The city of Boston wants to update its smart city strategy and is asking innovators to think of new ways to enhance service delivery by deploying connected technology on existing city assets.
A recently released request for information outlined Boston’s goals and areas of focus. The city wants to increase digital access and connect more people through high-quality public Wi-Fi, and to better deliver services that range from trash collection and plowing to street lighting.
The city’s goals also include expanding constituent engagement and improving traffic flow by reducing the reliance on single-occupancy vehicles and making walking and biking safer. It also wants to create more accessible spaces for people to collaborate, build a learning network to enable design and deployment of sensors and create an infrastructure that allows business to easily expand services and reach customers.
Responses to the RFI should include ideas on how to redesign, augment or replace existing assets to create the “next-generation streetscape.” Ultimately, Boston is looking to identify which services can be delivered with smart technology that can be deployed on city assets and how to fund it.
These assets include easily accessible resources, like streetlight poles that could be used to attach public Wi-Fi access points, trash barrels, fireboxes and city-owned fiber and broadband infrastructure assets. Some harder-to-access assets that may require special permits are the city’s parking meters, traffic signal boxes, benches, fire hydrants, city buildings and both emergency and non-emergency fleet vehicles. The city has an ArcGIS map of all its public-facing assets that could become connected and “smart.”
Rather than a request for a proposed services or even a specific technological solution, the RFI is “really looking for ways to improve service delivery within the city using the assets that we have, leveraging new technology,” said Jacqueline Lender, the Harvard City of Boston Presidential Public Service Fellow. The fellowship places a recent Harvard College graduate at Boston City Hall to work with Mayor Martin J. Walsh and his team for one year.
Because funding new projects is difficult when the return is not clear, the city is open to public-private partnerships, and the RFI asks for new funding strategies that outline possible tradeoffs of alternative revenue streams and ideas to mitigate them.
The city’s Office of New Urban Mechanics helped write the RFI, but when it comes to testing or piloting possible solutions down the road, Lender said, “We’re going to wait to see what the responses are and then from there figure out what team is best suited.”
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