Do smart cities make for safe cities?
Well, not necessarily. It really all depends on how those connected cities use their brand new smarts to make their people safer.
Just because municipalities have the broadband links and technical ability to adjust traffic signals based on the data they've collected on resident driving patterns doesn't mean that they will make the right call on signal changes. Similarly, just because cities have the video surveillance cameras and IT know-how to track potential wrongdoers doesn't mean that they will be able to reduce crime.
In fact, many smarter cities are still struggling to become safer. In a survey of Asian municipal leaders conducted at the Safe Cities Asia conference in Singapore last May, for instance, Hitachi Data Solutions found a number of major obstacles getting in the way of public safety projects. These obstacles included a lack of alignment between government agencies, a lack of government focus on public safety, and a failure to adopt an integrated approach to safety initiatives, among other factors.
In other words, all the fancy new technological tools in the world won't make a difference if cities don't know how to take advantage of them, or end up focusing on the wrong things.
Yet, in the right hands, "the ability to integrate multiple information and communication technology (ICT) solutions in a secure fashion to manage a city's assets" (taken from Wikipedia's definition of a smart city) can make all the difference. It's all about knowing how to use all the new data collected in a constructive, coordinated way.
Take Boston, for example: Under the leadership of its relatively new mayor, Martin Walsh, this smart city has been leveraging its new data collection skills to monitor and improve public services across the board, including public safety, over the past two years. With this new data-driven mindset, Walsh hired Boston's first-ever analytics fellow, started holding monthly cabinet meetings focused on using data to make progress towards key city service goals and staged a public hackathon to come up with systematic solutions to the city permitting problems.
Most notably, Walsh installed an electronic dashboard in his City Hall office that enabled him to see vital city stats in real time and monitor them against the service goals that he had set during his election campaign and early days in office. Since then, he has tracked these stats regularly and held his cabinet members responsible for making sure that progress is made.
As related last year in a Huffington Post blog and subsequent TEDx lecture by Daniel Koh, Walsh's chief of staff, the results have been very encouraging so far. In 2014, the first year of the data-centric program, Boston city workers filled 18,000 potholes in the streets, up 50% from the year before. Municipal employees also repaired 4,000 city sidewalks, up 52% from the 2013 rate, and installed 10,000 LED streetlights, up 54% from the previous year.
Perhaps most impressively, Koh reported that the Boston police used the city's new data wherewithal to cut shootings by 14% and reduce overall violent crime by 6% in 2014. So, at least in this case, a smarter city has become a safer city.
Of course, this kind of success is by no means guaranteed for every smart city. But it sure seems like cities would be smart to follow Boston's example.
This blog is sponsored by Huawei.
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading