The Smartest City on Earth

The Streets Come Alive in Kansas City

Sensors are bringing the streets to life in Kansas City, Missouri.

Many major cities worldwide including Paris, Copenhagen and Barcelona are launching smart city initiatives, but in what could be a first, officials in Kansas City have demonstrated how real-time data gathered by sensors provides tangible benefits to citizens.

This week, Kansas City, along with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, officials from 18 other cities as well as several federal agencies, held a workshop to share ideas on the use of smart technology to solve city problems.

According to Kansas City’s mayor, Sylvester James, “smart city sensors and digital tools are cool, but understanding how to use these tools and the data that they generate bridges the gap between cool and smart.” There’s an understanding that it takes more than hype to win people’s enthusiasm.

City officials unveiled an online interactive map, available to the public, which shows available parking, traffic and streetcar locations in real time with data gathered from 122 video sensors along a two-mile segment of Main Street. The map demonstrates how Kansas City is realizing the promise of $15 million in smart city initiatives launched nine months ago. With parking at a premium in downtown, the map also shows available street parking.

As smart city infrastructure expands, city leaders say they will use the collected data to aid decisions that will save taxpayers money with more-efficient municipal operations. The data can also be used by businesses to monitor the movement of people, helping them to make decisions about promotions.

The city’s chief innovation officer, Bob Bennett, said the goal is to make Kansas City “the smartest city on Earth within five years”. There are some bragging rights here and cities worldwide are eager to display their technical prowess.

In reality, the definition of a “smart city” is still vague, but the basic concept is to create a high level of monitoring and automation for municipal operations. A growing number of cities are becoming adept at managing basic services such as maintaining street lights and monitoring water usage through software, sensors and connectivity. The falling costs of sensors and the ability to affordably use computing power to analyse big data will boost efficiencies and long-term city planning, save money and improve services.

All smart trends have their phases and the smart city concept is starting to reach fruition. It’s happening in Kansas City now.