A good start to smart cities – smart streets lights

State Tech recently ran an article with a few good ideas for smart city projects. The projects come from big cities – but it seems like there might be a way to adapt them to smaller towns and rural areas too…

From Chicago…

The Chicago Department of Transportation, for example, recently embarked on a $160 million smart street lighting project, much of which will pay for itself. According to a press release from the city, the LED bulbs and IoT-connected devices will be 50 to 75 percent more efficient than traditional lighting methods, meaning the energy cost savings will largely cover the cost of the modernization project.

From Los Angeles…

Meanwhile, Los Angeles, an early adopter of the tech, has equipped more than 80 percent of its streets with connected lights that feature LED bulbs and 4G LTE wireless tech over the last few years. The city is already seeing the benefits of the change.

The city reported a 63 percent savings on its energy bill in the first year with the new lights, and it’s using the connected poles to improve resident cell service, among other benefits.

From Schenectady…

Moreover, in Schenectady, N.Y., city officials have targeted smart street lighting as a foundational element of its overall smart city transformation. As part of a greater smart city initiative facilitated through partnerships with Cisco Systems and GE, the city has upgraded more than 5,000 of its existing streetlights to sustainable LED bulbs, making the entire network accessible through a secure web browser.

Schenectady already sees great energy and cost savings from the upgrade, as well as enhancements to public safety, but it’s looking to expand the role that smart street lights can play even further, Mayor Gary McCarthy said at the Smart Cities Week conference in Washington, D.C., last week.

Minnesota becomes 23rd state to ‘opt-in’ to FirstNet

According to the press release…

Governor Mark Dayton today approved a plan to modernize Minnesota’s communications infrastructure, to better connect and serve first responders across the state. The plan, developed by AT&T under the federal FirstNet effort, will build modern communications infrastructure to power a high-speed, wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety, at no cost to Minnesota taxpayers.
“First responders across our state risk their lives every day to protect and serve the people of Minnesota,” said Governor Dayton. “Modernizing our communications infrastructure will allow our courageous first responders to coordinate and respond more quickly, effectively, and safely, creating better outcomes for them and the communities they serve.”
Modernizing Minnesota’s communications network for first responders will make response and coordination more efficient and secure across the state. The new infrastructure will help expand critical communication coverage to currently underserved areas of Greater Minnesota. The modernization will also help agencies coordinate in response to major public safety events, such as the upcoming 2018 Super Bowl.
“The workgroups devoted numerous hours to ensure the dedicated wireless broadband network offered the tools needed for those on the front lines of an emergency,” said Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman. “FirstNet promises to change the way Minnesota’s public safety personnel, in every corner of the state, do their jobs.
In a letter to FirstNet CEO Mike Poth, Governor Dayton stressed the importance of FirstNet consulting with the 11 Federally Recognized Minnesota tribes as sovereign nations, to determine whether building out the public safety communications network on their land would be beneficial to their citizens. Once built, agencies across Minnesota will have the option to opt-in and subscribe to FirstNet service.
About FirstNet
Congress created the First Responder Network Authority (“FirstNet”) in 2012. It provided for a section of prime radio spectrum and $7 billion to entice a partner to take on the responsibility of managing a network for public safety. AT&T answered the call, and will provide more than 100MB of spectrum capacity and strong cybersecurity defenses on the network.
To learn more about how FirstNet will help Minnesota first responders, click here.

Average vacationer spends 9 hours of a one week vacation on social media

Time Out reports…

According to a study by Expedia, the average vacationer spends nine hours of a one-week-long trip browsing social media.

Time Out is a gig listing and entertainment magazine in bigger cities. I happened to notice the article while I was enjoying time in Chicago earlier this week. Their article goes on to introduce an app to help people stay offline while on vacation…

Stay Off Social, a new tool developed by Expedia that seeks to minimize the time people spend online while traveling by basically automizing the posting process. The tool first asks you to input your vacation data (destination, travel dates) and the amount of times you’d like to update your various profiles (options: every day or every two days). You’ll then choose from a series of generic photos and captions and program the tool to post on your behalf.

I have a different spin. Minnesota is home to great communities, resorts, restaurants, tourist sites. A fantastic way to promote your area to tourists is to get tourists to talk about you to their friends at home. So first – they need the broadband to do that. If you know your location is in a cell dead zone, it would be wise to offer WiFi.

Also make it easy to share info on your location. If you do have WiFi – be sure to include a login page with something fun to share on social media. A picture of notable attractions, a fun fact or video. (And make sure they can share it with the click of a button to multiple social media channels.) Invite people to follow you on multiple social media channels – and if they do mention you, especially if they tag you, be sure to interact. Like or comment on their post. Get the whole community involved by teaching them how to better use social media and encouraging folks to make it easy to interact and make it a point to interact. (You see someone posts a picture of the statue on Main Street – like it!)

