City Hall is Getting Schooled

Nothing happens in a vacuum anymore.  Cities now have the ability to use information collected from a massive variety of sources in order help solve common city problems.  The information can arise from anywhere – tweets, blog posts, and meter readings all can serve to inform public officials (and citizens as a whole) about how to better interact in a data-drenched world.

Most famously, IBM’s Smart Cities initiative looks at how city governments meet the needs of their expanding populations by using available resources more efficiently.  This is in direct contrast to the older practices of extracting ever-greater amounts of natural resources.  For example, optimizing how power plants distribute energy to city grids can alleviate power concerns during the summer months were A/C usage creates huge power demands.  The insight into how to do this better is always better than blind foresight.

(IBM has a white paper about their smarter cities initiative.)

Yet, just a single person can make a difference.  The Gothamist has an article of one observant filmmaker who decided to record a video of NYC subway goers tripping over the same staircase step in the course of a single day.  He then uploaded the video to YouTube where it immediately went viral.  What’s more impressive is how city workers later went on to repair the staircase step later that same day.

The same can be said for StreetBump, a smartphone app reviewed by the Huffington Post.  The app works by using a smartphone’s accelerometer to record the exact GPS location of potholes when a driver passes over cracks in the road.  This information can be relayed back to cities to improve the road conditions on a more dynamically rich scale than otherwise possible.

Mayors of cities have also taken the lead in communicating with their constituents using big data-enabled technologies.  New Jersey’s Star Ledger recently ran a report on the Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark and his persistent use of technology to directly (and personally) address the needs of individual Newarkers.  In the past, he has accepted tweets to fix potholes and repair stoplights in an aim make the position of mayor more accessible to the average person.

All of these points of data can be used to improve the way we interact with our increasingly more-connected world.  Officials can use all of this information to help improve the lives of everyone and work toward creating more livable cities.

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