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CityLab
Economy

What Makes a Smart City Truly Smart?

Kansas City has streetlights equipped with sensors and plans to make roads pay for themselves. But its chief innovation officer says there’s nothing smart about them.
Kansas City hopes to bring interactive kiosks to its poorer neighborhood to help spur economic development.
Kansas City hopes to bring interactive kiosks to its poorer neighborhood to help spur economic development.The Kansas City Area Development Council (KCADC)

Kansas City, Missouri, may have lost last year’s DOT Smart City Challenge to Columbus, Ohio, but that hasn’t slowed its momentum toward becoming “the world’s most connected smart city.” Nor has it curbed the enthusiasm of its chief innovation officer, Bob Bennett. When CityLab caught up with Bennett last week at the U.S. Commerce Department’s Global City Teams Challenge Expo, he exuded a kind of energy that would otherwise be hard to find on a dreary Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Already, Kansas City has teamed up with Cisco and Sprint* to cover 50 blocks of its downtown district with public Wi-Fi, and it’s got 125 smart streetlights with sensors to monitor both vehicle and foot traffic. In the heart of to downtown, interactive kiosks dot the streets to deliver information about nearby attractions and other city information (not unlike the LinkNYC kiosks that replaced New York’s phone booths). Meanwhile, its extensive data portal has earned the city accolades from the likes of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for open data.