SEAT PLEASANT — Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant and other city administrators met with U.S. Congressman Ben Cardin to explain the city’s efforts in becoming a smart city on Aug. 2.
During the meeting, Grant and his administration explained how the City of Seat Pleasant became the world’s first authentic small smart city. Other smart cities around the county include Boulder, Colorado and San Francisco, California.
He attributed the small size of the city, which contains under 5,000 residents and less than a mile in square feet, to its success in becoming a smart city as they can test new ideas that would be more difficult in a large city.
On May 8, 2016, the city council voted to become a smart city, and their journey of change and innovation began.
“We are known for being a city of excellence, but that’s not really identifying,” Grant said. “What will be known for was what we were searching for.”
The idea of the smart city is to do more with less, said Seat Pleasant’s Intelligence Operations Center (IOC) Lead Mohamed Abdelhameid. The model is supposed to be citizen-centric where they improve the all-around quality of life for their residents. Some of the key priorities for Seat Pleasant, in particular, include improving health, public safety and education.
Abdelhameid, who led the presentation, defined a smart city as “an evolving ecosystem that brings together policies that are smart, processes that are smart and brings technology together to improve the quality of life in the city.”
However, with a smart city, technology is not supposed to be the “be-all, end-all,” but a tool to achieve the city’s goals.
Two key points of this are connectivity by using the internet to connect stakeholders as well as allow for more collaboration between government, and data collection and sharing where they can keep track of what they are doing as a city.
These things create a shared service hub; a place where people can connect with all of the city’s departments and resources in one place.
“A lot of cities are calling themselves smart cities, but they are not,” Grant said. “And everywhere I go throughout the world, no one is able to debate me on our definition, which is the shared service hub, everyone agrees with the importance of it.”
Other reasons cities do not become smart cities have to do with worries about the cost, or not knowing where to start with the implementation of it and most elected officials not being aware of exactly what a smart city is, Abdelhameid and Grant later added.
Since becoming a smart city, one of the initiatives Seat Pleasant has taken on is their MySeatPleasant app where people have easy access to common 311 services. Also, the app tells residents how much a service costs to remain transparent and use resources in areas where they are needed the most, and includes content relevant to seniors and millennials.
The smart city initiative has benefited the city’s housing and economic development. The city had over 140 vacant homes in 2016 which was costing the city $1 million per year in upkeep.
Through policies and practices adopted after becoming a smart city, they were able to renovate and sell them. Seat Pleasant now has only 30 vacant homes.
According to Seat Pleasant Police Chief Devan Martin, there has been a major shift in crime along the Washington, D.C. border, which has an impact on Seat Pleasant along with the 220,000 vehicles pass through the city every day.
The police department has started utilizing new technology such as drones, which they demonstrated for Cardin at the end of the meeting. Along with with deploying resources from the county, district and their police department, the new technology and predictive analytics allow the police to monitor the city and criminal incidents from a live perspective.
“We’ve seen a mass reduction in crime overall…One that I’m particularly impressed by is the reduction of commercial robbery. We’ve reduced of commercial robbery by 100% in 2018,” Martin said.
Over the next five years, the city plans to improve its smart city features even more.
This includes an upcoming Smart Home and Health program that will serve to provide additional assistance to seniors who are aging in place. According to Grant, in the past, the city has had two elderly residents who were not able to call for help and had died in their homes as a result. The new voluntary program will install sensors and devices in the home so that family members or government officials will be alerted if something is wrong.
Also, within the next five years, the city will aim to ensure that all residents have access to wifi and 5G. Finally, they will establish a partnership with Prince George’s Community College, where they will teach students about smart cities.
By the end of the meeting, Cardin called their efforts “extremely impressive,” was pleased with what the City of Seat Pleasant has been able to accomplish and supported giving them the letter of support they requested to apply for grants.