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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

As I See It: Information expertise can make a smart city work for all - Worcester Telegram

Recently I filed an order at a City Council meeting requesting the city manager to identify strategies on how Worcester can better utilize data and technology to improve the delivery of city services in Worcester’s residential neighborhoods. This request derives from the manager’s recent decision to elevate Worcester’s chief information officer (CIO) to a position within his cabinet. Among the leadership ranks of Fortune 500 companies since the 1990s, the responsibility of a CIO is to manage information technology to support an organization's goals and objectives.

With a $650 million budget, 2,000 employees and 185,000 residents, it is fitting that the city of Worcester now has a CIO sitting at the city manager’s leadership table. Governments that not only embrace technology but make it a focal point of how they operate provide more efficient services to residents, take advantage of cost savings, provide more opportunities for citizen engagement, operate with a higher level of transparency and leverage data to make more informed policy decisions.

The definition of a "smart city" is a city that uses information and technology to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public, and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare. Originating in Europe, this movement which lies at the juxtaposition between urban planning and technology, has been a focus in certain major America cities including Boston, San Diego, San Francisco, New York, Seattle and Houston for years.

Although Worcester has been using technology in ways that can be defined as "smart" we are not known as one of the leading cities in this evolution. But I believe with the combination of three critical ingredients Worcester can position itself as a leader among middle sized cities using technology to better serve its residents. These ingredients are the commitment of city leadership, the allocation of funding, and the development of a well-defined strategy.

Numerous "smart city" initiatives are currently up and running in Worcester today. ShotSpotter is a gunshot detection system used by the Worcester Police Department. Audio sensors placed throughout the city pinpoint the location of gunshots in real time. The Police Department also uses a license plate reader system, located at various locations, to scan license plates of all vehicles passing through an area.

This technology is used to identify a “hot list” of plates that are associated with outstanding crime. In addition, the Citywide Video Surveillance Platform has access to over 1,000 cameras installed throughout the city which all tie back to the Police Department Real Time Crime Center.

The Department of Public Works uses a weather monitoring system for city streets. Temperature and moisture sensors are installed on traffic signals and lasers in the sensors point down to the pavement and detect the pavement temperature, air temperature and slippery conditions. The city also has Smart Water Meter Readers, Smart LED Lighting, a Smart Traffic Management System and an Electric Vehicle Charging station in the city hall garage.

Additional "smart city" initiatives are being planned for and discussed. Recently the Research Bureau published two reports that touch upon the impact of technology on cities. In, “City on the Move: An Overview and Assessment of Worcester’s Transportation Needs” the biggest transportation challenge identified for the future is that of self-driving vehicles. Fortunately, Worcester has planned accordingly by signing an MOU with the state allowing the testing of self-driving cars in the city. In “Tracking City Equipment: How Expanded GPS Monitoring Could Benefit Worcester” the advantages of using global positioning systems in city vehicles to save money and increase efficiencies are debated.

It is no short list of other cities, both in the United States and across the globe, on the forefront of utilizing information technology to better serve their residents. Boston created a Citywide Data Analytics team that developed "CityScore," an advanced method of gathering data from every department to develop standardized scores on key metrics in a manner that is viewable to everyone including the City Council, department heads, city employees and the public.

The city of Los Angeles developed GeoHub, a cross departmental data sharing platform. This effort prevents data collection inefficiencies by standardizing data collection and enhancing the spirit of collaboration among departments which historically have been siloed. The City of Toronto established a Smart Cities Working Group involving public and private stakeholders including government, academia, businesses, and residents to strengthen a "smart city" ecosystem.

New York analyzed data from over 18 million requests to improve city services, introduce new initiatives, and raise customer satisfaction. Vienna implemented over a hundred smart city solutions in education, energy management, environment, healthcare, mobility, social inclusion, and urban development. Kansas City equipped its main traffic corridor with free public Wi-Fi and sensors that track traffic and pedestrian flow. The city visualizes and publishes the data, so anyone can view the traffic volume in real time.

Reykjavik has a participating budgeting portal that allows citizens to suggest and vote electronically on ideas to improve their neighborhoods such as security cameras, hiking and cycling bridges, and new roundabouts. Seoul sets aside five percent of its annual budget for projects proposed by citizens through an online application.

When used smartly technology can help local government introduce improvements in service delivery, increase government transparency and enhance democracy. As Worcester moves further into the 21st century we need to take advantage of the opportunities created by technological advancements to develop a more efficient and open city. The opportunities are plentiful, but they need to be a priority for leadership, resources need to be allocated, and goals and objectives need to be in place. The inclusion of the CIO to the city manager’s cabinet is an indication of leadership support.

The next step is to ensure funding is identified and the appropriate strategies developed. Only then will Worcester position itself as a leader among technologically smart cities across the globe.

- Matthew Wally is Worcester's District 5 City Councilor.



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