Validating a bold technology plan by a variety of public and private organizations, Kansas City’s Smart City initiative recently won a prestigious Edison Award for innovation.
The City of Kansas City, Mo., Sprint, Cisco, Think Big Partners and other organizations won a gold award in the category of connected collaboration from the Edison Awards in New York City on April 20. The organization noted that by deploying “the most extensive coordinated suite of connective WiFi technology and analytical platforms in the world” the Smart City effort enhances citizens’ experiences in downtown and improves the delivery of city services.
For 30 years, the Edison Awards have recognized innovative projects, products, organizations and leaders around the globe that are creating a positive impact in the world. Other organizations recognized by the awards include the likes of DARPA, the Dow Chemical Company, GE, 3M and many other small and large firms.
“We’re blown away — sort of overwhelmed a little bit,” said Bob Bennett, KCMO’s chief innovation officer and a key leader in the smart city project. “The fact that we were in an international competition and that we were in a group with a GE partner and Cloudera just absolutely blew me away. It spoke quite a bit to the fact that while those folks had amazing technologies and capabilities, what we had in Kansas City was a bit different from a holistic team approach and it completely changed the way the evaluation went.”
Chris Hernandez, Kansas City’s director of communications, added that the city is thrilled to earn the award.
“This is very exciting for us because this is considered the Oscars of innovation in terms of what kind of award it is,” he said. “It’s great that thinkers and innovators from around the country are noticing what’s happening in Kansas City. Our challenge is to make sure we move that to the next level which is to deliver on the promise we made about the smart city that we’ll use the data and innovation to improve the delivery of basic services. That’s the challenge and next step we need to take with the Smart City.”
Officially launched in May of 2016, the $15.7 million public-private project is transforming Kansas City’s downtown into a living lab of Wi-Fi connectivity on and around the 2.2-mile streetcar line. Via a large Wi-Fi and sensor network, the project provides a variety of information to citizens, companies and public organizations by collecting data on human and traffic behavior in downtown. The project is a collaboration between Kansas City, Sprint, Cisco, Think Big Partners and other private companies.
Bennett said that the robust collaboration has resulted in a better plan for the Smart City.
“From a technology perspective, it validates that what we have works, though we’re still learning with it and figuring out how to optimize it,” he said. “It’s a nice recognition of a lot of hard work that 14 partners have put in for the better part of two years. … It’s a huge morale booster.”
To win the Edison Award, the Smart City initiative had to demonstrate its concept, value in meeting a need, its delivery to residents and partners, as well as its impact on the community.
Hernandez said that the Smart City effort is having a positive effect in other areas of city government beyond just technology.
“What we’ve noticed in city government is the way the use of data and thinking about innovation has started spreading to other departments,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is make sure that’s spreading to other programs and departments so that all our city employees know that if they have an innovative idea, they can make it work and that they should use data every day to help drive decisions. … How you truly make the culture of innovation and our smart city efforts pay off in the long run is to make sure it spreads through the entire organization and that’s something that we’ve been working really hard on over the past year.”
The Smart City just wrapped up phase one. In the last year, the city has established 328 WiFi access points, 178 smart lighting video nodes and 25 smart kiosks, laying the foundation on which the city can begin to collect data on downtowners’ behavior. In February, the city released its open data platform, which provides citizens live and historical information on the streetcar, traffic flow and parking availability in downtown.
For phase two, the Smart City Advisory board plans to form a cohesive understanding of its goals and to articulate the return on investment the initiative has for the city. The board hopes that, as a result of establishing performance indicators, it can more easily partner with other public and private organizations.