Jun 20 2017

4 Ways Technology Is Changing the State of Cities

Cities are leading the way forward, and knowledgeable mayors are using tech to help them get there.

Does it feel like technology is playing an ever more important role within the confines of your local government? It certainly should, because according to the National League of Cities' 2017 State of the Cities report, which analyzes the content of mayoral speeches and identifies top-level issues, mayors are expanding their roles and pushing localities toward more progressive tech horizons.

With wages and employment rates on the rise in major cities, budgets across the country appear to be loosening. City and state officials are taking advantage of the wiggle room to embed technology even further into city operations.

1. Upgrading Public Safety: Body Cameras and 911 Infrastructure

Cities are making investment in public safety infrastructure top of mind, with 64 percent of city officials’ speeches including references to public safety issues.

Many addressed the need to upgrade emergency dispatch systems in response to increased calls and crumbling infrastructures.

“We have hired more than 40 911 dispatchers since last January and completely overhauled our broken dispatch system,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in the report. The city, which answers 90 percent of calls in less than 10 seconds, is not alone in recognizing the need to move toward next-generation 911 capabilities. Cities like Portland, Ore., and Chicago are seeking to shore up infrastructure and introduce media-rich tools that can integrate more detailed information and video into dispatch reports.

2. Bringing Data Governance to the Forefront

Digital government is becoming an important aspect of city life, and open data can help cities run more efficiently.

In Omaha, Neb., for example, the report points out that residents can see finance data in a portal called “the city’s checkbook.”

“You can apply for a building permit or license online through our Accela system, review our strategic plan and annual report cards, contact the Mayor’s Hotline, apply for our job openings, view city budgets and financial reports, and request public documents,” said Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert in the report.

Pittsburgh is also one of the many cities taking advantage of open data to improve government services. The city recently exposed the potential for innovation with its Burgh’s Eye View application that captures 10 years of data, ranging from 311 information to police reports, for residents to peruse as they see fit.

“So much of Pittsburgh’s data — because we’re a city — lives in space. It’s geographic. By building one map that can contain lots of different data sets within it, we’re getting the most bang for our buck in terms of making this information accessible to residents,” said Nick Hall, open data services engineer for Pittsburgh. The city wants to build on the data to deliver better decision-making going forward.

3. Improving Access to Internet and Data

“As data and technology become more essential to business and education, cities are implementing programs that expand access to underserved communities,” the NLC report finds.

It points to Bloomington, Ind., which has announced a public-private partnership to expand an open-access, gigabit-speed fiber network to all city residents.

World-class digital connectivity is the 21st-century equivalent of the 20th century’s electricity and water,” said Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton.

Chicago has also embarked on an initiative to expand broadband to residents and bridge the digital divide, to which public-private partnerships are proving essential.

“All levels of government and sectors will need to continue to address issues related to digital equity — as technology access and skills change over time — to ensure no communities are left behind,” Chicago Chief Technology Officer Danielle DuMerer told StateTech in a previous interview.

4. Getting into the Fast Lane with Autonomous Vehicles

Pittsburgh may have made headlines several years ago for its partnership with Uber to test self-driving tech within city limits, but now states are gearing up to help introduce driverless cars to their cities.

“Now, autonomous, self-driving vehicles hold the opportunity to supplement our existing transit network,” San Diego’s Faulconer said in the report, “and make getting around safer and more efficient.”

Gov. Terry McAuliffe is aiming to make Virginia a hotspot for driverless cars. Most recently, his state introduced an Autonomous Systems Center of Excellence to try to capitalize on the flourishing industry.

“The autonomous systems industry is one of the cornerstones of the new Virginia economy,” said McAuliffe in a statement. “With the establishment of the Autonomous Systems Center of Excellence, we will send a clear message that Virginia is open for unmanned systems business. Over the past three years, we’ve made tremendous progress to support this emerging industry, and we’ll continue our efforts to cut red tape and open the door for further growth.”


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