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Boston request input from public over smart city initiatives and ideas

Boston’s city leaders and key decision makers are requesting input from the public in relation to smart city initiatives and ideas. Boston has established itself as one of the most innovative cities in the USA. However, it is outlining a more strategic approach to its implementation of Internet of Things (IoT) - and is requesting that the public disclose and submit their ideas and aspirations in order to improve the quality of life for residents of the city.

Earlier this month, city officials released a RFI (request for information) in which it called on urbanists, technologists, entrepreneurs and visionaries to submit their ideas on how IoT technology can improve the quality of life of the people who walk its streets every day. Using non-government language the 11-page document detailed its position on IoT and disclosed what it hopes to accomplish by seeking new ideas and visions from the general public.

Some of the proposed goals outlined in the document ranged from the increase of digital access and equity, to the delivery of exceptional city services. There was also a desire expressed to expand constituent engagement - and the creation of accessible, practical and delightful public spaces.

The smart city playbook devised by Boston’s leadership contains skepticism regarding some IoT projects, with a stated desire to pursue and invest in more definite outcomes. Co-founder of the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, Nigel Jacob revealed that they’ve adopted a more strategic approach to the projects, and that in the last number of years the city had been involved in more localized experiments.

Jacob said, "So far, every 'smart city' pilot project that we’ve undertaken here in Boston has ended with a glossy presentation and a collective shrug. What we've done [the last few years] have been more localized experiments. I think we're at the point now where we're sort of creating more of a strategic approach to the work. The hope here is to surface a lot of the ecosystem players that are certainly around Boston, but more generally also, so we can take a more long-term view in terms of where we want to be investing."

The RFI document disclosed issues in relation to finance, citing that it had a constrained budget – but expressed hopes that there would be an interest between public-private partnerships to collaborate in order to develop new public infrastructure. In addition to this, the city released the first draft of a document entitled ‘Imagine Boston 2030’. The draft discloses a broad high-level strategy towards city planning and development over the next fifteen years.

Boston chief of streets, Chris Osgood, said, "We've been critical of many of the products we've seen over the last couple of years. A lot of these smart cities or Internet of Things technologies are often framed as encouraging technology for their own sake and because the reality is I don't think anybody really knows what the added value of these things are, so we want to try to engage the vendor community out there, globally, in that discussion to try to figure out 'how do we go from the sensors to actually making the quality of life better in the city?' Doing something faster does not necessarily mean you're doing it better or that the quality of service is higher."

RFI submissions are due Jan. 29. The city will interview some respondents in February, and next steps to pursue potential projects will be publicly posted Feb. 18.