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Sensational Cities

How is Kansas City’s streetcar helping the City make dangerous buildings safer? With its new smart city corridor, Kansas City, Missouri is using real time data and analyses to address priorities that are top of mind for residents and city staff. The KC Smart City initiative is a microcosm of the decision-making possibilities now in reach for cities across the world. 

A Smart City

What is a smart city, and what makes it useful for decision-making? Bob Bennett, Kansas City’s chief innovation officer, said the technology allows cities to connect people to information at a faster rate than traditional methods.

“A city is part of the ecosystem, and it can’t control reality or how people do things,” Bennett said. “But a city can connect people and provide information.”

This theory is being put to the test in Kansas City. The initiative revolves around a 2.2 mile streetcar line running through the city’s midtown area. Along the line are 171 LED street lights and 25 information kiosks.

Each component of the corridor is part of a system that collects information including ridership counts, intersection congestion levels, and pedestrian traffic near street lights. This information is collected by sensors connected to a wifi backbone network, currently the largest public wifi network in the nation.

The sensors feed data into systems that the city uses to make real time decisions, thereby helping produce desirable outcomes. For example, the data allows the city to minimize traffic at intersections, and adjust lighting at streetlights based on the number of people in the area.

Expansion

The city is planning to expand the network to include a 10 mile bus rapid transit corridor. Scale is important, and Bennett said the city will truly become “smart” when more than half of the city is connected to the system. The initiative is funded by Sprint, Cisco, and the City, and more public-private partnerships are in the works.

With this infrastructure network, the city is working toward its transportation and environmental goals in new ways that intelligently connect data to strategic priorities. And with the information kiosks, Kansas City’s KCStat program has a new way to publish progress toward goals in near real time.

“The data collection plan cannot be based exclusively on the capabilities of sensors, it must be informed by a city’s goals.” Bob Bennett

Kansas City’s other strategic priorities also have the potential to benefit from smart city technology.

According to Eric Roche, sensors could be used to detect, and quickly intervene, when trespassing occurs in declared dangerous buildings and to accurately measure bicycle ridership throughout the city.

“Sensors are helping to shift cities from reactionary resource deployment to immediate resource deployment,” Roche said. “And shifting from proxy performance metrics to real time performance metrics.”

A Minneapolis Police Department Traffic Officer directing traffic in downtown Minneapolis.

A Minneapolis Police Department Traffic Officer directing traffic in downtown Minneapolis.

 

It’s important to note that the individual components of this network are not new, and neither is the practice of using sensors to make decisions. Decision-making is still done by hand in some cases.

But smart city technology, through its instantaneous connectivity and scale, provides a true 21st century way for cities to improve core services and achieve strategic priorities.  Through expanded access to data-rich environments and ambitious policy goals, Kansas City is extracting information from the environment cheaper, faster, and more granularly than ever before.

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