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Smart Cities Council Announces Readiness Challenge Winners

Each winning city will receive an individualized Readiness Workshop and host of tech tools to help further its efforts toward becoming a smart city.

On Feb. 8, the Smart Cities Council announced the five winners of its Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge: Austin, Texas; Indianapolis; Miami; Orlando, Fla.; and Philadelphia.

Each of these cities will receive a host of products and services from the council's member companies — including Internet of Things starter kits, building design optimization training and assistance on urban mobility projects, to name a few — that have a combined value in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The council will also host a Readiness Workshop tailored to each city that will focus on issues specific to the jurisdiction.

Jesse Berst, founder and chairman of the council, told Government Technology that the council is helping the winners get the smart city ball rolling. "I think we are seeing a tipping point in terms of smart cities," he said. "It is starting to cross between early adopters and early mainstream."

The winners were chosen from a pool of over 130 applicants from across the country. Each city, or in some cases city/county partnerships, had to organize across agencies to demonstrate that everyone was on board with the projects, which ranged from solving homelessness issues to creating better transportation options.

“It is essential to approach this problem in a cross-cutting way,” said Berst. “It’s almost an excuse for these cities and teams to sit down and discuss what they would like to do.”

Austin: Closing the Mobility Gap

Austin will focus its Readiness Workshop on using technology to close the gap for underserved populations in search of mobility options. The city was one of seven finalists for the U.S. Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge, so public officials were ready to work together again.

“Winning the Smart Cities Council Challenge Grant puts us that much closer to creating a comprehensive and inclusive strategy to use technology in a way that benefits communities that are usually left behind,” Mayor Steve Adler said in the release.

Indianapolis: Utility and Transportation Modernization

In partnering with Indiana's Marion County, Indianapolis will devote its energy toward modernizing utilities and transportation. The community has already begun devoting resources toward smart city technology, and the county is moving forward with 16 Tech, an innovation community that will serve as a wide-ranging IoT hub and the country’s first electric bus rapid transit (e-BRT) system.

Miami: Urban Resilience

Due to its unique geographic location, Miami has had to devote more resources than inland cities to combating the effects of climate change. As such, Miami is focusing on enhancing urban resilience; it plans to run a Sea-Level Rise Pilot Program that utilizes GIS data, waterfront sensors and lidar to provide real-time flood alerts and guide infrastructure planning.

Orlando: Smart Transportation

As a leader in tourism, Orlando’s plan focuses on showcasing a smart transportation network to help reduce congestion and move people efficiently.

“Through access to international industry experts, new data and communication technologies, the challenge will continue to ensure Orlando is a more intelligent, interconnected and efficient city,” said Mayor Buddy Dyer. The city will also devote resources to integrating sensors and enhancing communications systems for public safety programs.

Philadelphia: Creating a Smart Cities Ecosystem

Philadelphia is already seeing the benefits from just applying to the program. By simply filling out the application, city departments were able to come together and help tackle common problems. That experience is driving the city of brotherly love to create a regional smart cities ecosystem.

“We know the technology behind us is important for our citizens and businesses alike, and the expertise that the Smart Cities Council brings will help us realize those opportunities,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.

The Smart Cities Council launched in 2012, and helps guide cities and states on adopting smart technology to improve their livability, workability and sustainability. The council is hoping to hold all the Readiness Workshops by the end of the year. During these workshops, each city will craft a road map on how to implement the technology in order to fulfill their vision. 

“It’s not just a trend … it’s a race,” said Berst. “In our global economy, every city is competing for jobs and talent. A smart city strategy is essential to support a 21st-century workforce and to drive economic development.”

Ryan McCauley was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine from October 2016 through July 2017, and previously served as the publication's editorial assistant.