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Union Grove, Wis., to Explore Smart City, 5G Potential

The village is in the process of exploring how connected infrastructure and the latest iteration of high-speed Internet service could benefit residents. Nearby Racine has already taken steps in this direction.

(TNS) — On the heels of Racine being named one of five winners of the nationwide Smart Cities Readiness Challenge, officials in Union Grove, Wis., want to explore how the village could implement its own smart city and 5G internet features.

Smart cities tap into technology and data gathering to better inform development and government decisions. The implementation could be something as simple as using LED streetlights to save on energy costs, or as high-tech as having traffic lights synced up to allow faster travel for emergency response vehicles when they are on a call.

Village Trustee Gordon Svendsen, chairman of the Community Development Authority, said at the CDA’s meeting Tuesday that he was inspired to see how the technology could fit Downtown Union Grove after hearing about how Kansas City, Missouri, implemented smart city features to revitalize a blighted part of its downtown.

“Everybody expects this now everywhere you go … so I think it’s something we should at least begin to look at,” Svendsen said. “I know it’s not anything that we can just flip a switch and make it happen.”

Not just big cities

Although smart cities technology sounds futuristic and is typically implemented in midsize or large municipalities, it can be scaled to smaller communities as well, said Bob Bennett, Kansas City’s former chief innovation officer. As CIO, Bennett oversaw transforming Kansas City into what has been hailed as one of the most successful examples of a smart city.

“I am fully of the opinion that any city can be a smart city — and, in fact, most of them are,” Bennett said, adding that a municipality does not even necessarily need to use technology to be “smart.” Officials just need to take the data they have readily available and find the best ways to analyze it to implement positive changes in the community, he said.

The small cities of Parkville, Missouri (population 5,500), and Seat Pleasant, Maryland (population 4,700), have begun implementing smart-city features, Bennett said.

Parkville and Kansas City have internet-connected kiosks that have slots for advertisements and provide information to passersby and serve as public WiFi hot spots. They are typically installed through a public-private partnership in which the municipality gets a share of the advertisement profits, Bennett said.

In Kansas City, kiosks have been installed at bus stops in impoverished neighborhoods and offer information on travel, voting and job training, with some revenue generation from advertisements for nearby businesses.

Parkville, meanwhile, placed three or four kiosks at key locations in the city to do things such as track population flow and air quality and offer information on the city’s downtown shopping district, Bennett said.

The kiosks cost $12,000 to $18,000 each, Bennett said, and cities have paid for portions of the installation in exchange for a cut of the advertising revenue.

Looking more into it

Bennett, who left his government job in April to start smart city consulting firm B2 Civic Solutions, spoke about smart cities on May 16 at Racine County Economic Development Corp.’s annual meeting. It was there that Svendsen said he became interested in how Union Grove could apply smart city methods.

Svendsen said he hopes to work with Village Administrator Michael Hawes to explore how to proceed. The village will begin researching other comparable communities that have implemented public WiFi and smart city technology to determine if it is feasible in Union Grove, Hawes said in an email.

“I think it is something Union Grove will want to be out in front of, if the quality of technology and required investment are attainable,” Hawes said.

Svendsen said becoming a more high-tech municipality could help drive development to the village, including redevelopment of long-vacant parcels such as the former J & K Quik Mart, 802 Main St., which the CDA considered purchasing earlier this year.

©2019 The Journal Times, Racine, Wisc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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