Making Philadelphia a Connected City
What does a connected city look like, and why should cities strive to become connected? At times the term connected city has been synonymous with a “smart city,” a city that leverages digital technologies to influence and streamline efficiencies and services, however there is definite distinction to be made between a smart and connected city. Where a smart city prioritizes technology, a connected city prioritizes bringing citizens together in the most effective and efficient way.
The Center for Sustainable Design defines a Sustainable Connected City as “an urban area that leverages its technological and social infrastructure… supported by innovative governance in terms of policies, leadership and proper on-going management principles, to enable smart information services, aiming at improving its critical capabilities.”
By adding this social aspect to the idea of a “smart city,” government can improve local living conditions through the successful involvement of residents and private business in local planning and decision making. This creates willingness (and provides a buy-in for citizens) to interact with government to serve the public interest. This is what the City of Philadelphia is doing by working with leading technology companies to bring the public into the process of government.
A connected city is more than just a place where a lot of people live in the same area; it is a place where people regularly interact with each other, and their government, with communication methods that are straightforward and effortless, in order to create a cohesive and constructive culture of civic-minded and engaged communities.
The kind of connection, and improved communication, we are talking about is best facilitated through a network. At Philly311 we strive to be that network that connects citizens with each other and with city government. We give the many branches of local government a unified voice to establish an atmosphere of a welcoming and connected city.
As a governmental agency, Philly311 has to think about both its internal and external customers, and make sure that they are all properly communicating with each other to improve the quality of life in Philadelphia. By adopting a customer-centric model and adapting the entire culture of city government to be more customer focused – as public service should be – we can build trust and understanding between the public and the government that aims to serve them. This relationship allows us to understand our citizens’ needs, and be responsive and proactive in delivering services.
With our advanced customer relationship management solution we are able to listen to our customers, provide services, improve our systems based on user feedback, and anticipate and predict future service needs.
This responsive and predictive action makes us a connected city, using a system of open data, and data sharing we can communicate in a much more effective way. We can work internally between agencies and departments – as well as externally with citizens, residents, and visitors – to produce better results. We strive to set a standard of excellence for all customer experiences, both internally and externally.
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While 2018 was filled with a number of successful smart city deployments, it also revealed significant challenges that will only intensify in years to come. The most pressing challenge to be addressed throughout 2019 is earning the public’s trust in smart city projects. Towards the end of 2018, we saw major data privacy concerns emerge from citizens. From these concerns a heated, but healthy discourse between citizens, local governments, and private sector companies rose to mainstream media prominence. Citizens’ expectations of privacy have begun to challenge the murky data privacy policies described by many in the private sector. 2019 will be the year of the smart city for the citizen.
Collaboration extends beyond City Hall. Unlike a city like New York, where most government functions are under the purview of the municipal government, a city the size of Chula Vista (population 268,000) or smaller has to collaborate with regional partners, such as school districts, hospital districts, water districts, the port district, and neighboring cities. By keeping dialogue open and working together on major projects we’ve opened up new opportunities for economic development, smart cities pilot initiatives and education.
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