8 Smart Cities to Watch

These are the communities to keep an eye on. They have concrete smart city plans in place, which include not just technology but governance and community outreach.

What is a smart city? To some observers, the term connotes techno-babble, dreamed up by technology vendors to sell cities their equipment and services. For organizations like the Smart Cities Council, smart cities are those that are clean, healthy and livable; have the enabling infrastructure (including connectivity and computing) to compete globally for high-quality jobs; and are environmentally sustainable. 

Smart cities exist all over the world, but there is no single, agreed-upon definition. The government of the city of Vienna, Austria, notes that, while the term was rooted in the deployment of ICT technologies in urban spaces, its definition has since expanded to relate to the future of cities and how they develop. 

“Smart cities are forward-looking, progressive and resource-efficient while providing at the same time a high quality of life,” Vienna’s website notes. “They promote social and technological innovations and link existing infrastructures. They incorporate new energy, traffic and transport concepts that go easy on the environment. Their focus is on new forms of governance and public participation.”

IT leaders in the savviest smart cities recognize that they should not deploy technology for technology’s sake. At the forefront of their minds is how they can use IT to solve problems and help residents. They also note that smart cities require different elements of city government to be aligned, and must include community outreach. 

However one slices it, smart cities are also big business. IDC expects smart city initiatives to attract technology investments of more than $81 billion globally in 2018, and spending is set to grow to $158 billion in 2022. Just the Internet of Things technology revenues across 12 key smart city technologies and verticals will grow from around $25 billion in 2017 to $62 billion in 2026, according to ABI Research.

StateTech has selected eight smart cities to watch. Some of them are what one might call “second-tier” cities, because of their small size and lower national profiles. And many of these cities are still just piloting technologies.

However, IT leaders in each all have clear visions for where they want to take their cities and see technology as not an end in itself, but a tool to make their cities better and more livable. We spoke with several city CIOs and smart city managers to gather their thoughts on how their cities will evolve as they use tech to improve the lives of their residents. Here are the eight smart cities to watch in the years ahead.


 

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Population: 121,477 (2017 U.S. Census estimate)
Key IT Leader(s): Tom Shewchuk, IT Director, City of Ann Arbor
Main Smart Cities Projects: 

Ann Arbor, Mich., is probably best known for being home to the flagship campus of the University of Michigan, so it is not surprising that the city has partnered with the university on one of its key smart city projects. Over the past few years, the city has struggled to deal with increased floodwaters flowing on the streets.

To direct waters after intense storms safely away, the city worked with the university to develop Open Storm, a package of open-source sensors, hardware and algorithms to measure and control stormwater.

Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County used the resources of Open Storm to create a smart stormwater solution. As StateTech has reported, Ann Arbor deployed sensors to collect data on water flow and quality, then transmit it via a cellular network to provide an instant snapshot of water conditions. 

Student volunteers installed valves to open and close after a storm on city stormwater systems. Following a flood, city administrators can turn to the remote-controlled valves to release the water from the basins. They can throttle the collection of rainwater in basins and then let it drain downstream to a wetlands area. 

Officials can choose to hold the water in basins for treatment before letting it drain if it is raining too fast for the system to keep up. Or they can hold it until ready to prevent too much water flowing too quickly.

Words of Wisdom:

BRANKO KERKEZ
Hopefully the lessons that we learn at the three-square-mile area are going to help inform how we build the cities of the future and how we manage water in large urban environments."

Branko Kerkez Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Michigan


 

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Population: 950,715 (2017 U.S. Census estimate)
Key IT Leader(s): Stephen Elkins, CIO, City of Austin; Daniel Honker, portfolio manager, Innovation Office, City of Austin
Main Smart Cities Projects: 

Austin has a very clear definition of what it means to be a smart city, and it involves becoming “increasingly efficient in solving real problems for real people by: engaging stakeholders and users, leading collaboratively, working across disciplines, departments, and city systems; and using data and integrated technologies to transform services and improve quality of life with and for all Austinites, businesses, and visitors,” according to the city’s website.

