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Kansas City CInO Bob Bennett Headed to Smart Cities Think Tank

The outgoing innovation officer will move on to become chair of the Cities Today Institute, which focuses on sustainable urban development issues.

Bob Bennett, who led efforts to make Kansas City, Mo., into a mid-size smart city leader, will transition to a think tank dedicated to urban development.

Bennett, the city's outgoing chief innovation officer, will become chair of the Cities Today Institute, an imprint of Cities Today magazine, which focuses on best practices for sustainable urban development. Though he will not be involved with the editorial direction of the magazine, he will work with the team leading the 20-20 Cities Today project, which hosts events to bring city officials, private-sector partners and other stakeholders together to explore smart city and urban applications.

“I’m going to try to help them expand the number of cities who participate in [20-20 Cities Today],” said Bennett. “Help drive U.S. adoption of what they’re doing.”

We are excited to announce that Bob Bennett has joined us as Chair of the Cities Today Institute! Welcome to the @Cities_Today team and we look forward to doing great things together @kc_cio! #CitiesToday #2020cities #smartcity — Cities Today (@Cities_Today) April 4, 2019
Kansas City hosted a 20-20 event last year, and others were held recently in San Diego and San Antonio. The events are structured as reasonably intimate settings where public officials and private-sector partners can meet to discuss needs and possible solutions.

“The second thing I’m going to be doing is helping them to develop tools to take that goodness that comes from the 20-20 series, and apply it to cities at times other than those 1.5-day events twice a year,” said Bennett.

“So, if Kansas City were to have a problem, they could contact the institute and say, ‘I’m having a problem with digital inclusion,’” he offered as an example. 

Bennett and his team will serve as a coordinator with other experts in this area in another city — or university or other entity — who have worked through this issue and could then work with the city seeking expertise.

Bennett ends his official role with Kansas City in mid-April. He will, however, remain in Kansas City where his children are in high school. He took on the role of CIO back in 2015 when Mayor Sly James named him to the post. James is term-limited and the city will soon assume new leadership.

During the last few years, Kansas City put a new downtown streetcar project online, as well as numerous sensors, kiosks and other devices to collect and analyze data related to transportation, parking, weather and more. These efforts created what Bennett often dubbed “the smartest 54 blocks in the United States.” In time, that initiative will be expanded to a much larger area.

“From a very selfish standpoint, we spent the last three and a half years building the foundation of a smart city. And I’m excited to live in a place like Kansas City that is smart, and is connected and does have the mentality within city government to use technology effectively, and let people use the tools that are available to them in the private sector,” said Bennett. “I know that the things we started over the last three years are going to continue.”

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.