Downtown in Mesa, Ariz.

Dec 01 2023

Smart Cities Connect 2023: How Environmental Factors Drive Municipal Investments

City officials describe how they developed smart city infrastructure initiatives in response to conditions on the ground.

Municipal officials gathered this week in National Harbor, Md., to share lessons learned from smart cities projects, and a panel on Thursday reflected on how the environment affected infrastructure planning.

In Mesa, Ariz., city officials recently took a hard look at engineering standards for building fiber networks, Harry Meier, Mesa’s deputy CIO for innovation, said at Smart Cities Connect 2023.

With an interest in creating more infrastructure to get people online and build digital equity, the city loosened its engineering standards for laying fiber.

“In Mesa, we don’t have earthquakes. We don’t get a lot of flooding or other major events on the ground,” Meier said. “There was no reason why we had very stringent standards for how fiber providers needed to build their networks. We were using California standards, designed for earthquakes and other natural disasters.”

“It’s not one-size-fits-all,” he added. “There is no magic bullet to get everyone online. We wanted to get fiber into communities.”

To support that goal, the city embraced microtrenching, a faster and cheaper practice for establishing fiber networks. Within six months of passing the revised engineering standards, Mesa welcomed five new ISPs to the city.

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San Jose Measures Energy Use for Building Performance

In 2018, San Jose, Calif., adopted its Climate Smart San Jose plan. Soon after, the City Council passed its Energy and Water Building Performance Ordinance with the goal of managing energy and water consumption. 

Such a benchmarking ordinance was a relatively new thing at the time, Carol Boland Whattam, San Jose sustainability and microgrids program manager, told Smart Cities Connect during the infrastructure panel. The ordinance has been very successful, and it now sees a compliance rate of about 85 percent.

“We were part of helping spread the phenomenon of benchmarking ordnances around the world,” Boland Whattam said.

Through tracking energy and water use, city official have created a strong picture of how much of each is being used by businesses throughout the municipality. The data also helps San Jose plan for energy management during natural disasters and other emergencies, Boland Whattam said.

“We have that information all ready, thanks to our building performance ordnance,” she said.

READ MORE: Here is how state and local IT agencies can prepare for natural disasters.

New Orleans Shares Data with Citizens for Emergency Management

Since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, New Orleans has been particularly concerned with flooding throughout the city.

After one heavy rainfall, New Orleans neighborhoods and businesses experienced intense flooding, producing a cascade of citizen calls for service.

While responding to those calls, New Orleans realized it could keep the public informed of flooding trouble spots by sharing that information through online geospatial information systems mapping, said New Orleans CIO Kimberly Walker LaGrue.

“We used our GIS data and calls for service data, and within 24 hours we had an online map where residents could see where those floods were happening,” LaGrue told Smart Cities Connect.

New Orleans has continued to update its public GIS maps during every emergency. As it builds out its fiber networks, it has placed sensors in designated areas to monitor severe weather and other disasters. Authorities have also integrated those data feeds into the city’s real-time crime center.

Now with live weather info, the city keeps residents informed through its public safety open data initiative when disaster strikes.

Keep this page bookmarked for our coverage of the Smart Cities Connect 2023 fall conference. Follow us on X, formerly known as Twitter, at @StateTech. Join the conversation using the hashtag #SCC23.

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