The city has numerous concrete smart cities projects listed on its website, including some that do not fit into the traditional rubric of IoT-related smart city projects, such as its racial equity assessment, or its partnership with General Motors’ Maven Gig initiative to launch an electric fleet of carshare vehicles in low-income areas of Austin. 

Equity sits at the heart of the city’s smarty city vision, according to Daniel Honker, portfolio manager of the city’s Innovation Office. Austin created an equity office in 2016, and that gives the city a “lens to apply to the smart city field,” Honker says, as the city tries to use technology to affect its most pressing problems — and not leave its most vulnerable residents behind. 

In terms of specific projects, Honker says there are efforts underway to test emerging transportation and mobility technologies in an underserved area of southeast Austin. Instead of piloting it in a more affluent area of the city, Austin is trying to understand how it can “share the wealth” of new capabilities and create a test bed for 5G wireless networks. The city is not simply going into the area and deploying technologies to enable autonomous vehicles, but is instead working with the community to see how tech can benefit the people who live in the area. “Are there benefits that we can create together, such as educational opportunities, library programming, business opportunities, that can coincide with that testing?” 

That program is still in the planning phase, but Honker says that the city wants to test 5G for high-bandwidth, low-latency applications in telemedicine, traffic management and public safety. 

Another key project is using blockchain to improve identity services for the city’s homeless population and create a single, verifiable history of their interactions with city services. Dubbed the MyPass Initiative, the program is a partnership between the city, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services and Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, and is funded by a $100,000 grant from The Mayor’s Challenge, a competition sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies. “Ultimately, control of the data would remain with the individual, who portions out access in a manner they deem appropriate — for example, allowing employment offices access to their work history, and so on,” Government Technology reports.

Words of Wisdom:

DANIEL HONKER
We want to make sure people have a seamless experience, because they don’t see the organizational boundaries between a city government, the transit authority, a state government, university, and private sector solutions."

Daniel Honker Portfolio Manager, Innovation Office, City of Austin


 

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Population: 685,094 (2017 U.S. Census estimate)
Key IT Leader(s): Patricia Boyle-McKenna, interim CIO, City of Boston; Nigel Jacob and Kris Carter, co-chairs, the mayor’s office of New Urban Mechanics

Main Smart Cities Projects: Boston has been thinking about smart cities for a long time. In 2010, the city unveiled the mayor’s office of New Urban Mechanics, one of the first municipal innovation offices in the world. Yet the city is taking a step back from talking about specific smart city use cases, whether it’s smart street lighting or transportation. Boston got tired of the same-old, same-old.

In fact, in 2016, the city unveiled a “Smart City Playbook” addressed to the technology companies, scientists, researchers, journalists and activists that make up the smart city community. In it, the city noted that many of the smart city projects it had undertaken at that point had “ended with a glossy presentation, and a collective shrug. Nobody’s really known what to do next, or how the technology and data might lead to new or improved services.” 

The playbook calls for an end to endless IoT-driven sales pitches, and advocates for focusing on solving real problems for real people. That is the city’s main focus right now. In the spring, it launched a new project called Beta Blocks, aimed at getting residents more involved in smart city projects, soliciting feedback from the communities they are meant to help. 

“It’s not just about smart services, but about how citizens can have broad experimentation in their own neighborhoods to meet whatever challenges they are facing,” says Kris Carter, co-chair of the mayor’s office of New Urban Mechanics. He notes that the challenges in the Boston neighborhood of Roslindale are different than those of Brighton, Dorchester and Roxbury. 

Beta Blocks is designed to solicit that feedback and leverage relationships with researchers and smart city tech providers, and to tap city resources to address those needs. The city is testing engagement strategies, and then will move on to technology deployments that reflect that feedback, Carter says. Earlier this year, the city released a smart city request for information, which called on the tech community to tell the city about the directions their products were heading. The goal is to get Boston to a place, about 18 months from now, where smart city projects are done in an ad hoc nature, Carter says. 