I used to work with a lot of resorts. I know teens can be a tough market to reach – especially for family vacations. Social media can be an especially good way to reach them.

One clever thing I saw (not necessarily for teens) in Chicago – many statues around time have stories you can access by scanning a QR Code or visiting a specific website. (Check out what the lion at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Next Century Cities Offers Playbook for Tech-Powered Civic Engagement

Looks like a great resource!

Next Century Cities Offers Playbook for Tech-Powered Civic Engagement
Playbook Shares Key Lessons from Benton Next Generation Engagement Award Winners and Checklist for Future City Projects

Washington, DC (September 7, 2017) — Next Century Cities released 5 Lessons for Tech-Powered Civic Engagement: The Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Award Playbook today, sharing key lessons for communities that want to leverage technology to better engage their residents in civic life. The Playbook is attached to this release and can be found at this link.

The Playbook includes learning from the three Benton Next Generation Engagement Award winning cities as well as other best practices and city models. It is geared towards local government leaders and practitioners as they work to more effectively empower residents and increase citizens’ access to democratic decision making using high-speed broadband and technological tools.

The Playbook was released at an event at Google’s Washington, DC headquarters that highlighted how cities are leading the way in tapping technology to connect and hear from their residents. The release event featured representatives from the three inaugural Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Award winning cities — Austin, Texas; Louisville, Kentucky; Raleigh, North Carolina — who spoke about the work they have accomplished in the past year.

“Next-generation broadband is a valuable tool for empowering citizens to be actively engaged in their communities, which is why we awarded funding for three exciting new civic tech projects and why we’re releasing this Playbook for more cities to use,” said Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities. “The Benton Next Generation Engagement Playbook that we released today explores lessons our three winning cities learned in their first year of project implementation, and will help more communities nationwide tap the power of high-speed broadband connectivity to offer better access to democracy and civic life.”

The accomplishments of the three Benton Award-winning cities and innovative projects implemented by other cities across the country are highlighted in depth in the Playbook. The Playbook also includes five key lessons from projects that have successfully leveraged technology for civic engagement and a Civic Engagement Checklist that community leaders can use as they plan and implement their own future civic tech efforts.

The five main lessons explored in the new Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Playbook are as follows:

  1. Build With, Not For – Each community knows its own needs best, so engaging stakeholders across the impacted area during the project’s initial phase is key.
  2. Partnership Breeds Results – Cross-sector collaboration brings expertise to the table, and promotes buy-in.
  3. Civic Technology Is a Spectrum – A city’s approach should match its goal, and there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to engaging citizens.
  4. The Multiplier Effect – Effective civic technology programs yield benefits far beyond their immediate goals.
  5. Changing Communities for the Better – Well-executed digital civic engagement projects ensure citizens’ voices are heard in new and interactive ways, which can lead to increased feelings of empowerment, a greater level of ownership and attachment to the community.

“Next Century Cities hopes that this Playbook will provide community leaders with a roadmap and tested set of best practices to aid them as they leverage innovative technologies to create and implement civic engagement projects,” Deb Socia continued.

A video of this event can be accessed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdpV2ny24K0

What makes a city smart? We can learn from NYC and others

ComputerWorld has a series on Smart Cities. They check out what’s happening in big cities and how they are using technology to make life better. Their changes are definitely different than rural Minnesota but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something we can learn here. This latest video looks at swapping out phone booths for charging WiFI stations. Something that’s probably worth considering if your rural town wants to attract tourists.

The beauty of the new charging stations is that it tracks use and presence of smartphones. It could be a great way to measure usage and visitors. The NYC stations are paid for with advertising. I’ve hearing about rural Minnesota cities using advertising or sponsorship to pay for public Wifi (on the welcome splash page).

Pope County wants to grow and broadband is part of the equation

According to the Pope County Tribune

The Pope County Board of Commissioners heard a report from West Central Initiative Business and Economic Development Director Greg Wagner and Donor Services Officer Tom McSparron at its meeting last Wednesday.

Wagner gave the board a report on the economic development of Pope County in 2016. He said that Pope County’s population decline has slowed and is on a slow upward trajectory, with a growth in population until 2025. From 2000 to 2016 Pope County lost approximately 147 people, but is expected to grow from 11,049 in 2016 to 11,758 by 2025.

