Civic tech has a new medium and it is taking shape in local city offices. Metropolitan areas across the country are participating in a step toward innovation. These “smart cities” are defined as developed urban areas that use digital technologies or information and communication technologies to improve city life and engaged community members.1 As the growth of technology continues to create increasingly efficient processes, the public sector can also benefit from the groundwork of private companies. Municipal offices adopting technology are trending toward two main goals, building trust and engagement in their constituents and streamlining their city.
One way to build this citizen engagement is to increase civic transparency. Modern cloud based software and data create trust between citizens and their local governments by clearly displaying spending activities and services. For example, OpenGov is “a Web-based accounting tool that allows governments to track their financial data and put it online in visualizations people can easily understand”2 350 governments and 27 Bay Area cities use OpenGov in the hope of inspiring people to vote and take action based on the information they see. Another app made by a company in New Haven is SeeClickFix which allows residents to post pictures and maintenance requests for the city government to track. As the weather warmed in the East Coast, the thawing snow revealed more opportunities for engagement. The company saw “a spike in usage, and last week it reported its most active week ever, with more than 10,000 issues logged — requests ranging from pothole repairs to streetlamps where bulbs have blown out”3 The city of Boston took cues and developed their own app, Citizens Connect through the Office of New Urban Mechanics. These platforms have proved to be very effective in showing government what issues citizens want to fix and their success has prompted law enforcement and government to look into more ways of using these tools to improve their cities.
Other cities have also turned their eye toward the technology sector and aiming to be more efficient. IBM and the city of Chesapeake, VA partnered to modernize the public works systems and infrastructure. The city will utilize digital data and sensors to monitor city services such as firetrucks, water systems, and facilities management. The possibilities of collecting information are endless. “By tracking usage of water, the city hopes better conserve water and lower its spending [sic]”4 The new technology will help the city to cut costs and pinpoint important issues that were hidden before analyzing the data.
Many cities are making efforts to create more productive environments and services with inspiration from the private sector. In Silicon Valley, the heart of innovation, Google established public Wi-Fi within its town headquarters, Mountain View. Also, many other companies have created public hot spots in New York and San Francisco. Following the path, Santa Clara is the first city to provide public Wi-Fi to its residents. Nearly 600 smart meters were installed in the city to establish the network “SVPMeterConnectWifi”.5 The public internet serves more than 3,000 users a day and is a major component that gives Santa Clara the status of a “smart city”.
The relationship between private companies and local governments is strengthening as city governments begin to catch up in the possibilities of technology. Smart cities are emerging across the country with tools that provide increased transparency, data collection, and public broadband. The layout for a smarter nation is already in the works, and the building blocks come from the connection between city offices and technology. The growing interaction between tech industry individuals and cities shows an interest in civic tech that will give more opportunities for T4A to connect these groups and work together. Our ability to create a space for innovators to use their skills and help the nation widens because of the willingness of the tech community and cities to collaborate.
1 Business Directory. (Jul 22, 2015). Retrieved from http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/smart-city.html
2 Somerville, H. (2015, Jul 3). Silicon Valley ‘Civic-Tech’ Companies Driving Transparency in Local Government. Monterey Herald. Retrieved From http://www.montereyherald.com/general-news/20150703/silicon-valley-civic-tech-companies-driving-transparency-in-local-government/1
3 Subbaraman, N. (2015, Mar 18). Civic Apps Connect Neighborhoods, City Governments. The Boston Globe. Retrieved from http://www.betaboston.com/news/2015/03/18/civic-apps-connect-neighborhoods-city-governments/
4 LaMonica, M. (2009, Dec 7). IBM Wires Trucks, Water Lines in Smarter City Bid. CNET. Retrieved from http://www.cnet.com/news/ibm-wires-trucks-water-lines-in-smarter-city-bid/
5 Kerr, D. (2013, Mar 27). Silicon Valley City Offers Free Wi-Fi Via Smart Meters. CNET. Retrieved from http://www.cnet.com/news/silicon-valley-city-offers-free-wi-fi-via-smart-meters/
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