PCAST city web

City Web: A tech platform for smarter cities

Turning up the pressure for local-government information sharing, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has called for the creation of a City Web – a collaborative platform to speed innovation.

The “Technology and the Future of Cities” report released Feb. 23 describes how the federal government can support new technologies and innovations to improve the lives of city residents. Investment in cities, PCAST contends, creates economic competitiveness and new jobs, fosters infrastructure improvements, expands opportunities for underserved city residents and amplifies the effectiveness of existing federal programs.

Central to the report is the vision for City Web, a collaboration framework for civic innovators to share tested solutions, insights and best practices that will help cities reduce the time and complexity required to get innovation off the ground.

Such a solution would use standards and interoperable applications to share data across different systems  without the need for top-down coordination. City Web, as PCAST describes it, can “develop, curate and promote useful APIs, utilizing widespread data exchange protocols, so that new data and applications (and associated underlying business processes) developed in or for a particular city can be easily shared and further developed by others and so on.”

Such sharing would create a “learning loop,” in which the City Web knowledge base would facilitate smart city experiments across the nation.  Those experiments would then build the knowledge repositories that eventually become a resource for additional pilot programs.

Other characteristics of the proposed City Web include:

Provide a platform for public-private data sharing. Governments and industry partners could use data from multiple sources to address civic issues – so algorithms that power AirBnB, for example, could help  individuals find space in homeless shelters.

Facilitate sharing of open source code as well as software-as-a-service platforms and apps (through the creation of app stores).

Foster standards that will contribute to diverse but interoperable technologies.

Contribute to a data repository. City Web could anonymously combine data collected from multiple cities and urban stakeholders so that algorithms running across such a large dataset would provide insights beyond those gleaned from single data sources.

Smooth technology-adoption challenges. Just as software-as-a-service, mobile apps and app stores allow non-technical individuals use today’s powerful software and hardware, the City Web would make “huge numbers of solutions widely available, transparently reviewed and easily updateable.”

Facilitate data exchanges between data stewards -- such as cities, utilities, companies, service providers and other agencies -- and trusted third-party analysis services provided by the national laboratories and universities.

Transform urban modeling. Large-scale computational models have long been used in relatively narrow, urban applications. The vast data sources of City Web could enable more complex, integrated models and support a large ecosystem of developers and users.

Other recommendations from PCAST report include:

  • The Cities Innovation Technology Investment Initiative, a funded interagency program that would coordinate government programs, sponsor both city/district and government-located demonstration projects, facilitate workforce education and training and initiate a process to create the City Web shared software and data platform under the direction of a consortium composed of all stakeholders.

  • A call for the staff and funding to make the Department of Housing and Urban Development an originator of new models for making cities more adaptable to technological change.

  • Legislation for two financing programs to help cities and municipalities develop Urban Development Districts that would introduce new technology in their communities.

  • Creation of the Urban Science Technology Initiative subcommittee to coordinate federally funded research and development.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA from West Chester University and an MA in English from the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at smiller@gcn.com or @sjaymiller.

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