2016 trends in Pope County included the need for a larger workforce, housing affordability, the need for increased wages, the need to expand broadband access and coverage, rising energy costs and the need for more child care openings and providers.

They also mention a website that helps businesses recover from disaster…

McSparron mentioned how WCI has created a website called stayopenforbiz.org that helps businesses prepare for disasters. He said that 25 percent of businesses that close their doors due to a disaster never reopen. The site is used to help those businesses develop continuity plans to prepare for disasters. WCI helps companies start up and expand through loan and business assistance programs.

Community calendar catches on in Fairmont

I always enjoy highlighting BBC (Blandin Broadband Communities) projects. It’s fun to hear how folks are using broadband. Some porjects are entirely unique and some really catch fire. Knowing that, I was intersted in hear that Fairmount was really happy with their online community calendar.

Community Calendars are hard. They require constant updating. In theory, it’s great to get folks to add in their own events. In practice that great idea doesn’t always catch on. Fairmont’s calendar has caught on.

I think they had two secret ingredients: they worked hard to get people engaged and invested AND they found a calendar system that works for them.

I asked Margaret Dillard at the Chamber how they got peoeple to use and update the calendar. She said…

It is gaining the reputation of being a one-stop online presence for events here. Previously, the chamber was responsible for attempting to keep track of events, happenings and entertainment throughout Martin County, so our strength comes from working with multiple government entities and other organizations. In addition, we utilized billboards, newspaper, radio, CER catalog, chamber and city social media and publications and email campaigns.

Next I asked about the calender software. It seems they were able to grow a community calendar from the online school calendar. And better yet – the school calendar comes from a Minnesota company. I contacted Ray Drestke, CEO of the company for more info. I’m going to include most of what he said because – having worked on community calendar projects myself, I know that folks who are looking into this will appreciate the details. (And the rest  of you can save this until you might need it.)

We are based in Winona, MN and are a 24 yr old company that has a suite of 16 web software programs and 5 mobile apps that serves the K-12 and College market.  We currently serve over 5,000 school organizations in 44 states. (www.rschooltoday.com)


The calendar behind the Fairmont project is the Community Calendar version of our popular Activity Scheduler.  Activity Scheduler is a school calendar and Athletics Management System used by over 5,000 schools for the last 16 years.


With the Community Calendar, we set out to solve 3 problems that every community has:


1) Some say “there’s nothing to do around here.”


2) Community and Event Planners say. “Argh, if i had known these other 2 events were happening that weekend, I would have scheduled ours for a different weekend.”


3) Some say, “I would love to have gone to this event if i had only known about it beforehand.”


Why solving this has traditionally been hard:

1) Most of the organizations in any town have web sites that have calendar events on them.  But it forces the community to go to so many sites to get a real picture of what’s happening.

2) Nobody has time to enter their events on multiple sites

3) Even if you could afford to hire someone to aggregate all the calendar data in a community and repost it to one calendar, things still slip through the cracks. Date/time/location changes are mostly missed, etc.

4) Nobody wants to use a shared calendar as their organization’s calendar.  They want a calendar that is 100% theirs.


Solution: So, with the rSchoolToday Community Calendar, the goal is no one has to rekey anything!  Every organization in your community that wants to participate (city/county government, chamber, CVB, churches, youth groups, Park/Rec, schools, service organizations, etc) can have their own low-cost rSchool calendar, and that becomes their Web site calendar. It is simple to use, powerful, 100% editable, includes a free mobile app, and can be branded to match each organization.


When data is entered into each organization’s calendar to show on their web site, those events automatically also write to the community calendar.   And, the schools are likely already using our calendar so their data will already be in the Community Calendar.


But…”I have spent so much creating a special look to the calendar events on our CVB page – I don’t want to lose that.”  No worries.  rSchool can feed calendar data into any other calendar that can accept a data feed. So, by using the rSchool calendar to enter the data, you have the best of both worlds.


Advertising?  You can choose for NO ads on the calendars. Or, you can use our Local Ad model and control the ads on your calendar.  you can feature all local businesses and charge whatever you want each month or year. This can make the Community Calendar a powerful revenue-generator for the community as well.


Buying Tickets online for events?  If you have a ticket program, you can link any ticket site to that event in the calendar to make things easy.  Don’t have a ticket app? We can provide one.


Social Media?  Your community can promote any calendar event to their social media sites.


Can I be selfish?  “I only care about restaurants, live music, art galleries and soccer.”  No prob. Select the things you care about, generate a personal calendar, and push it to your smart phone or tablet. Now any changes to those activities auto-update your smart device.


But I tend to forget….No worries, sign up for reminders and change notices for the activities you care about and receive email or text messages automatically.