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Here’s what local governments care about when it comes to connected cities

Private businesses aren’t the only ones tapping into the opportunities of the connected world. Local governments have taken notice, too. From monitoring parking meter data to tracking a city’s microclimates, progressive urban areas are all about the new world of sensors.

But said technology comes with its share of challenges, and it’s only in recent years that cities have started to figure out the best way to implement the technology. “As an industry we underestimated the complexity of deployment: security, privacy, even the talent,” Maciej Kranz, a VP at Cisco, said at the Gigaom Structure Connect conference Tuesday. “But I think we, as an industry, have learned from these lessons.”

Now, cities have learned to focus their ambitions, specifically on parking and lighting for the most part. Those are huge sources of revenue for the former, and a major spending cost for the latter. Making the building of such infrastructure more efficient can have a huge return on investment for local governments.

For example, smart LED street lights can turn on only when a person or car is near, saving energy the rest of the time. Parking meters can be connected to send information on where the least used parking lots are, and where more parking is necessary to build to meet the demand (and make the city money).

For Vijay Sammeta, the CIO of the city of San Jose, the biggest opportunity of a connected city has to do with residents’ health. “City data provides good early indicators of what’s going on in your community,” Sammeta said. “It isn’t the end all be all but it’s a major player and contributor to health care initiatives.”

San Jose isn’t the only city examining sensors and healthcare. Chicago is developing an extensive program with hundreds of sensors around town. The sensors will track metrics in different locations, to see if there’s a correlation between factors like weather or pedestrian movements and increased rates of diabetes or asthma in residents. Charlie Catlett, a senior computer scientist at the University of Chicago, explained that that this network of sensors allows Chicago to “begin to learn from the city.”

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Photo by Jakub Mosur

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