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Smart Cities Q&A: Colorado Springs

Smart Cities Q&A with Colorado, Springs’ Jay Anderson

GovEx and Jay Anderson, Citizen Engagement Specialist for the City of Colorado Springs, recently caught up to chat about the success of smart city implementation in Colorado Springs and future plans. To learn how your city can prepare to be a smart city, read the GovEx Smart Cities guide; First Things First.

GovEx: How do you make sure Smart Cities projects are meeting the needs of the community?

Jay Anderson: In Colorado Springs, resident engagement is a key part of how we work, whether it’s soliciting input on our open data policy, or implementing our strategic plan. This comes from our leadership – Mayor Suthers is passionate about pursuing projects that residents prioritize. Creating my position (Citizen Engagement Specialist) is something the Mayor did early on, and since then we have been putting resources and staff time toward citizen engagement routinely.

To gather community input on smart cities projects in a structured way, the City put out an RFP to help develop a framework. Panasonic CityNOW was selected as the winning response, and they’ve been an excellent partner in helping us develop our SmartCOS strategy. Mayor Suthers convened a joint task force to align Colorado Springs Utilities, City Council, and Panasonic on a “SmartCOS Implementation Strategy” the goal of which is to improve service delivery and economic development in four categories: building and sustainability, energy/utilities; transport/mobility; and city services. Each category had a series of objectives, which focused on outcomes, rather than technology. For instance, under city services, better public safety response time is an outcome that could be achieved through community sharing of video assets. The City invited the public to participate in an online discussion on projects in each category. The City’s partnership with Panasonic will result in a report to be released soon, explaining the outcomes we are trying to accomplish, as identified by our community engagement efforts thus far.

GovEx: What are your plans for the future of Smart Cities in Colorado Springs?

JA: The approach described above means that when an opportunity arises to work on a smart cities project, the City already has buy-in from residents as well as universities, businesses, military institutions, and others in the community. In the short term, some initiatives are already under way.

For instance, the City’s open data program, OpenDataCOS, was already in the works before smart cities planning began. As mentioned above, the open data policy was created with community input, and will form the foundation for the open data and smart cities programs, in part by clarifying the data that should be public, and how to make that data public. The open data portal is already in use in the community – recently, a local team took the top prize at the state’s open data challenge. This was possible because the team reached out to ask for early access to the portal, and the City responded to this need.

Colorado Springs Utilities, our municipally-owned utility enterprise, was also planning to pursue advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) — a project that the community also mentioned during the engagement process, which affirmed the City’s plans. The positive support for these and other projects helped to fuel these efforts, and provided reassurance that the community is on board with the projects that the city is pursuing. Now, the City’s relationship with the utility team will allow them to surface additional project ideas and opportunities.

As the City develops its Olympic museum in the blighted Southwest Downtown, the COS Smart Cities team has been at the table with developers, utilities and other participants. Due to this access, the Smart Cities team can suggest things like wider conduits and smart sensor technologies, taking advantage of opportunities to plan for smart cities infrastructure. This development also includes a branding update – Olympic City USA – which may include digital wayfinding kiosks to provide a better visitor experience, but that the City can also commandeer to provide important messages about weather and other emergency events. That kind of planning wouldn’t happen if we didn’t have a Smart Cities strategy.

GovEx: How will you use the Smart Cities Guide in these and other projects?

JA: The Guide will help position us to share data in a way that is intentional, safe, secure and respectful, while helping internally harden protections against ransomware attacks and other malicious actions that might be taken. Without this support, data management might have been on the backburner for who knows how long. Now, we have a formal plan for how to share data that should be shared, while protecting what should be protected.

GovEx: What are your final thoughts/recommendations for other cities that might be thinking about Smart Cities?

JA: Community engagement is so important – it’s easy to write off as a fuzzy thing, but through our Smart Cities strategy development and early efforts to execute on some of the initiatives, it’s been absolutely valuable to have that reassurance that we’re performing in the community’s interest – it’s important that we do our government with the community instead of at or for the community. It seems like a small thing because it’s not simple to quantify the investment – you can’t put dollars to efforts in town halls or digital conversations, stakeholder meetings – but when you can say confidently that we’ve had a robust engagement process and we know what the community has spoke up and asked for, that’s incredibly valuable.

When we see objections without the evidence that we’ve run a robust community engagement process, we’re left without a leg to stand on. Building this practice of community engagement and involvement has been so valuable. Some have embraced it more than others – it’s worth working with those who are more receptive. We know that not every decision can be made with a vote. I liken this process to the comment box at my YMCA, which has a note that says “we will read every comment but can’t guarantee we will make a change – we promise you will be heard.” That’s our approach.

 

The interview has been edited for clarity.

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