From cool town to Smart City, with KCMO & ThinkBig

See a video detailing Kansas City's Living Lab.

See a video detailing Kansas City's Living Lab.

Kansas City is already the world’s most connected Smart City.

Thanks to Sprint and Cisco, not only are residents and visitors already better connected through free public WiFi across the 52-block district, sensors are gathering data that will soon help predict and solve problems and inefficiencies, improving the overall quality of life within Kansas City.

But that’s not enough for Bob Bennett, Chief Innovation Officer at the City of KCMO. Despite losing two recent competitions for federal funds, he still is embarking on a number of efforts to collect gather and use big data to improve the lives of citizens and residents.

Funds from two multimillion dollar Smart City grants would have helped the city launch additional phases of innovation on top of its newly built foundation of sensors, lighting, free public WiFi and kiosks. Had the city won the latest grant, it would have launched a fivefold expansion. He may be disappointed by yesterday’s announcement, but Bennett is optimistic because he believes Kansas City is starting from a place where most U.S. cities aim to one day be.

“We were overqualified for that competition,” he said.

He paints a picture of a future Kansas City, and what data visualization can do for economic development purposes.

“if you want to build a new restaurant, you can come to our economic development council and we can tell you where the busiest intersection is within the heart of downtown that does not have a coffee shop within three blocks,” Bennett said.

Coupled with data from other entities like police departments and school districts, Smart City tech has potential for social and political impact, as well. Sensors can monitor water pipe issues before problems arise, or alert the city to places where water has been shut off, which often leads to vacant housing, which correlates with increased crime, especially in areas with increased truancy rates.

Herb Sih, partner at Think Big Partners, explains how this initial foundation provides a platform for entrepreneurs and innovators. Through a new concept called the Living Lab, companies and entrepreneurs can step in and let Sih’s team test and develop tools that harness data to solve their problems.

“The Living Lab is focusing on specific verticals, where if we continue to develop new smart city solutions, we can drive economic development here in Kansas City,” Sih said. “We have the biggest smart city infrastructure in the world here; People will move here to build things on top of it.”

Sih described two products currently being developed, including a tool in its pilot stage for JE Dunn to handle building infrastructure and assets. Another tool will help building owners track energy and other efficiencies and make recommendations to residents living in their apartment buildings.

Bennett is developing a tool of his own, a dashboard in which Mayor Sly James’ biggest political efforts can be monitored using special algorithms. Thus, he’ll be able to test the outcomes of potential measures before they’re implemented.

In an endless number of contexts, Sih said, data and tech has limitless potential.

“It’s the ability to save money, make money, create better opportunities, ladders to social justice,” he said. “The answer is yes to everything.

For more information on future presentations with the KC Downtowners, check out the group's website here.