Smart city hotbeds? Think small (ShutterStock image)

Smart city hotbeds? Think small

More mid-sized and small cities are developing and implementing smart city projects than large cities, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors .

“Many people would assume the opposite to be true,” noted the report. The survey found that of the 335 implemented projects in 54 cities, 168 are taking place in mid-sized cities and 98 in small cities -- compared to 69 in large cities. Of the 459 planned projects, 225 are in mid-sized cities, 131 in small cities and 103 in large cities.

The report defines a smart city project “as one that uses an integrated information and communications technology (ICT) system to improve efficiency, manage complexity, and enhance citizen quality of life; leading to sustainable improvement in city operations. This can be thought of as the implementation of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) in the city context.”

The report listed a few hypotheses for why smaller cities are engaged in more smart cities projects:

  • It’s easier to implement and test new technology in smaller cities.
  • Mid-tier and smaller cities are more interested in investing in technology to increase investment and economic growth.
  • Federal funding is more readily available for mid-size and smaller cities.

The types of projects being implemented by smaller cities are also less extensive than those of larger cities, with smaller cities more likely to invest in one or two specific areas rather than developing centralized operations system for the city, the report said. As a result, technology providers are developing modular solutions so cities don’t need to install everything at once.

Most U.S. smart city projects fall within the functional areas of mobility and transport, governance and physical infrastructure, the survey found, with the most common reason for implementation being increasing citizen satisfaction and the second improving government responsiveness.

The biggest challenge is funding, “which needs to be overcome in order for smart city projects to develop beyond trials and bring positive improvements to cities across the United States,” said the report. “Although government initiatives are helping encourage growth in the sector, they are not a sustainable source of funding for long-term projects.”

“Interestingly, the highest average difficulty rating for any challenge is only 4.5 [on a scale of 1-10], indicating that the challenges facing smart city development are considered by city decision makers as only being moderately difficult,” added the report.

Some examples of smaller and mid-size city implementations:

Ketchum, Idaho. Population: 2,728 with another 2,700 working in the city. Classified as small city.

The “Walkable Ketchum Project”  is designed to make the city more pedestrian-friendly. The initial phase, now fully implemented, includes directional and locational signage for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles, as well as nine solar streetlights in the downtown area. The new streetlights, in addition to improving pedestrian safety, will reduce energy costs as they are solar powered and equipped with sensors to dim automatically. The Ketchum Urban Renewal Authority invested $111,500 in the first phase of the project.

A smart irrigation project will replace existing irrigation systems with weather- and soil-activated sensing equipment that can be managed and monitored remotely. The upgraded irrigation systems are expected to reduce water use by 20 to 60 percent, saving more than 1 million gallons annually. In addition to the $10,000 grant received from the Idaho Water Resource Board for the project, the city will provide $20,000 in funding. Technology upgrades will include installation of “smart clocks,” plus new pipes and sprinkler heads to maintain consistent water pressure.

“These two projects reflect another interesting trend; smaller cities tend to focus on smart city projects that deliver a clear, tangible return on investment, such as smart street lighting or resource management, rather than more experimental projects, which are more commonly seen in large cities,” said the report.

Louisville, Ky.: Population: 615,366, classified as mid-size city.

The AirLouisville project aims to improve the quality of life for asthmatics and allergy sufferers in what has been called the “Spring Allergy Capital.” Partner Propeller Health provides users with a connected sensor that can be attached to a normal inhaler. The sensor collects data that is available to users via a mobile app and the internet. The data can help users identify which situations trigger their asthma or remind them to take medication. Data is also being used by the city to map where asthma users are affected by the city’s environment to help make policy decision to reduce air pollution. Initially rolled out to 300 residents in 2012, the project has been expanded to 2,000 Louisville/Jefferson County residents with asthma.

Columbus, Ohio: Population: 850,106, classified as a mid-size city.

Columbus is installing a new bus-based rapid-transit system, streetside mobility kiosks, smart street lighting and traffic signals that communicate with vehicles and adjust their signals in real-time to the demands of traffic.

It also aims to address its infant mortality rate, which is four times the national average, with a mobility app to connect mothers, transportation providers and medical offices to provide better mobility and transport for expectant mothers in low-income neighborhoods to increase citizens’ access to jobs and city facilities.

Funding for these projects comes from a $40 million grant from the Department of Transportation (Columbus won the agency’s Smart City Challenge), $10 million from Vulcan and $90 million in local contributions.

“This survey highlights that cities across the country are implementing smart city projects to improve efficiency and increase government response to citizens,” said Oklahoma City Mayor and U.S. Conference of Mayors President Mick Cornett in a statement. “We think this is a movement that will continue to grow.”

The survey is a project of the Conference’s Council on Metro Economies and the New American City and the Technology and Innovation Task Force. The survey was launched in February 2016 and ran until the end of June 2016.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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