Scaling The Smart City: Design, Deployment, and the MAPPD Project

By Jennifer Clark and Thomas Lodato

How do we build the Smart City?

This question is the central research focus of the MAPPD project (“mapped”), or the Multi-Array Phased Participatory Deployment. Both a practical and strategic endeavor, MAPPD is an ongoing research project and a city-university collaboration of the Georgia Institute of Technology and the City of Atlanta. Georgia Tech’s Center for Urban Innovation (CUI) and the Georgia Tech Research Institute are the university leads for the project with the support of the Georgia Tech’s Institute for People and Technology (IPaT) and the Public Design Workshop.  The City of Atlanta’s SMARTATL team has taken the implementation lead for the City.

The project focuses on understanding the various layers of enabling Atlanta’s Smart City design, from technology development to public policy and administrative practices to community and stakeholder engagement. Beyond charting and understanding how Smart City efforts progress, MAPPD is also an intervention itself, following and contributing to an extended case study of Smart City development.

Lessons from (and for) the Emerging Smart City Landscape

Globally, no shortage of projects and programs exist under the Smart City label, now numbering well into the hundreds. These efforts are geographically diverse, diverging “in some meaningful ways from the dominant imaginary that ‘smartness’ only resides in cities like New York and San Francisco.” As such, these efforts provide many lessons related to planning, development, and implementation that account for productive differences in the social, political, and cultural spheres where the efforts reside. From these projects, we have charted important trends and gaps that motivated the foundations of the MAPPD project. These foundations are:

  1. A phased technical deployment in order to increase opportunities for in-action learning, community engagement and responsiveness, and integration of ongoing technical improvements, while simultaneously reducing the implementation burden on participating organizations.
  2. A comprehensive administrative and technical strategy focused on interoperability that accounts for the necessary current and eventual need for systems to communicate in order to foster sustainable growth and resilient expansion over time.
  3. A fundamental commitment to engaging the community at large, and to integrating concerns originating in everything from planning to technical specifications in meaningful ways.
  4. A program that established policy around open data and open innovation in order to ensure both continued access and local and regional economic development.

Beyond these pillars, the goal of the MAPPD project is to document and analyze this approach to in order to develop a replicable programmatic approach to Smart Cities design and deployment.

Conceptual and Operational Foundations of MAPPD

In a comprehensive literature review of Smart City definitions, Albino, Berardi and Dangelico identify four shared themes that cut across definitions of a Smart City. The themes: 1) smart cities pair functional efficiency with “social and cultural development”; 2) smart cities foster new forms of economic development; 3) smart cities magnify human capital; and 4) smart cities are sustainable. As much as these authors identify a normative definition of a Smart City, they also illustrate the sprawling demands placed on Smart City projects and programs. Spanning domains from technical infrastructure to urban and regional economic development, projects often struggle to accommodate diverse agendas under a single umbrella. One strategy to attend to the vast interest in Smart Cities is to embark on projects that allow for progressive accumulation of technologies, engagements, and policies overtime rather than all at once.

An example of this approach is SmartSantander. The core feature of SmartSantander is the establishment of a city-wide testbed that allows multiple parties to develop applications, efforts, and projects within a single platform and program. The project began with a clear strategic framework that was accompanied by a technical architecture for development. In combination, the framework and architecture provide a platform for testing, validation, and prototyping. Notably, SmartSantander set out to include the community at large as well as firms, yet offered no formalized policies related to open data and innovation. Additionally, SmartSantander had no specific accommodations for how systems would interoperate, instead relying on developers to handle this on an ad-hoc basis.

As just one example, SmartSantander is illustrative of a pattern in Smart City projects. The pattern is to develop a Smart City on a project-by-project basis. In producing isolated projects, Smart City efforts passively argue that the city is a collection of discrete and distinct systems that assemble into a mega-system, leaving integration to happen in use or after-the-fact. In MAPPD, we are explicit about integration, and this begins by being intentional about how any individual project develops with what is a programmatic approach to Smart Cities design, development, and deployment.

The four key elements of MAPPD are:

1) Phased Deployment
north-ave-sensor-boxAn central technical component of MAPPD is the development of a sensor array called the Campus Array Node (CAN) system, an environmental and mobility-sensing platform under development across Georgia Tech. Rather than develop the system in full, release it, and integrate later, CAN has been released in phases to test early versions of the hardware, software, data infrastructure, and use and access policies. These early versions of CAN are more minimal systems, housing the most straight-forward sensors to mount and calibrate. Based on findings from the early deployments, subsequent modules will grow in complexity as well as technical sophistication. This increases opportunities for in-action learning, community engagement and responsiveness, and integration of ongoing technical improvements, while simultaneously reducing the implementation burden on participating organizations.

The initial MAPPD deployment targets the intersections along the North Avenue Smart Corridor. The first CAN node was installed in July 2016, and is being used to develop an application programming interface (API) to access the real-time data. The next four nodes are targeted for installation by the end of October 2016.

2) Open Data/Open Innovation
In MAPPD, we are explicit about policies and practices related to open data and open innovation. Georgia Tech’s Center for Urban Innovation (CUI) is currently engaged in analyzing best practices of open data and open innovation in order to inform local policy and practice in these areas. A clear benefit of Smart City design and planning is the ability to leverage the distributed capacity of citizens and organizations by building platforms that accommodate changing needs of urban residents now and in the future. To date, open data, open innovation, and community involvement have been desired outcomes of many projects, but are often integrated ad hoc or as afterthoughts. Building these areas into MAPPD ensure that the technical deployment is necessarily coupled with appropriate public policy.

