Philadelphia Adopts Smart City Road Map

The document gives the city a foundation for evaluating how technology can improve the lives of residents, serve economic development efforts or other civic purposes.

by / February 7, 2019
Philadelphia's SmartCityPHL Roadmap is a foundational document serving as the guideline for growing innovation and collaboration across a number of city agencies. Shutterstock

Smart city projects in Philadelphia are set to move forward in a more collaborative and organized fashion, better integrating private-sector partners, community stakeholders and public agencies.

Philadelphia released its SmartCityPHL Roadmap, a foundational document that serves as the guideline for growing innovation and collaboration across a number of city agencies.

About two years ago when Philadelphia began exploring the idea of crafting a smart cities strategy, officials realized, “there was already a lot that was happening related to this larger strategy around smart cities,” said Ellen Hwang, smart city director in the Office of Innovation and Technology.

Many departments were already moving in the direction of real-time data collection and analysis, standardizing information, predictive analytics and more. As a way of going forward, officials came to the conclusion that “there needs to be more collaboration, more coordination,” said Hwang.

The road map, more than a year in the making and crafted after a series of meetings with focus groups, aims to aid in this coordination among agencies, stakeholders and others. It is built around several guiding principles: locally inspired, innovative, equitable and collaborative.

The road map doesn't focus on individual bits of technology or even projects, but is more about putting in place a foundation for evaluating how technology can improve the lives of residents, serve economic development efforts or other civic purposes.

“It’s less about physical things, and more about how technology and technology infrastructure can actually better support the things that government is supposed to do,” said Hwang.

Some of the changes proposed by the road map include an internal working group to help set policy and direction as well as an external advisory committee, along with subcommittees in areas like data, network and security, or funding.

“First, internally, there needs to be a high level of collaboration, and the three subcommittees that we have internally are really about making sure that, from a horizontal perspective, different departments are being represented throughout,” Hwang explained. “So, when we talk about data, network infrastructure, security policies, that’s not just central IT, there are many other departments that need to be a part of that conversation.”

The external advisory committee, officially called the SmartCityPHL Advisory Committee, will represent a broad range of institutions in Philadelphia, ranging from academics, community-based organizations, advocacy groups, the private sector and others.  

“It’s so that we’re really thinking holistically about how to engage the broader Philadelphia community,” said Hwang. “It’s as much about digital inclusion as it is about making sure that we’re supporting all our residents.”

The road map also puts in place a formal process for the private sector, universities and others to partner with the city.

“Ultimately, if we want to stick to this idea of collaborating and making decisions across different departments and agencies and stakeholders in the community, there does need to be a formal process, and there does need to be a way to kind of herd the responses in a way that’s going to be properly evaluated,” said Hwang. “Because at the end of the day we want to be responsible for the actions that we take, and we also want to make sure that every action we take under this initiative is going to be reflective of our guiding principles.”

One project mentioned in the SmartCityPHL Roadmap as the kind of initiative that uses technology to serve the community and close the digital divide. LinkPHL, a pilot run out of the Philadelphia Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability, will deploy 100 kiosks across the city. The kiosks — the first one was installed outside of city hall late last year — will be placed in downtown and the old historic district. Ten of the kiosks will be located in some of the city’s more disadvantaged neighborhoods with the hope of introducing free Wi-Fi connection opportunities.

“We’re hoping that by putting these 10 kiosks in certain neighborhoods in Philadelphia, we’re targeting a place where we know that there’s a large digital divide, meaning that there’s low access to the Internet at home,” said Hwang. 

The road map project was funded, in part, with a $200,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“The SmartCityPHL Roadmap acknowledges that digital access and adoption remain significant hurdles among Philadelphia’s communities,” said Chief Information Officer Mark Wheeler, in a statement. “The challenge is to ensure that Smart City technologies are available and meaningful for all our residents.”

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.