Three ways for city leaders to build smart communities

Chris Cappelli, Director of Global Sales at Esri, shares lessons from leading cities like Incheon, Hong Kong, Singapore and Brisbane.

Incheon in South Korea is gearing up to be the world’s most futuristic city. Multi-lingual robots will guide visitors at the airport, while the city’s streets will be kept spotless by using data on weather and dust to plan cleaning routes. Its new business district, Songdo, is billed as the world’s first smart city, and has been built from the ground up, ready with forward-thinking technologies. Incheon boasts innovations like sensors that monitor the district’s temperature, energy use and traffic flow, as well as a vast network of underground tunnels that automatically sort household trash. And much of this vision of a future urban landscape is made possible with geospatial data. “Location is the common element between all city departments,” says Chris Cappelli, Director of Global Sales and Business Development of Esri. “The company is working with Incheon to develop its smart city plan.” Cappelli discusses what makes ambitious cities like Incheon tick, and how Mayors and City Leaders across Asia can build similar smarter communities. 1. Cross-departmental work The first crucial step to build smart communities is working across departments. Cities in Asia such as Hong Kong and Singapore face complex, wicked problems like ageing demographics and climate change. No single department can tackle these issues on their own, and they require an approach that reaches across silos. “In the last 10 years, especially, we’ve seen more and more governments connect departmental workforces,” says Cappelli. [blockquote]"Every Mayor instinctively knows that a map provides them with a fantastic tool for lending context to a situation quickly and easily."[/blockquote] Location is the “common element” between different departments, he says. “I bet every Mayor instinctively knows that a map provides them with a fantastic tool for lending context to a situation quickly and easily,” he adds. In practice, this requires officials to share knowledge between departments and a platform to bring all this information together to form a full picture of municipal issues. For instance, Incheon is integrating real-time and 3D location data from across agencies on a single platform. Meanwhile, Hong Kong is building a central platform that will allow agencies to share location-based data and come together to build apps and tools. 2. Data Analytics Second, data must underpin Mayors’ and City Leaders’ decisions. But staff must also be able to work with this data so they can stay focused on achieving key goals. "By providing some level of democracy with analytics capabilities, we will see a rapid increase in empowerment of employees to make decisions that support the vision and objectives of decision makers,” Cappelli says. Location data analytics can help cities get new insights in near-real time. In the aftermath of the recent hurricanes in the United States, for instance, cities and states have used data to organise their response. Within an hour after the storm had passed, they used drones to capture imagery and combine this with historical location data to assess the damage, Cappelli says. In addition, officials have used social media data to locate where people needed help and where to deploy resources. “They were able to connect to social media feeds, and pinpoint people’s location so they could formulate rescue strategies to go get them,” he explains. Meanwhile, state and federal agencies have deployed teams using Esri mobile apps to assess damage to infrastructure, like power and gas. In Australia, the Brisbane City Council uses location data to coordinate emergency response to floods and other disasters. Equally, residents get an app showing which areas are most likely to flood, helping them to prepare in advance for evacuations. 3. Citizen participation Finally, citizens’ participation and buy-in is crucial for Mayors to achieve their visions. Governments are taking the pulse of their citizens using technology to provide better services in a much more pinpointed way to areas that need it,” he says. Location is fundamental to this because people care most about what is happening in their own neighbourhoods, cities and states: "It's very clear that when you peak somebody's interest in something that they care about, especially situations or things related to where they live, they take an active role," says Cappelli. Mayors and City Leaders can use maps to tell citizens about their priorities and services, Cappelli says. “The first thing somebody cares about is what the relevance of any of those things to where I live,” he adds. “Frankly, maps provide the context for people to understand” the value of government programmes, he adds. Esri has just launched a new tool that helps cities do this. ArcGIS Hub helps governments communicate issues, makes it easy to receive feedback from citizens, and helps communities turn goals into initiatives, says Cappelli. It was built together with city officials, and has been piloted in Los Angeles and Washington DC in the United States. LA Clean Streets Index How can Mayors achieve this? Cappelli has four tips to guide cities: First, Mayors should put an app with a map on their own smartphones or tablets, allowing them to track performance and response to key issues instantly, he says. Cities in Indonesia have been leading on this, with the Mayor of Surabaya using maps to track illegal land permits on her iPad, and the Governor of Jakarta tracking officials’ performance on his smartphone. Second, Mayors should use geographic data to improve efficiency. Singapore’s utility provider, SP Group, for example, uses geospatial technology to ensure it can respond to power disruptions. The city has one of the most reliable electricity supplies in the world. Third, Mayors should trial maps to help them identify how well their policies and initiatives are doing. And fourth, cities should get their data scientists, frontline delivery officials, and geospatial technology professionals to work together to build these tools. Every department in a city has its own views and priorities, and each citizen has their own concern. Location connects them all and provides a common language for increasingly diverse cities. Main image by Kris Krüg