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How A Smart City Fixes Problems Before They Happen

Jason Doss
Wikimedia Commons
Construction for Kansas City's street car helped spur a technological revolution in Kansas City.

Kansas City is poised to become the smartest of smart cities in the next five years, according to the city employee leading that effort.

Bob Bennett is the chief innovation officer for Kansas City, Missouri. Under his direction, Kansas City has a suite of initiatives including deep data analysis and usage, public Wi-Fi, digital kiosks, and smart street lighting. Bennett addresses the annual McLean County Regional Planning Commission's Community Information Forum on Wednesday, April 11.

"For us in Kansas City we define smart as a city which uses technological tools—be they sensors or analytical platforms—to do those things cities have historically done more efficiently, better, or with a greater impact on our citizens," said Bennett during GLT's Sound Ideas.

All of the systems and comforts cities offer can be improved with data and technology to interpret the data. Bennett said using data can show how a road is behaving and prevent potholes. Monitoring storm water runoff has prevented the need for a new pumping station, preventing almost $1 billion for a new pumping station. Bennett says smart cities aren't just super responsive, but proactive.

Credit Courtesy of Bob Bennett
Bob Bennett is chief innovation officer for Kansas City, Missouri.

"Instead of responding faster, which is what I think a cool city does, a smart city anticipates the problem before it occurs and fixes it when it's a maintenance issue and not crisis response," said Bennett.

Technology that Kansas City has embraced includes smart street lights. There are now 178 installed. The lights monitor pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic. The LED lights only bump up t0 85 percent brightness when the the sensors counts four or more people below the light. Using LEDs and keeping brightness down is saving money.

Another function of the computer in the light pole is traffic monitoring in the downtown area, which allows better timing of traffic signals.

"We've gotten to the point where traffic through that 2.2 miles of Kansas City has decreased in average time by 36 seconds," said Bennett. "From a greenhouse gas emissions perspective, when you talk about 15,000 cars that drive through there every day, that's a lot less car emissions polluting my airspace."

Bennett calls a smart city good public service. He added that 21st century citizens expect 21st century connectivity. 

Kansas City embarked on becoming a smart city in 2014 when much of its downtown was under construction to build a $100 million street car project. Since the streets were already going to be dug up, Kansas City teamed with Cisco and Sprint in a public-private partnership to cover 50 blocks of its downtown district with public Wi-Fi. 

Bennett said 85 percent of the data to become a smart city is available to most cities. He said cities the size of Bloomington-Normal can review permitting data to see where new homes are being built and current homes are being remodeled to help give direction to businesses like coffee shops where to locate.

Hear the full Sound Ideas interview, including what municipalities the size of Bloomington and Normal can do now to become smarter cities.

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