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Orlando, Fla., Looks for Consultant to Guide Smart City Plan

“The plan is going to help us define the goals and the outcomes,” said Mike Hess, who was hired in February to oversee Orlando’s Smart City plan. “We want a road map with actionable projects.”

by Ryan Gillespie, Orlando Sentinel / May 7, 2019

(TNS) — Orlando, Fla., has ambitions of joining cities across the globe in further relying on technology to boost the quality of life.

Under the moniker of “Smart Cities,” governments are using advanced solutions to improve traffic flow and guide drivers to available parking spots as well as trying to solve other local problems.

On Monday, the city released a request for proposals seeking a consultant to help develop its Smart Cities Master Plan — a process that will solicit public input and provide a map toward advancements the city may pursue.

“The plan is going to help us define the goals and the outcomes,” said Mike Hess, who was hired in February to oversee Orlando’s Smart City plan. “We want a road map with actionable projects.”

Hess said the plan may outline advances that could aid in one of the city’s critical problem areas — bicycle and pedestrian safety. Orlando was ranked the deadliest metro area for pedestrians in a recent study.

The plan could also develop a sort of “frequent flier” program for those who use alternative modes of transportation such as Lynx, SunRail and bicycle sharing, Hess said, as well as strengthening the electrical grid and streamlining garbage and recycling routes.

The document seeking proposals also says the plan will lay out “funding mechanisms” and help work toward its environmental goals of using 100% renewable energy by 2050 and reducing usage of greenhouse gases.

Orlando hopes to pick a consultant by late summer or early fall, with the goal of bringing the plan forward before next summer. Members of the public can expect multiple opportunities for public comment and input, as Hess said it will be residents’ role to bring forward issues they want to be addressed.

The movement of cities embracing technologies began about a decade ago and is broadly defined as municipalities using technology to streamline and improve services, said Jesse Berst, chairman of the Smart Cities Council.

Governments in Barcelona, Dubai, Singapore, Kansas City, Mo., and Atlanta are among leaders in this realm, he said.

“The cities are just taking advantage of digital technologies that have been proven in the private sector, and using it in the public sector,” said Berst, adding the Smart Cities Council has provided workshops and advice in Orlando. “When you use digital technologies, you can spend less and make your citizens happy.”

The request for proposals is the latest in a series of moves the city has made to become more technologically advanced.

In March, the city launched, its “digital city hall,” which brought more services to the web and reduced clicks a resident needed to complete a task.

Last year, the city also began — and later continued — piloting Amazon’s Rekognition software. The Orlando Police Department’s use of the facial recognition program on several of its cameras was criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union and other local unions as having the potential to be used in immigration enforcement and to monitor political protesters. The department has maintained the software isn’t being used for investigative purposes.

Orlando was almost named as one of 10 autonomous vehicle proving grounds by the U.S. Department of Transportation and unveiled plans for an autonomous shuttle in Lake Nona.

With technology ever advancing, Hess, who previously worked as a Smart City consultant, said the plan will help Orlando pick out the specific technologies that fit the city’s needs

“It’s really helping us get in front of the explosion of technology,” he said.

Berst, citing news reports from Monday that as many as a million species of plants and animal species are at risk of extinction, said technology will be crucial in combating climate change.

“We can’t heal the planet unless we heal our cities and can’t do that without technology,” Berst said. “That’s not to say technology is enough, but the technology is absolutely essential.”

©2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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