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A demonstration of one of the self-driving cars in Boston's autonomous vehicle test bed. Photo: City of Boston

That does not mean the city does not have any ongoing smart city projects. One is the Smart Streets project, in which the city worked with Verizon to test data gathering technology at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Beacon Street, where a cyclist was killed during a traffic incident. The city used video cameras, LED lights, under-road sensors, and a web-based platform for data analysis, dashboards, visualization and reporting. The goal was to gather aggregated data about traffic patterns at the intersection. The city tweaked roadway design and signal timing to improve safety, Carter says. 

The city also created a citywide autonomous vehicle testing policy and test bed. Several different companies have participated, and autonomous vehicles have driven at least 1,200 miles on city streets, with residents riding along and providing feedback. The goal is to eventually deploy such vehicles to cut down on traffic incidents and fatalities.

Words of Wisdom:

KRIS CARTER
Technology is a tool. Sometimes it’s the right tool. Sometimes it’s not. And you should use the right tool to solve those problems for people, and work with people to solve them."

Kris Carter Co-Chair, The Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, City of Boston


 

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Population: 879,170 (2017 U.S. Census estimate)
Key IT Leader(s): Michael Stevens, chief innovation officer, City of Columbus

Main Smart Cities Projects: Columbus, Ohio, has been somewhat synonymous with the idea of a smart city since about two years ago, when it won the highly publicized Smart City Challenge, a nationwide contest put on by the U.S. Transportation Department, which came with a $40 million grant. The goal of the challenge was to get mid-size cities to create smart transportation systems that use data, applications and technology to help people and goods move more quickly, cheaply and efficiently.

So, it’s not surprising that the city’s smarty city plans center on transportation and mobility. However, the city is not just focused on autonomous vehicles, and includes multimode trip-planning application to help residents use the different mobility options in and around the city. There will also be a common payment system associated with that. The city has issued a request for proposals and is evaluating responses, and hopes to have a vendor selected soon, according to Michael Stevens, the city’s chief innovation officer.

The Smart Columbus OS, which is being created through open source technologies and will be available for other communities, will tie all of this work together and serve as an integrated data exchange that will combine public- and private-sector data. Pillar Technology, which has an office in Columbus, is leading the development of the OS. The operating system will be used to create new use cases going forward, with the long-term goal of pulling in data from across the region. For example, Stevens said, the city may use the data to identify food deserts, or enhance safety as part of the city’s Comprehensive Neighborhood Safety Strategy. The OS is available but is still being developed, Stevens said, and more data will be added to it over time. 

The city is also partnering with Ohio State University, Drive Ohio and the private sector to launch the state’s first autonomous shuttle in downtown Columbus.

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Columbus's self-driving shuttle will eventually loop passengers around an area of the city’s downtown known as the Scioto Mile. Photo: City of Columbus

Earlier this summer, the city and the U.S. DOT released a highly detailed, 205-page roadmap for its Connected Vehicle Environment project, spelling out the connected vehicle infrastructure it plans to construct over the next two years. 

Under the pilot project, which will not officially go live until July 2020, the city will install 113 roadside units and other connected vehicle equipment at intersections with stoplights. The city will also deploy 1,800 on-board units that will be installed on participating private, emergency transit and freight vehicles, according to the document, known as a “concept of operations.” There will also be 12 vehicle-to-vehicle or vehicle-to-infrastructure applications. And the project “will capture, relate, store, and respond to data generated by the infrastructure, used by the applications for traffic management.”

Stevens says the city is taking a “rigorous systems engineering approach” to identify the best technology for the program.

Words of Wisdom:

MICHAEL STEVENS
While we make sure we’re utilizing the best technology today, we don’t make the smart city work all about the technology. ... It goes back to that community engagement, and how are we providing equity and opportunity for our residents?"

Michael Stevens Chief Innovation Officer, City of Columbus


 

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Population: 673,104 (2017 U.S. Census estimate)
Key IT Leader(s): Beth Niblock, CIO, City of Detroit

Main Smart Cities Projects: Detroit is a city on the rebound, having emerged from bankruptcy protection and modernized its IT infrastructure under CIO Beth Niblock, who has been on the job since February 2014. The city competed for the same grant that Columbus won, and with its heritage as “Motor City,” it is not surprising that the city’s early smart city efforts revolve around transportation. 