In one notable example from 2012 in New Orleans, Code For America fellows created BlightStatus, an application that “makes it easy for anyone to look up any address in New Orleans and see a simple, clear history of the property, including reports of blight, inspections, hearings, and scheduled demolitions.” Given the continuing impact of Hurricane Katrina on the city, BlightStatus addressed a prominent concern of residents: the ongoing social, environmental, and economic impacts of blighted property on the recovery and growth of the city. By showing the current progress of a case, the application increased transparency and accountability by revealing the inner-workings of bureaucracy. BlightStatus’ development reveals the ways Smart Cities can be developed through partnerships that extend the traditional geographical polity of a city as well as illustrates the key role of nonprofits and private companies in shaping cities through investment, services, support, and software, a point made by CUI Director Jennifer Clark in her recent work. This point in particular is further supported by the evolution of BlightStatus beyond its original design. The project started as an application for code enforcement in New Orleans but was later spun out into more comprehensive software called CivicInsight, offering a framework to track municipal processes from building permits in Palo Alto to economic development activities in Dallas.

The evolution of BlightStatus/CivicInsight illustrate that Smart City projects are deeply connected to an extended “fast policy” network of practices characterized by the adoption of technologies, the standardization of administrative practices, and the sharing of central concerns. The trajectory of BlightStatus/CivicInsight highlights the need to ensure that data is made open and available (as New Orleans did) both in the present and long-term to support the functioning of iterative applications. Even more, the software’s development shows that the value of allowing firms to leverage open data beyond the immediate need of a city as it holds the potential benefits for other cities with similar (or similar enough) issues. As an exemplar, BlightStatus/CivicInsight provides an example the necessity of open data and open innovation.

3) Interoperability First
As noted above, Atlanta’s North Avenue corridor is a designated testbed for multiple IoT (Internet of Things) systems, according to SMARTATL’s strategic plan. One central research question is how might these systems work together rather than work in parallel? 

Consequently, MAPPD is structured around the principle of “interoperability first,” meaning that the project is structured to consider requirements beyond any individual hardware or software, project or testbed. MAPPD instead focuses on the integration of multiple heterogeneous systems. In so doing, MAPPD mitigates proprietary lock-in. Thus, interoperability is not just a technical term that refers to the ways systems communicate and coordinate within MAPPD. Instead, interoperability includes the ways many different types of systems work together to make the Smart City functions and creates opportunities for economic development.

4) Public & Participatory
MAPPD holds a deep commitment to making the city work for its residents. As a part of that commitment, a deployment approach has been designed to integrate community engagement workshops to refine hardware/software, align the deployment team with as many stakeholders as possible, and better understand the needs, concerns, hopes, goals, and ideas offered by the community.

The first workshop is planned for October 2016 and will gather the community and stakeholders around the second sensor node planned for concurrent deployment. The workshop will ask how smart cities sensors might be meaningful to the specific needs of the community through facilitated activities, all of which will be hosted at the Atlanta City Studio. Subsequent workshops are planned for the following months, and focus on the next phases of MAPPD. As a whole, the workshops provide a means to give voice to the community, identify shared needs, and find new avenues for what a Smart City could mean at the neighborhood-, community-, and city-scale.

Smart Cities Rely on Open Innovation

In a recent article in Nature, Martin Curley, the Chair of the European Union’s Open Innovation Strategy and Policy Group outlined twelve principles guiding “Open Innovation 2.0.” Curley’s concept goes beyond Chesbrough’s original definition of open innovation by pushing the boundaries of the underlying concept further from the discrete act of invention to dynamic and programmatic acts of innovation.

The expansion of “openness” as it relates to innovation to include community separate and apart from government parallels the patterns seen in “civic IoT” (internet of things) practice. Similar to the crowdsourcing and hack-a-thon processes mentioned above to understand public sector applications of new inventions, Open Innovation 2.0 looks to includes communities of users in the entire innovation process. In other words, communities are part of determining what is developed, not just whether to buy a product once it is commercialized.  

Recognizing that many organizations still pursue innovation through linear contracts and bilateral relationships, Curley argues for an ecosystem approach in “Open Innovation 2.0.” And here the language of innovation returns to the same framework on which much of the resilience discourse is based: a language that favors natural systems and adaption.  The proximity between the two concepts  — innovation and resilience — seems to shrink in an Open Innovation 2.0 model.

Purely technical solutions to urban challenges rarely measure up to the promises of their advocates. The diffusion of urban innovations — in policy and planning — requires adaption to local contexts and communities.  Each city has its own unique administrative and managerial quirks and its own embedded norms and values — its own peculiar way of “getting things done.” Truly Smart cities require diverse stakeholders within and across cities collaborating on innovative solutions to a wide array of interdisciplinary challenges. 

The starting point for that collaboration is increasingly seen as the creation of networks aimed at building dialogue, fostering relationships, and sharing knowledge about what works and equally what does not. The broader question is how cities as places and as institutions manage their own resilience in the face of a dynamic environment where the technical terrain is uncertain and the policy outcomes largely unknown. Perhaps conceptualizing both urban governance and regional economies as open innovation systems is a step toward both economic and institutional resilience.



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