Chicago is implementing CIVIQ Smartscapes’ smart city solution in a bid to boost the information available for citizens and raise the level of engagement between the city and its residents.
The project forms part of a wider AT&T Smart Cities spotlight city pilot and will see CIVIQ installing interactive devices in downtown Chicago along with ‘high-speed’ public Wi-Fi. The devices will also come equipped with applications such as wayfinding, interactive information about transportation services and safety alerts, while residents will be able to notify officials about issues around the city too.
“We are excited to take this technological leap and put Chicago at the forefront of smart cities throughout the country,” said Brenna Berman, chief information officer for the City of Chicago.
Potential pitfalls for Chicago
Despite the benefits that CIVIQ suggested that the project would have, Clive Longbottom, analyst at Quocirca, suggested that introducing public Wi-Fi across the city can have a detrimental effect on hotels, cafes and other businesses within the area that have their own commercial Wi-Fi services.
“Many of the businesses are tied to long-term Wi-Fi contracts and therefore the businesses could complaining, and then the local public authorities have to device how they’re going to deal with this; pay the businesses for lost revenues; provide a lower-class services via the free Wi-Fi than is offered by the paid Wi-Fi or just hope that no legal action is taken by the businesses”.
According to CIVIQ, the project aims to increase citizen engagement and improve city services by connecting smart devices, services and people. However, some of the benefits of the project seem nebulous.
Longbottom suggests that the Wi-Fi access could be beneficial to those with very low data plans, but that others would be using their 4G data plans to get the same service.
“It would be a poor public sector body that tied its services into the single Wi-Fi service, rather than making it generally available anyway, so the presence of additional value escapes me,” he said.
He urged the City of Chicago to ensure that it moves with the times, as this has been a major issue that has hindered progress in many smart cities.
“What happens when the next great move forwards in Wi-Fi technology comes through? Will they update all waypoints? How about as the IoT becomes a real thing? Will they embrace this and implement big data analysis and machine learning algorithms to help citizens gain the most out of the system?”
Longbottom refers to the likes of Po in Italy, Helsinki in Finland and Bradford in the UK as areas where the original excitement wore off and the systems started to fade in users’ minds, meaning that they reverted back to using personal systems that offer greater overall value.
He thinks that it is likely that well-meaning public bodies and commercially-minded suppliers will continue to launch projects like this but doesn’t expect to see consistent and ongoing value from any of them.
“The technology changes too often; the requirements from the end users will be a constantly changing environment. Unless the whole is viewed as a continuum and not as a project, it will be doomed to failure,” he said.