In June, the company Miovision, in partnership with the city, unveiled what it dubbed the “World's Smartest Intersection.” Running along Larned Street in downtown Detroit, the system is actually five intersections, monitored by sensors, 360-degree cameras, connected traffic signals and remote monitoring capabilities that can respond to what's happening on the road in real time.

For example, traffic lights can extend green lights to accommodate cyclists who would not otherwise be able to make it through the intersection; alerts can warn drivers of connected cars or Waze users that jaywalkers are ahead; traffic lights can give priority access to emergency vehicles. Miovision says the solution can understand and analyze the near-misses between users of the roads, such as pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. 

“This corridor is a great example of how cities can leverage existing infrastructure to build innovative solutions that immediately benefit people,” Mark de la Vergne, Detroit’s chief of mobility innovation, says in a statement. IDC Government gave Detroit an award for the project as part of its Smart Cities North America Awards.

There are other, less flashy projects ongoing as well. The Detroit Water and Sewer Department introduced 37 kiosks across the city that allow residents to pay their water and sewer bills digitally instead of waiting in line at a city office, according to a Model Media report. Niblock says residents will eventually be able to use the kiosks to pay parking tickets and taxes, according to the report.

Words of Wisdom:

BETH NIBLOCK
We’re really trying to make it as easy as possible. However a citizen wants to interact with us, whenever they want to interact with us, is really what we’re striving for."

Beth Niblock CIO, City of Detroit


 

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Population: 280,257 (2017 U.S. Census estimate)
Key IT Leader(s): Rosa Akhtarkhavari, CIO, City of Orlando

Main Smart Cities Projects: Mayor Buddy Dyer of Orlando has set out a vision for the city, and says he wants Orlando to “become the most environmentally friendly, socially inclusive, technology-enabled, and economically vibrant city” in the Southeast, and one of the most sustainable and resilient cites in the country. 

Orlando, home of Disney World, attracts about 68 million visitors annually. Naturally, safety is a key concern for the city. Rosa Akhtarkhavari, the city’s CIO, notes that the city is currently implementing its first joint police and fire computer-aided dispatch system. The city did not issue a traditional request for proposals for the system, and instead issued an invitation to negotiate, a first for the city, and picked a proposal from Tyler Technologies, which Akhtarkhavari says represented the best value for the city. 

The goal is to integrate the system with sensor data from public safety surveillance cameras and transportation sensors. Eventually, Orlando wants to use the system to deliver live streaming footage to police officers and firefighters from the closest surveillance camera to an incident, if connectivity is possible, Akhtarkhavari says. The goal is to allow them to review that footage prior to arriving at the scene of an incident. Orlando hopes to launch the system in the middle of 2019.

Another example is the city’s partnership with the Orlando Utilities Commission to launch a solicitation for smart street lighting to include sensors to improve public safety and monitor and address traffic congestion, air quality and other factors. The OUC plans to start this project in early 2019 as part of a replacement plan of the city’s streetlights. 

“Traffic is one of the possible areas of improvement” for the city, Akhtarkhavari says. “We are an ever-growing city. We have major entertainment venues in downtown as well as lots of businesses.” 

Orlando does not want to have a “cookie cutter” approach to its deployment of smart city technology, instead using the tools to help address specific problems for the city, she says.

Words of Wisdom:

ROSA AKHTARKHAVARI
We support the vision led by our mayor. We have focused areas for the city of Orlando. And then we come as a team. Information technology is not the driver and information technology is not the order-taker. As a city with this goal, we work as a team."

Rosa Akhtarkhavari CIO, City of Orlando


 

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Population: 647,805 (2017 U.S. Census estimate)
Key IT Leader(s): Jeff Baer, CTO, City of Portland; Kevin Martin, Smart City PDX Manager

Main Smart Cities Projects: Portland’s smart city efforts fall under the heading of Smart City PDX, which officially got started in June 2017 with the adoption of a citywide strategy document. Kevin Martin, the manager of Smart City PDX, says that the city spent about two years prior to that putting in place a deliberate system of governance for its smart city efforts to cut across the siloed nature of the city’s government. The city has a steering committee that meets monthly to make sure that all of the city’s agencies are aligned on the programs’ priorities and projects. 

