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Upgrades Are Making Peculiar, Mo., into a Smart Small City

Peculiar, which is a bedroom community in the Kansas City metro area, has partnered with Comcast for high-speed broadband communications to support a number of city and community operations.

Smart cities are not just big cities. Smaller municipalities are also venturing into fiber communications infrastructure that support smart city work like improved operations, faster Internet speeds and other projects.

Peculiar, Mo., a city of about 6,000 residents in the Kansas City metro area, has partnered with Comcast to make it one of the smartest small cities in the Midwest, despite its relatively small size. Comcast will build out its Comcast Business Ethernet Network Service and maintain a fiber system to connect all of the city’s government needs, as well as to expand the network out to provide better connectivity and speed to the rest of the community. This high-speed broadband will provide Peculiar “with the ability to scale to speeds even greater, as they need,” said Kalyn Hove, vice president for Comcast Business.

“Having the ability to have this fiber network that will give them the speed they need to really use some of this new Internet of Things and smart technology out there, is really, I believe, what will set the city of Peculiar above so many others who have been talking about this, but haven’t quite gotten there yet,” Hove said.

City officials agree. Improved communications will allow for better monitoring of systems like water and sewer operations and other infrastructure from remote locations, said Brad Ratliff, city administrator for Peculiar. 

“It can be very staff intensive to make sure all of your pumps are working, that there’s no breaks somewhere, that there’s not a malfunction that’s going to cause damage to the rest of your infrastructure, or to people’s homes,” he explained.

To his point, the city has now recently installed smart water meters for all of its water utility customers. Peculiar is also exploring other smart city initiatives. 

“We also continue to look at what possibilities are out there for automation through GPS locations on our fleet,” said Ratliff. “Now, people can get online and watch our snow-truck plowing through the community, and knowing where they are.”

The city has also invested heavily in technology related to police and public safety. Peculiar's police department was one of the first in the state to equip officers with body-worn cameras, said Ratliff.

A fast communications network aids not just city operations, but also adds to the city’s overall quality of life, officials said, helping Peculiar attract business, as well as support professional class workers who may be working from home. These investments help to grow the city as an outlying suburb, avoiding challenges sweeping across so much of rural America, where communities are struggling to maintain population and jobs.

To that end, Peculiar is a member of the Mid-America Regional Council. It has some advantages compared to further-flung municipalities, serving as it does as a bedroom community for residents who work in nearby Kansas City. Its population reached roughly 6,000 after a 77 percent growth surge from 2000 to 2010. The average Peculiar resident is 34 years old, which is an indication of a large number of families with children in the city. And the median household income is more than $65,000 a year, one of the highest in the region.

“We’ve got to think ahead," Ratliff said. "What’s going to grow the community. What’s going to keep bringing the quality to our community? What’s going to continue to bring the young families to our community?” 

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 Yreka, Calif.