San Antonio’s Push to Become a Smart City

ARTICLE | Dec 13, 2016

Earlier this year, the City of San Antonio’s Office of Innovation began working on developing a framework for our community’s Smart City program. San Antonio has been using smart technologies for years and has been continuously working to improve local government at the same time.  However, until this year, there has never been a coordinated and formalized program dedicated to the use of Smart City technology. 

When my office began working on a Smart City program, vendors started knocking on our door with product offers designed to solve “all” problems.  In order to have a coherent program we knew that we needed to establish specific focus areas for our projects.

At our City Council Goal Setting Session in the summer, the Office of Innovation recommended to the City Council that the focus areas for our Smart City program align with SA Tomorrow, our city’s comprehensive plan, with the major focal points of Transportation and Sustainability.  Aligning Smart City efforts with our comprehensive plan is ideal to create synergies on future efforts.  In addition, a third category of Digital Connected Living was recommended.  Digital Connected Living will contain projects to address the digital divide in our city and provide more options for e-government, making it easier for our residents to interact with their City government. The recommended focus areas were supported by the City Council and approximately $8 million was allocated for new Smart City projects as part of the FY 2017 Budget. 

The overall goals of our projects are to enhance transportation in our city by reducing congestion and the number of pedestrian related fatalities, increase our usage of sustainable energy sources and bridge the digital divide through the implementation of more public Wi-Fi.

One of the transportation projects included in the Smart City program is SATRIP, a two-year pilot project that will use sensor technology to gather real-time traffic data along major corridors and will enhance pedestrian safety by using sensors to detect when a person is in the walkway and hold conflicting traffic until they exit. Data gathered by the sensors can also be used to manage traffic in a real-time setting and alleviate congestion.

Under the focus areas of sustainability, are projects that use more sustainable energy sources. The first project is to convert old lights and add new LED street lights to an area of town with limited lighting.  This will improve safety and use more energy efficient technology.  Our Fire Department will also implement the use of drones in search and rescue missions and any Hazmat events to provide increased safety for our personnel.  Finally, the city will install solar charging benches.  The solar charging benches can be used to charge devices, act as a Wi-Fi hotspot and collect data that can be used to better manage the maintenance and design of parks.

Projects like Wi-Fi in the Parks and solar benches with Wi-Fi will give people across the City more opportunities to access public Wi-Fi services and help bridge the digital divide.  Additionally, we will be installing digital community kiosks, which will also have free Wi-Fi service and offer information on city services, local businesses, events and transportation options.  The digital community kiosks will use advertisements to pay for their maintenance and operation while also creating additional revenue. 

We will also launch two mobile apps, one for Parks and one for 3-1-1 services, that will help residents interact with the City better.  The Parks app will provide residents with wayfinding services and amenity locations, while also allowing them to see classes and events within the parks & contact a trail steward if needed.  The enhanced 3-1-1 app will provide residents with a way to report calls for services such potholes or missed garbage pickups through the app.  Additionally, residents will be able to track service requests to see their status in real-time. 

It is important to note that these projects are only the next step in San Antonio’s Smart City efforts.  Many of the projects are intended to be pilots and will be assessed after implementation to determine if the return on investment justifies further resource allocation.  We will continue to research emerging technologies and look for other opportunities to implement projects that can positively affect our residents.

While we are off to a great start as a City organization, the success of any Smart City program long-term is reliant upon partnerships and outreach. We are partnering with the University of Texas at San Antonio to apply together to be a part of the MetroLab Network later this year.  As we move forward, we are coordinating our efforts with local partners like our tech community, water and energy utilities and our local transit agencies to find effective ways to engage them.  By working together, we can make real changes that will benefit all of our citizens and realize synergies that will make our government more efficient.

In the near future, we will continue our work with our partners to build a roadmap for the future of our Smart City program. Becoming a Smart City is not about launching one project or one partnership.  Rather it is the combination of inclusive partnerships and how our projects address pressing challenges in the community that will determine our Smart City status.  The Office of Innovation is committed to the challenge of bringing this program to fruition and ensuring that San Antonio is recognized as a leader in the Smart Cities movement.  


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