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Driving Regional Smart City Innovation in Raleigh, N.C.

Raleigh Smart City Manager John Holden on how he's using tech to make government work more efficiently, bridging pockets of innovation among neighboring jurisdictions and the upcoming Connected Triangle+ Summit.

headshot of Smart City Manager John Holden over a picture of the Raleigh skyline
John Holden is the new smart city manager in Raleigh, N.C., and one of his first major projects has been organizing the upcoming 2023 Connected Triangle+ Summit, set for Nov. 9. For decades, that area has talked about the Triangle, an economic development and academic research destination organized around Duke University, North Carolina University and North Carolina State University. For his part, Holden formerly helped to organize the Virginia Smart Community Testbed. He recently spoke with Government Technology about his work, the Triangle and more.

1. What ideas do you hope to raise with the Connected Triangle+ Summit?

We organized all the regional chief information officers to engage in developing the agenda and the program, to help us become more interconnected. Perhaps the best phrase is “a smarter region,” in terms of the technologies — sharing data across borders; sharing new technologies; etc.

We organized the idea of a summit so that we could make it an action-oriented event that something comes out of, as opposed to just a conference. So we hope to come out of the summit engaged, more so as a region, and to better use smart cities technologies for the betterment of the entire region, as well as for each community therein.

2. What are some of the key agenda items?

These technologies need to be available and useful to all citizens of all types. So, there’s the whole digital divide concern. As the economy continues to become data-driven, and wireless if you will, every citizen is going to have some sort of device that allows them to go to the pharmacy, or whatever it might be. And so there’s all kinds of issues around that, in terms of privacy, security, etc. But also, we need the ability to help them do that, as well as to train people on how to do that. We’re talking about a social evolution, particularly as these technologies advance rapidly.

We have to continue to engage and innovate the way we do things in government. But we also have to work with the private sector, of course.

3. What tech innovations help to make government work better and more efficiently?

That is something I want to engage with this regional committee — the planning committee — as part of getting people together and discussing these things. We could probably do better with the county, as a jurisdiction within the county, and I suspect that’s not unique to other states or other parts of North Carolina, in terms of working within city government, or town government, within government shared services. It all gets back to the new digital economy and how we use that more efficiently and, frankly, how we better serve the public.

4. What should Raleigh’s own smart city strategy look like?

We’re doing a lot of innovative things in different departments, like a lot of communities and counties probably are. Part of my role is to help build a bridge across that, using the old expression, or to break down silos.

I want to foster and encourage pilot projects that can lead to projects that can make a difference. For example, better and higher-speed public Wi-Fi to serve disadvantaged neighborhoods. We have to do that case by case, and then figure out how to do it as a city and citywide.

We are also advancing in kind of a modern way of transportation with our bus rapid transit corridors. Those will someday be autonomous corridors. So we need to start thinking about how we infuse it with these technologies, data security and governance. And then, as a corridor, it crosses jurisdiction boundaries. We have to work with other communities, too.

This story appears in the October/November issue of Government Technology magazine. Click here to view the full digital edition online.
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.