Showcasing Kansas City’s success is a key part of establishing the city as a thought leader in smart city development, Aaron Deacon said.
Last week’s third annual Gigabit City Summit gathered more than 300 attendees — representing municipalities large and small, including city officials, economic development specialists, community builders and entrepreneurs — at Plexpod: Westport Commons. Participants shared best practices and tackled issues facing smart city leaders across the globe.
But it wasn’t just a classroom exercise, said Deacon, managing director of KC Digital Drive, the nonprofit organizer of the conference.
“We also got people out into the community,” Deacon said. “That way it wasn’t just going from a hotel to the airport. We wanted attendees to see Kansas City’s smart city.”
Further immersing attendees in Kansas City culture, the summit included a walking tour of the streetcar smart city corridor and tours of such entrepreneurship spaces as the Startup Village, WeWork at Corrigan Station, Techstars and Hammerspace. Attendees also toured such digital inclusion initiatives as Connecting for Good, and visited the Urban Farming Guys’ greenhouse.
“The summit was an opportunity to bring a lot of cities to Kansas City and help to elevate Kansas City to thought leadership,” Deacon said. “But also to create Kansas City as a place where thought leaders from other places can come and share the work that they’re doing with other people.”
The event attracted representatives from Oregon, Tennessee, California, Florida and more, he said. Because of the cross-disciplinary nature of the topics covered, the Gigabit City Summit offered delegation packages, encouraging teamwork between municipalities. Many attendees came in groups of five or more, Deacon said.
Topics included smart city and gigabit internet “101” sessions, for beginners. The summit also tackled such larger issues as the digital divide and economic development initiatives.
“I thought there were a lot of interesting conversations both in the panels and during the networking portion,” Deacon said. “My biggest takeaway is just continuing to figure out how different communities intersect with the work that’s going on in Kansas City and nationally in this space.”
The concept of “smart city” is a relatively new one, with a broad definition. A city can become smart by use of technology, data and communication.
In 2016, Kansas City, Missouri, signed an agreement with Sprint and Cisco, creating the largest smart city project in North America. The smart city initiative is a $15.7 million, public-private tech project in downtown Kansas City, building massive public Wi-Fi and sensor networks to collect user data and improve municipal services.
Receiving a slew of validating comments at the Gigabit City conference, Deacon said attendees were able to walk away from the event with Kansas City as a model for how to employ smart city efforts in their own municipalities.
Kansas City’s approach to smart city sets it apart from the crowd, he said.
“Kansas City has a community-driven approach,” Deacon said. “It says, ‘OK, what’s the problem you are trying to solve? Is this technology solution the right one, and if so, how do we implement that technology solution in a thoughtful way?’”
The opposite to that mindset is being hasty.
“When there is a new technology that comes into the market, whether that be sensor, fiber or data processing technology, there is an excitement,” Deacon said. “So, some are like ‘We’ve got this widget, so let’s just deploy it and see where it goes.”
Deacon is confident Kansas City’s smart city efforts, and the Gigabit City Summit, will continue to grow and have more projects to share in 2018, he said, but that will take more time for planning next year’s event, he said.
“One of the things we’ve always wanted to do, but have not done a great job of, is highlighting some of the interesting things going on in the suburbs of Kansas City,” Deacon said. “Having some more lead time for next year will help with that. We’d love to highlight some of the work being done in Independence and Olathe. The regional aspect is exciting.”
Launched in 2012, KC Digital Drive was formed after Google Fiber’s arrival in Kansas City and was initially charged with the task of best leveraging the gigabit network. In the years since, KC Digital Drive has generated $1.25 million in direct financial support for programming and technology projects in digital inclusion, health care, education, events and community investment.