10 Smart cities to watch k electric company duplicate bill

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A closer look at the evolution of “smart cities” reveals a rising tide of innovation in cities large and small across the U.S., as StateScoop reported this week (See Cities of the future: The big shift to ‘Smart’) — and a range of approaches.

Indeed, as StateScoop set out to identify some of the nation’s smart cities, we found that cities are often charting distinctive paths toward smarter operations, based on a mix of municipal priorities, available budgets and public-private partnerships.

For large cities, such as New York City, that means finding ways to connect all citizens — regardless of economic status — to digital city services, according to Chief Technology Officer Minerva Tantoco. “The power of smart city technology lies in its use in the communities which are the most in need,” Tantoco said.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, the smart city vision is about sustainability. Officials are working with Envision Charlotte to help make the Queen City’s air, water, energy and waste more sustainable and healthier for its citizens — an idea that has picked up steam nationwide in a new “Envision America” movement.

Whether it involves releasing a set of apps, like 311 interfaces or traffic light triggers, or rolling out a large-scale Wi-Fi mesh across an entire city, the following 10 cities are charting the course for how the city of the future will look.

StateScoop surveyed industry, associations and the public sector officials to identify 10 cities that are blazing trails in the rapidly evolving world of smart city innovations. While not a definitive list — clearly there are many municipalities taking exciting steps toward a more interconnected future — here are 10 smart cities to watch.

: As Boulder mulls creating a city-owned utility, the city’s information technology department expanded its data analytics efforts to show how the move would affect residents — and the city itself. Director of Information Technology Don Ingle said the city has been collecting internal and external data to help lay out a roadmap for how Boulder can meet its rigorous energy reduction goals in the coming years.

: Xcel Energy currently provides the city’s electricity, but growing frustration with the company’s alternative energy efforts has prompted the city to create the “Boulder Energy Future Project,” to examine the city’s options. Ingle’s staff created several models using energy grid analysis software to demonstrate how creating a city utility could affect electric bills and reduce carbon emissions in Boulder.

: The city is currently working with state regulators to move forward with creating a city-owned utility and could take over the management of the grid by late 2017. If that happens, Ingle believes his department could begin experimenting with Internet of Things technology to manage the electric grid more efficiently.

For Chicago, economics drives smart city initiatives. Whether it’s big data analytics, 311 service projects or its smart grid project, the Windy City is looking to use technology to lower costs and, eventually, save the city money. At the same time, the city is trying to expand how its population of more than 2.7 million residents accesses technology.

In 2014, the city kicked off its Smart Grid initiative at the same time northern Illinois electric utility Commonwealth Edison began installing smart meters across the city. As part of the program, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Retrofit Chicago, which encourages citizens to work with the city to cut their energy use by 20 percent.

Chicago has several pending smart city projects. It has invested in a high-speed, broadband communications network for first responders and public safety officials. In addition, the city has created an open data portal featuring more than 600 data sets, Chief Information Officer Brenna Berman said in a video. Berman said civic-minded software developers have used the data to help build apps and create new online services for the community.

: Miami officials see a variety of ways for the city to deliver services more efficiently by making government as open as possible. To that end, Chief Information Officer Kevin Burns has initiated a series of projects to open up the city’s data collections. Initially, he said the move should cut down the amount of time city staff have to spend answering citizen inquiries, giving them more time to improve, or support new, services.

: The city’s new land management Web tool, called “iBuildMiami,” was developed to reduce red tape for contractors and developers in Miami. The website not only allows people to apply and pay for building permits, but also has a tracking system that streamlines the work of the city’s building and fire inspectors. Burns said the feature allows the city to schedule its inspectors’ arrival times more accurately and “not be like the cable company,” by showing users how many other sites are scheduled for inspection ahead of their own.

: Miami has kicked off a series of open data efforts, working over the last 18 months to make all of its budget data available on an online portal. Burns said the city now hopes to move its building and zoning permit data online by the end of the year.

The Big Apple is aiming to be the most “tech friendly and innovative city in the world,” according to Minerva Tantoco, the city’s chief technology officer. Earlier this year, the city released its OneNYC plan, which, among other initiatives, uses technology to solve some of the city’s toughest urban problems across all five boroughs. New York City also released a new digital roadmap for civic engagement that introduces technology initiatives for modernizing systems within city government and puts a new emphasis on open government data.

: The city is in the process of building a municipal Wi-Fi network. Jeff Merritt, the director of innovation for the Mayor’s Office of Tech and Innovation, told StateScoop that the effort, LinkNYC, will result in the “world’s largest and fastest” municipal Wi-Fi network — and it’s all based out of the city’s aging pay phones.

: For the city that never sleeps, the results of a data-driven smart city initiative are already presenting themselves. Merritt said the city’s use of data for city services like public safety, transportation and water management has already yielded significant results. In transportation alone, the city has reduced bus delays by nearly 20 percent through the introduction of traffic signal prioritization technology onto its fleet of public buses.

: San Antonio has spent the last decade laying fiber optic cable and building a wireless mesh network throughout the city. The infrastructure allowed San Antonio to embark on a variety of IT projects and take advantage of data streaming from the Internet of Things.

: Starting in 2007, Chief Information and Technology Officer Hugh Miller worked with transportation staffers in the city to connect each of San Antonio’s roughly 1,350 traffic lights to its network. Traffic engineers can now get a remote look at the state of traffic at each intersection via motion cameras installed on utility poles and control the lights remotely should they malfunction. The technology also helps the city control the timing of each series of lights without having to rely on weight sensors built into the road.

: Miller said the lights have helped the city reduce traffic congestion and accidents, resulting in major savings for San Antonio. He said the city has become more efficient since the installation of the system and its effectiveness “continues to increase.”

: Controllers for city’s traffic lights are slated to receive another round of upgrades. Starting this fiscal year and continuing for the next few years, Miller said his staff will improve the monitoring tools on the lights so the city can “react before citizens call” about malfunctions.