also this year, the city completed a tabletop exercise testing its cybersecurity incident response plan.

The city reports increasing its budget for innovative tech by 500 percent in the next 12 to 18 months. Henderson is implementing public-private partnerships to work on smart city installations in the Water Street Innovation District, which will serve as a test bed for these efforts. A spring 2019 pilot with Waycare to reduce car accidents may be implemented permanently; since Nevada Highway Patrol and the Regional Transportation Commission are also using Waycare, it could become a communication platform in the area. Henderson is also working to bridge the digital divide by working to get broadband to low-income households and is expanding its “Homework Zones” that allow students Internet access for studying.

9th City of Chandler, Ariz.

Home to around 260,000 people, Chandler, Ariz., aspires to be the “most connected city,” as it continues to invest in both emerging technologies and government services. The city has taken the lead with autonomous vehicles by engaging with multiple companies, from Intel to General Motors, in research and development for self-driving automobiles. Chandler’s partnership with Waymo appears especially fruitful: The city is creating protocols, training, and tests for autonomous vehicles specifically related to emergency response. Starting last June, Chandler kicked off a program in which dozens of employees are using self-driving cars for city business.

Chandler has beefed up its Internet-based products and services over the last year. The city revamped its website (, held a public budget forum live on Facebook and YouTube and launched an app that allows citizens to access every book and service from the Chandler Public Library. Through text messages, residents can now set up and review building inspections, resolve code enforcement violations, keep track of court dates and fees and contact the police for whatever reason. Thanks to an expanded self-service portal, many companies can submit engineering plans and zoning applications electronically. Moving forward, Chandler will look into the possibility of utilizing blockchain technology for voting and hopes to incorporate customer analytics, predictive analytics and machine learning into its city services.

10th City of Greensboro, N.C.

Greensboro has laid claim to having the first intergovernmental parks locator app in the country. The project, which spanned several years and is known as Piedmont Discovery, brings outdoor amenities like trails, parks, recreation areas and other public facilities in and around Greensboro to residents’ mobile devices. 

Another customer-centric IT project is the city’s bond tracker dashboard, which provides residents with status updates for bond projects. Greensboro has also installed smart city kiosks at five locations around downtown through a partnership with Smart City Media, providing information related to public transit, local events, shopping, eating and more. More interactive kiosks are planned for other locations.  

To increase minority business participation in city contracts, the Greensboro IT Department worked alongside the Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise to come up with an online tracking and review process. The system includes several trackable data points the city can use to evaluate its purchasing and contracting process. 

Since Greensboro was selected as one of 15 cities to receive a grant to participate in the LEED for Cities and Communities Program, the city has taken on a range of smart city projects with conservation in mind. They include LED lighting, smart metering and environment and climate monitoring via the newly installed downtown kiosks. 

In November 2018, the city approved a new ordinance allowing for the operation of e-scooters. The IT and Transportation departments initiated GPS monitoring to ensure compliance with the new rules, creating a “data-informed” digital dashboard with real-time information.  

The 2019-20 city budget approved the addition of a chief data officer, who will develop and maintain the city’s open data platform, budget portal and performance dashboards, as well as develop the necessary infrastructure for data analytics, open data publishing and fostering a “culture of data-informed decision-making.”

10th City of Riverside, Calif.

Riverside, which recently restored IT work and positions eliminated by a budget shortfall, now uses technology to help resolve unfunded pension obligations from the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS). The city of more than 328,000 slipped from seventh last year to 10th but continues to exhibit a strong use of data-driven performance measurement and decision-making; innovative department-level tech initiatives; and a strong focus on cybersecurity.

The city’s Innovation and Technology Department keeps the challenge of CalPERS front of mind — analyzing data to identify operational efficiencies and educate departments on cost-saving and forecasting long-term project costs to ensure successful implementations. I&T has also taken aim at homelessness with GIS mapping — tracking reports of debris and encampments; mapping property ownership to facilitate cleanups; and showing affordable housing locations.

Another top priority is strengthening and expanding cybersecurity work. Riverside utilizes machine learning to guard against ransomware and advanced threats. A data loss prevention project spearheaded by its security division looked closely at city liability and has boosted awareness of how sensitive data is handled; and of the need to reduce and prevent creation of protected data.

Riverside is developing a data governance framework. A platform to stimulate data sharing internally and externally, and its Open Data Governance Committee, will become a subsidiary of its Data Governance Committee. The city has implemented Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to mechanize repetitive work and free up staff. It’s also expanded “The Hive,” the city’s collaboration platform, taking paper-based workflows electronic; and has put in place quarterly and annual citywide performance measures. The city also convenes a quarterly IT liaison meeting with departments, which has helped forge strategy and deliver best practices. 

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