A new approach to community engagement in smart cities5 minutes
Some 6,035 feet above sea level, and nestled into Pike National Forest, Colorado Springs wows visitors with its natural beauty. Ranked one of America’s best places to live, the city is now looking towards technology to further improve residents’ quality of life.
Just an hour drive from Denver, Colorado Springs hosts the country’s flagship Olympic training centers and is building the nation’s only U.S. Olympic Museum. It is also embarking on a smart city endeavor called SmartCOS to positively impact the community and drive economic development, focusing on projects in energy, mobility, city services and smart buildings.
Which technologies would benefit citizens most?
When the municipality of Colorado Springs began investigating smart technologies to improve city services and reach community goals, a challenge arose: how to determine which opportunities would benefit citizens most? City officials turned to Panasonic, a leader in smart city initiatives, for help narrowing the tech focus.
It all started with a visit to Panasonic’s CityNOW hub at Peña Station NEXT in sister city Denver. There, Panasonic is overseeing deployment of a range of technologies from a micro-grid and solar canopy to smart streetlights and parking, ultra-fast community Wi-Fi and a Connected Vehicle ecosystem. This 382-acre hub serves as a living lab for emerging technology, and an optimized business model in which cities, utilities, developers and transportation entities come together to share in the planning and resources for smart city projects.
If there is one thing that can predict a smart city’s success, it is a strong public-private partnership. At Peña Station NEXT, businesses, energy and city service providers, landholders and government established a process to vet vendors and greenlight projects. CityNOW played a lead role as the Smart and Sustainable general contractor and systems integrator, employing its stakeholder alignment platform. Now Panasonic and Colorado Springs are partnering to implement a similar process, with an expanded focus on community involvement. Here are three clear benefits of a public-private collaboration such as ours.
Colorado Springs has a head start in that its utility company is municipally owned – and heavily engaged in smart city efforts. In fact, Colorado Springs Utilities was already exploring advanced metering infrastructure before we began developing the city’s SmartCOS Implementation Strategy.
Now there are conversations between the city, the utility and the community on how to future proof an advanced metering system, and this input is being injected into the utility’s requirements as it pursues proposals. This is just one example of the opportunities that collaboration creates.
A clearer path to execution
The mayor’s office invited early involvement in a joint task force from different private institutions, the military (the city is home to four installations; Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, the Air Force Academy and Schreiver Air Force Base), and other key community members, garnering input on which ideas would most benefit Colorado Springs. Having decision makers in the same room was priceless. This joint task force identified shared goals such as resiliency, energy and connectivity. The task force also came up with a path forward.
The largest hurdle to smart city progress is not technology, but bringing together large, complex organizations and finding ways to gain agreement on mutual priorities, and ways to achieve them. It’s like a seven-legged race: we are all equally tied at the hip and we only make progress together.
Increased ownership and accountability
Community engagement is crucial to the SmartCOS process. City officials have initiated open discussions with the community – both publicly at scheduled events, and online via a tool called SpeakUp! on the city’s website. This live link enables citizens to provide feedback on what they would like to see in the areas of transportation and mobility, energy and utilities, buildings, sustainability and city services.
This ongoing dialogue has been invaluable, creating a sense of excitement and ownership in the community. Rather than getting distracted by ‘bright and shiny new technologies,’ this robust process keeps us focused on projects that will add value to the lives of residents.