Kansas City’s downtown streetcar project showcases the KC smart community’s ability to tackle multiple infrastructure projects at once, said Troy Schulte, city manager.
But it isn’t the only example, he told Chelsea Collier, founder of Digi.City, Friday during a Smart Metro Summit at Plexpod Westport Commons. The event was coordinated by Digi.City, the Enterprise Center in Johnson County and KC Digital Drive.
“What we’ve got is old infrastructure that has to be revitalized,” Schulte said, noting a century-old public works systems that the city could repair while simultaneously building a stronger digital framework, such as public Wi-Fi capabilities.
“Ten years ago, most cities would have said, ‘We don’t want to get into a life like this,’” he added. “Now, it’s a whole concept of how do we bridge the digital divide and make sure all of our residents have access to this new technology?”
Schulte said KCMO’s main goals are to use new technologies for public safety, such as ShotSpotter technology, as well as educational opportunities like providing students with free computers to do their homework. Another big step is getting public Wi-Fi to areas where students go home and have no internet access.
“If we’re going to keep our kids continuing to compete on a global level, we’ve got to provide that service,” Schulte said.
Laying the groundwork for that sort of technology infrastructure is vital today for developing underserved areas for the future, he added.
“What we need to do is make sure that our platform can evolve as the city’s needs evolve,” he said, noting that it’s been easy and simple to ask for support from Kansas City Mayor Sly James, the city council and residents. One such example was developing infrastructure in the Prospect corridor so it was “just as smart as the Main Street corridor.”
The city manager also pointed to the Plexpod auditorium itself, where he sat with Collier on a renovated stage surrounded by historically preserved crown molding. The space serves as a centerpiece of the repurposed former Westport Middle School, which now operates as a professional coworking environment.
When Kansas City attained Google Fiber, the city began focusing on deferred maintenance on its aging infrastructure, Schulte said. He also touted the city’s collaborative partnerships with entrepreneurs and companies on enterprises that can “unleash creativity” by providing new solutions to make a smarter city. One of those partnerships is with Sprint, Cisco and Think Big Partners, making Kansas City, Missouri, one of the most connected cities in the country.
It’s why he likes the smart city concept, he said.
“It’s just a creative way of looking at old problems and figuring out a way to find new solutions that will equip us for the next 25, 50, 75 years,” Schulte said.