Smart Cities, at What Cost?

Kansas City, Missouri, wants to be a smart cities leader, but it also needs to address concerns about data collection and privacy, say critics.
January 10, 2019, 1pm PST | Camille Fink
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Kansas City is positioning itself at the forefront of the smart cities landscape by encouraging private companies to try out new projects and by seeking out federal funding for programs.

In 2011, it was the first city to get Google Fiber, and Cisco Systems came in a couple years later and installed fiber optic cable and traffic monitors along a new streetcar route. "The city’s downtown corridor now monitors nearly everything that happens along this stretch of road — cars, pedestrians and parking spaces. The wireless system has been used by 2.7 million people," reports Timothy Williams.

As Kansas City and other cities across the country scramble to get out ahead of the technology game, experts say they need to think more about privacy, security, and financial issues, particularly as they relate to agreements made with private companies. "Some mayors acknowledge that they have yet to master the responsibilities that go along with collecting billions of bits of data from residents," adds Williams.

Kansas City is now looking to expand services to the East Side, a low-income area where the majority of homes do not have internet access. "The city says it wants to transform the neighborhood, which has a high crime rate and is dotted with vacant buildings. It plans to install air quality sensors, water meters to detect leaks, a bus line, surveillance cameras and a gunshot detection system," notes Williams.

Some residents say they welcome the improvements the new technology will bring. But others worry about surveillance in communities of colors and the consequences of handing over access to private technology companies.

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Published on Tuesday, January 1, 2019 in The New York Times
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