NSF Smart and Connected Communities Workshop

Erin McMichael

Business Manager, APA-Maryland

Smart Cities and West Baltimore Summary and Community of Stakeholders Matchmaking Workshop


All walks of life were present at the NSF Smart and Connected Communities Conference, where avid listeners gathered to hear research about the plans for how to provide technology resources to Baltimore City residents.

Baltimore City Deputy Chief of Operations, Shonte Eldridge, focused on the Smart Cities Initiative, an idea to make Baltimore a more tech-friendly city. Many ideas that are already being put into place were mentioned, such as interactive touch screen data info booths that are being placed in the downtown Baltimore area. These data booths provide information including things like live events, restaurants open for business, and shops to visit while visiting the area. These booths are to be placed in areas like West Baltimore, providing relevant information to area residents, such as food markets and even nearby hospitals.

Willow Lung-Amam, Assistant Professor or Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Maryland, College Park, surveyed the neighborhoods directly to find out their needs. Asking questions like: What are West Baltimore residents' top challenges and priorities for improving the neighborhood? How do residents currently access and use technology? What barriers and limitations do West Baltimore residents face in accessing technology? 

One of the biggest concerns expressed by residents in the West Baltimore area is Internet access. Many residents do not have Internet data available on their phone, or even at home. Libraries and schools have wifi, though it's limited in time. Making life easier for residents is the key. They need help with finding jobs, using GPS to go places, and doing homework after school. The target audience? Those who use technology the most: kids and teenagers.

One of the proposed ideas was to create a network all over the city of Baltimore where residents would have access to free internet wifi. This is a long-term solution, as that could take years to develop. However, interesting ideas about how to make this wifi dream a reality were things like solar trash cans. You've seen them in downtown Baltimore as well, they look good and close on their own. A solar powered trash can that is connected to wifi could help in the interim with the free wifi issue. Kids could do homework on the bus, while walking to go to school, or while waiting at the bus stop. The only complaint from people is that they thought the smell would be too offensive to be standing around waiting for wifi to kick in. Understandably, however, it was mentioned that the trash cans used downtown have proven more effective with trash clean up and blocking out smell than the standard trash cans you see around the city. It also didn't seem like an important enough reason not to provide an essential need to city residents. Trash cans are on almost every corner and would serve dual purposes. It seemed one of the more realistic ideas that would be in effect in the near future.

Seema D. Iyer, PhD, Associate Director of the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore, oversees the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance at JFI, which collects, integrates and disseminates community-based quality of life indicators, such as the Vital Signs report. Her research focuses on the role of data sharing in collaborative public innovation processes. These vital signs essentially gather important data, or "take a pulse" of what's going on in Baltimore's neighborhoods. This data would help to integrate the kind of programs you would see developed for neighborhood planning and advocacy.

Katherine Klosek, Director of Applied Research, GovEx at Johns Hopkins University, focused on how data research could better serve Baltimore area residents as well. She showcased what other cities were doing and how we could piggy back off of some of these incredible ideas, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. She works to help local governments rethink the way a city should work and translates policy recommendations and promising practices into action.

Much was to be digested from the topics presented at this event. Current data research coupled with current policy planning could truly bring Baltimore to the status of a data- driven smart city. We look forward to seeing these ideas coming to fruition.

Check out pictures from the event here.

Below are resource links:

·       Johns Hopkins GovEx report: First Things First: Laying the Foundation for a Smart City Guide

·       City of Baltimore 2018-2023 Digital Transformation Strategic Plan

·       Viewfinder: Baltimore in Pieces - UMD Student Film inspired by Conversations with Residents

·       BNIA Smart Cities Data Resources (soon to include a crowdsourced Community Data Toolkit (under construction at Baltimore Data Day on 7/13): https://bniajfi.org/currentprojects/smartcitiesresources/