Running a city effectively requires a series of IT systems but they can quickly become complex, given the various relationships that have to exist between different agencies and functions. To help city leaders more effectively plan and provide services, a movement is afoot to make cities “smarter.”

“The goal of smarter cities is to help urban leaders be able to provide better services and expanded services to citizens,” says Kris Lichter, Director of Smarter Cities for IBM, which is one company trying to help cities get smarter. For IBM, he says smarter cities revolves around helping urban leaders in three areas:

  • Giving them the opportunity to anticipate a problem or opportunity
  • Managing incoming data and responding to it effectively
  • Proactively building for the future

Examples include bringing more intelligence to transportation systems, be it highways or public transit. The idea is to gather data that already exists and mine it to make decisions about how people are using the systems so city leaders can make effective changes and investments, Lichter says. But it also entails giving feedback to citizens in real time, to help them make better decisions – such as alerting them to accidents and traffic jams. The data can also illustrate trends – a given stretch of road that always jams up at a certain time – and help planners find ways to alleviate issues.

Public safety is another area where intelligent systems can play a big role, in cities such as New York. “The Real Time Crime Center they built with our help brings together something like 120 million New York City criminal complaints, 31 million national crime records, 33 billion public records and puts them together in a way that projects a real time visualization for folks to be able to see where linkages are between data points,” he says.

All of a sudden there are possibilities to react in terms of investigations and response that you didn’t have before.

Similarly, the city of Memphis partnered with the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at The University of Memphis to create a predictive analytics system called Blue CRUSH (Criminal Reduction Utilizing Statistical History). It uses IBM predictive analysis software to predict where hot spots will crop up, so the city can target its resources accordingly.

In San Francisco, IBM worked with the Public Utilities Commission to more effectively manage the city’s 1,000+ mile-long sewage system, which was prone to overflows after bad storms. “They can gather information about where potential problems might be, like pumps breaking down, or leaky pipes, overflowing storm drains, whatever it might be, so the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission can be more proactive about it,” Lichter says. “They can see where things may be likely to break down and get in front of it.”

IBM is hardly the only company working to build smarter cities, of course. Four units of NTT Communications are reportedly working to create a smart, eco-friendly city in an area of Japan devastated by the earthquake and tsunami last March, according to Finance GreenWatch.

To learn more about the various ways in which cities are getting smarter, click below and listen to our interview with Kris Lichter.

Kris Litcher by NTTCom Podcast

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