Philadelphia offers tips for bringing your city together

By Kevin Ebi, Smart Cities Council

What do the water, air quality and revenue have in common? More than you might think.

The process of applying for the Smart Cities Council's Readiness Challenge Grant helped bring Philadelphia departments together. The application process prompted conversations between city departments, causing them to realize they were working on individual solutions to common problems. And it’s an approach that can work in any city.

"There's a story in the city of Philadelphia and it's not as fragmented as it might seem to be," said Ellen Hwang, the Philadelphia program manager for innovation management. "There is this unifying vision. ‘Smart cities’ is not an end to the means, but a larger goal of being a better government to our community. … At the end of the day we are one team with one goal: We want to serve the public better."

Start the conversation
The way your city is structured also plays a significant role in how conversations between departments develop and in the fruits of those talks.

Shortly after he became mayor, Jim Kenney created the Office of Innovation Technology, placing it within chief administration. It’s a single point for driving smart cities initiatives throughout the city. It’s also able to bring in outside help from businesses and universities.

“We have been building a coalition of city, community, business and educational institutions,” Kenney said. “They are all enthused and ready to help with smart city projects focused on the built environment, telecommunications and basic public services like water.”

Connections run deep
You can find connections virtually everywhere you look. For instance, smart water meters are one of the tools that can provide benefits well beyond your city’s water department. The water department may be exploring the meters to improve customer service, but more accurate billing is something the city’s revenue department can get behind. One project can provide benefits for both.

And that’s just the start.

“Some of the folks I met with didn’t even realize the potential for what ‘Smart cities’ means for their work,” Hwang said. “Our air control management unit wasn’t thinking about air quality sensors in the smart cities context, but it’s actually an IoT solution. It could be part of a more comprehensive solution.”

These conversations lead to shared planning—key to helping the city do more with limited resources.

“Doing this in a coordinated is the only way that makes sense,” she said.


Kevin Ebi is managing editor of the Smart Cities Council, which helps cities use technology to become more livable, workable and sustainable. Register to attend the Council’s Smart Cities Week Silicon Valley, May 8-10 in Santa Clara, CA.



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