Smart Cities: Mayors Can Transition Their Municipalities into Tech Savvy Cities of the Future

by Latoya Livingston on November 14, 2011

The digital future is nigh and long gone are the days where antiquated methods and ideas are sufficient to run a U.S. city. Mayors must enter 2012 with a big picture vision of the future of their city as a whole and the constituents that comprise that city. They must ensure that they not only maintain existing infrastructure, expected services, and cater to the complex web of their diverse constituency to ensure the city’s stability, but they must also invest into innovative tools to transform their municipality into a city of the new millennium, a “smart city.”

Programs such as the IBM Smarter Cities Initiative and Siemens’ Sustainable Cities Collective boast the ability to advise mayors on money saving web-based methods in “public safety, transportation, utilities, social services, and agencies.” These service innovations can be especially beneficial to National Council of Black Mayors member cities that are trying to balance the sometimes conflicting cultural, business, fiscal, and resident interests during the nation’s present financial turmoil.

More use of the cloud, or the Internet, for management of many of the municipality’s services promotes efficiency, cost reduction, and speed when dealing with issues as they arise. For example, IBM’s Intelligent Operations Center claims to “synchronize and analyze efforts among sectors and agencies as they happen, giving decision makers consolidated information that helps them anticipate—rather than just react to—problems.” This ability to manage city growth and development will be key to a city’s ability to thrive in spite of outside factors and/or impediments.

But one doesn’t necessarily need to contact outside help to bring their city into the digital age. Here are a few examples on how mayors can create a smart city:

Public Safety
Mayors can connect the police, fire fighters, emergency services, and citizens via broadband and integrated emergency response centers to ensure quicker, coordinated, and more efficient services. They can install smart cameras around the city to provide “eyes on the scene” during emergencies and provide them with real time views of an incident. These services can be used to not only fight crime, but to anticipate and prevent crime.

Economic Development
Mayors can remove some of the administrative burdens that might dissuade companies from settling in their cities and promote the use of online business services that can interconnect stakeholders across the city’s business systems.

Traffic
Mayors and other city officials can use electronic tracking to measure traffic flows and toll use and create integrated traffic, weather, and traveler information services to inform citizens of conditions in the area.

Social Services
To promote efficiency and effectiveness, mayors and other city officials can create a Web-based public service management and local government administrative tool system that allows for the electronic delivery of services, such as online voter registration, educational programs, and applications.

Energy and Utilities
City leaders can use an electronic data gathering system for energy and water quality monitoring that can be interconnected between businesses, ports, and usage across the energy system using smart grid technology. Such a system would promote public safety by allowing for a quickened flood, drought, and/or outage response. Additionally, interconnecting appliances and devices between energy consumers and providers will optimize the use of the system, balance use across time, stem the flow of energy waste/loss, and make the city’s energy system more reliable.

Healthcare
Mayors can promote the use of online patient screening and diagnosis devices that can interconnect records for doctors, hospitals, and other health providers.

In the end, factors such as safety; level of transportation services; broadband service and the possibility of telecommuting; attraction and facilitation of commerce; and energy concerns can all factor on businesses’ and citizens’ investment in a given municipality. A city’s readiness for the future can make or break its growth. Thus, an investment in cloud based services and tools can be a city’s ticket to becoming the model smart city of the new millennium and a legacy that will live on thereafter.

  • Latoya Livingston

    Latoya Livingston is a Washington, D.C.-based attorney with years of experience working in the public and private sector. Attorney Livingston joins MMTC after performing pro bono work for the organization last year.

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