Philadelphia Smart City Roadmap & Initiatives

The notion of a "smart city" has long been a fixture of the American imagination. And while we are still a long way from the flying cars and jet packs of The Jetsons, we are, in many ways, living in a golden age of futurism. This becomes evident when looking at the proliferation of "smart cities," places where expansive technology, connectivity, and data analysis inform everyday life. Smart cities leverage this technological integration to improve public safety, reduce pollution, curb urban congestion, increase access to information, and ultimately encourage civic engagement. 

The Beginning of Smart Cities

Philidelphia as a Smart City

And the interest in smart cities has only grown in recent years. Currently, there are over 250 smart city projects, across 178 cities around the world. Global smart city revenue, which was $36.8 billion in 2016, is expected to reach $88.7 billion by 2025. This year, Philadelphia emerged as a key player in the developing smart city landscape, securing the "Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grant." As such, Philadelphia has received a tailored Readiness Workshop, which took place in October of this year. The workshop was designed to provide Philadelphia developers with the products and services that would best enable specific projects. The SCC assists in developing "a roadmap for applying smart technologies to further innovation, inclusion, and investment within their cities."

This process is being overseen by Ellen Hwang, Program Manager for Innovation Management, and coordinator for all smart city initiatives. Hwang describes the integration of these resources is as much a process of communication, as a measure of technological fitness. She explains:

"There are shared goals and outcomes and assets that we need to coordinate on a much higher level. When you talk about smart cities there's a lot about data - data integration, data analytics - that comes with it. How do we do that better and faster? How do we share that information with each other better?"

Why Philadelphia

From a purely logistical standpoint, Philadelphia was already in a position to successfully adopt smart city technology. It is the 5th largest U.S. city, has the 2nd highest downtown residential population, and has approximately 3 million skilled workers across a diverse number of industries. Philadelphia's population density and high concentration of technical, medical, and educational institutions were all contributing factors. As per the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's report "ranking 25 cities readiness to capitalize on the ongoing shift to a digital economy", Philadelphia was 8th. And indeed, they have begun to capitalize. 

When applying for the SCC grant, Philadelphia had a number of extant smart city initiatives including Philadelphia 2035, geared toward urban growth and development; Vision Zero, focused on reducing traffic-related injuries; and Greenworks, the city's sustainability plan. 

Moreover, Philadelphia is working with Comcast to install a high-speed fiber network across the city, connecting more than 200 buildings. Not only will this increase the bandwidth for city applications, such as Philly 311, but it will also provide the infrastructure to support more cloud and Internet of Things-based projects. Chief Information Officer Charles Brennan has remarked "The agreement, formalized last year in December, is slated to run 15 years and double the total bandwidth of the city's network at no additional cost." Current estimates predict that the full network will be up and running by the end of the year. 

Building a Smarter City

After receiving the SCC grant, Philadelphia's Office of Technology also secured a $200,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to assist with the creation of their developmental roadmap. This plan, set to be released in 2018, will outline the city's major initiatives, tailored to each neighborhood's specific needs. Brennan and Hwang have repeatedly underscored the document's role in bringing greater equity to the city. 

In designing this roadmap, certain projects have gained more traction, falling into three predominant categories:

  1. Open property data, streamlined and available on one platform. Currently, this is being done through Atlas, a city app that compiles information including property history, zoning, and recent activity including 311 service requests and reported crime. 
  2. Parking solutions that utilize camera technology to guide drivers to the nearest available parking spots. This would decrease traffic and pollution from idling while increasing efficiency through the use of smart traffic lights and accident detection. 
  3. Digital inclusion to ensure that smart city projects are not based exclusively in downtown city centers. Through "hyper-local economic initiatives," developers hope to provide smart utility and street meters, and more affordable housing options, to all neighborhoods. Furthermore, the use of smart metrics would also increase access to virtual healthcare, by connecting Philadelphia residents to care professionals. 

Obviously, the nuances of these projects will continue to develop with the roadmap. There is, however, undeniable enthusiasm for the innovations that will shape Philadelphia in the years to come. Perhaps best articulated by
 Mayor Jim Kenney:  

"We have been building a coalition of city, community, business, and educational institutions. They are all enthused and ready to help with smart city projects focused on the built environment, telecommunications, and basic public services. We know the technology behind us is important for our citizens and businesses alike, and the expertise that the Smart Cities Council brings will help us realize those opportunities." 

As Philadelphia continues to expand and innovate, so too must those companies looking to stay ahead of the competition. For the latest in business-minded IT solutions, contact an iCorps expert.

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