Kansas City gets ‘smart': New streetcar line opens amid free public Wi-Fi zone

Many smart city proponents speak in vast generalities. They talk about the ways that Internet of Things sensors and big data will improve life for citizens while conserving water and energy resources and reducing traffic congestion.

Not so Bob Bennett, the recently installed chief innovation officer for Kansas City, Mo. He’s a combination of CIO, city planner and futurist with a quick grasp of technical details about what smart city technology can do. Bennett arrived at his job just four months before the city’s planned opening on Friday of a shiny new downtown streetcar line offering free rides and the deployment of public Wi-Fi that spreads over two square miles, an area of more than 50 square blocks.

The 2.2-mile streetcar line promises to be much more than a people mover for residents, businesspeople and tourists. It will also be the first-generation smart city corridor for new technologies, some running wirelessly over one of the largest free public Wi-Fi zones anywhere. The zone was built by networking giant Cisco and wireless carrier Sprint.

Kansas City, Mo., CIO Bob Bennett

Cisco chose Kansas City for the project because of its medium size; it has fewer than 500,000 residents (with 2 million in the metro area). The company wanted to try out a variety of new smart city technologies, which is easier than in a large metropolitan area, and hopes to transfer what it learns to other cities.

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