That effort helped Portland get organized internally and ask, “What are the relevant goals that we have as a city?” and then think through the innovative pieces of technology that might be relevant to answer that and solve the city’s problems. The city has also worked to prioritize projects, given limited resources. Only after that work is done does the city move forward with technology and academic partners. 

“The private sector is going to bring a lot of improved services to people in our community regardless of what the city does,” Martin says. “We see our role as, how do we make sure those services are available all Portlanders, not just those who have more money, who have a bank account, who have a credit card, who have a driver’s license, the folks that have really gotten the bulk of the benefits of the technological changes that have happened over the last few years?” 

Portland was a finalist for the U.S. DOT grant Columbus won, so much of the city’s smart city work revolves around transportation and safety, according to Martin. Portland has a higher rate of pedestrian injuries and fatalities than typical cities of its size, Martin says, and does not have reliable data on how pedestrians use its infrastructure. 

The city has deployed 192 sensors on three of Portland's most dangerous streets: 122nd Avenue between Burnside and Bush streets; Southeast Division Street between 11th and 122nd streets; and Hawthorne Boulevard between 11th and 46th streets. The sensors, which were installed on light poles, will provide constant counts of vehicles and pedestrians as well as data about vehicle speeds. The sensors include two cameras, “an array of environmental sensors for measuring temperature, pressure and humidity, a CPU/GPU for performing real-time analytics, a solid state drive for local data storage, and cellular LTE hardware for data transmission.”

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Portland has deployed nearly 200 sensors around the city to monitor traffic and improve safety. Photo: City of Portland 

Using the data collected by the sensors, the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s staff “will use the sensor information to make recommendations about future changes” to make it easier for pedestrians to walk and cars to drive on these and other city streets, the city says on the project website.

Portland is building out a data management system to handle the near-real-time data, and to create dashboards and decision-making tools. That feeds into another key project, the Portland Urban Data Lake pilot, which will collect, store, integrate and analyze data from a variety of sources — including the traffic safety sensor pilot — to provide a foundation for data-driven decision-making.

A key part of the data lake project is learning how to leverage the cloud and analytics to manage the large amounts of data the city is going to be working with in the future. Portland is partnering with Microsoft to use its Azure cloud for the project, according to Martin, and the project will formally kick off in mid-October.

Words of Wisdom:

KEVIN MARTIN
There is a fair amount of hype around smart cities, and it gets criticized for that. What we’ve strategically tried to do is move the needle on things from a technological standpoint we know we need to move the needle on."

Kevin Martin Smart City PDX Manager, City of Portland

 


 

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Population: 385,340 (2017 U.S. Census estimate)
Key IT Leader(s): Russell Haupert, CIO, City of Tampa

Main Smart Cities Projects: Tampa has several smart city projects on its plate.

The city plans to equip as many as 1,600 residents with connected vehicle technology as part of a $21 million U.S. DOT grant to test vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority is running the pilot on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway through December 2019, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Officials hope to use the pilot to reduce emissions, collisions and traffic and improve pedestrian safety, according to StateScoop.

In March, Tampa Bay officials signed a memorandum of understanding with the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida to work on smart city solutions. USF and Tampa will apply to join the MetroLab Network, a network of more than 35 city-university partners that use data and analytics to solve real-world urban problems, according to Government Technology.

And Strategic Property Partners, a real estate development joint venture between Cascade Investment and Jeff Vinik, the current owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, is developing a 53-acre project on the Tampa waterfront. James Nozar, CEO of SPP, told the Huffington Post that the project is designed to be one of the most connected environments in the world. The project is expected to include free high-speed Wi-Fi, digital platforms for concierge, and smart and interactive parking platforms.

Words of Wisdom:

VIK BHIDE
Central to our thought process on smart cities is the coming together of public agencies like cities, academia such as universities, and the private sector. That’s because of the unique way some of these solutions get rolled out.

Vik Bhide Chief Traffic Management Engineer, City of Tampa

KIVILCIM PINAR/Getty Images
Oct 03 2018