It’s Friday night in downtown Chandler and residents are flocking to visit the area’s bars and restaurants.
Parking starts to get scarce as cars file into lots around Chandler Park. A driver on their way to ImprovMania worries they won’t be able to find a spot.
A camera scans the area, counting the number of available parking spaces left. The number is transferred up into the digital cloud. The stressed driver accesses an online dashboard that has up-to-date analytics on where to park.
They find a spot. Park the car. And enjoy their night.
This is a scenario city officials hope will play out through a new partnership with Verizon Wireless.
The telecommunications company entered into an agreement with the city last year that obligates Verizon to provide its parking optimization technology.
Verizon will install video nodes around downtown Chandler and provide the data it collects to the city.
In exchange for this free service, Chandler will waive right-of-way fees for Verizon to use the city’s underground fiber communications system.
The deal’ is meant to be beneficial to both parties: Verizon gets to improve connectivity to its customers with access to fiber networks and Chandler gets data that may make parking a bit easier for residents.
Ryan Peters, the city’s government relations manager, said the Verizon parking technology should be deployed in the next couple months.
Upon completion, he said, the public will ideally be able to access parking data through an online portal or application.
The Verizon partnership could be considered as one example of Chandler’s recent efforts to brand itself as an innovative city.
Aside from being a haven for autonomous vehicles, Chandler is trying to position itself as a “smart” city by utilizing the latest technology to solve a variety of problems.
Whether it’s applying for building permits online or reporting park graffiti through a mobile app, Chandler is adapting to the latest whims and trends of the 21st century.
“We’ve always looked to technology to solve our service-delivery programs,” said Micah Miranda, the city’s economic development director.
Chandler frequently presents itself as a hip, futuristic, tech-friendly city.
During the state of the city ceremony in February, the city parodied its own brand with a video of Mayor Kevin Hartke donning special goggles and exploring a virtual-reality version of Chandler.
“In reality, we really do have much more to offer,” the mayor joked during the ceremony.
Miranda said it has been part of Chandler’s culture for the last few years to seek out smart-city opportunities. He said a strategic plan is currently in the works that will scope out how Chandler’s status as smart city will take shape in the near future.
Each of the city’s departments is exploring smart-city initiatives in one way or another, Miranda added, but the city is only looking at technology that will make its operations more efficient.
“We’re not doing it for the sake of just having a new, cool, shiny toy,” Miranda said. “We’re looking at it to solve a problem our residents, our businesses, our visitors experience.”
Pinning down an exact definition for what makes a city “smart” can be difficult.
In fact, researchers with the United Kingdom’s Department of Business Innovation and Skills argue there is no absolute definition of a “smart city.”
They think it should rather be thought of as a series of steps that lead to a place becoming more livable for its inhabitants.
“A Smart City should enable every citizen to engage with all the services on offer, public as well as private, in a way best suited to his or her needs,” British researchers wrote.
There generally has to be an investment in social capital and digital technology to produce a more attractive environment.
Cheerleaders of the smart city movement warn urban populations will dramatically rise over the next decade, so elected officials need to find ways to keep cities running smoothly.
Critics will argue this reliance on technology to collect data on citizens raises privacy concerns about unwanted surveillance.
Miranda said privacy and security are of the utmost importance to the city. The state already has laws in place to regulate information that can be released on residents, he added, and the city’s legal department ensures any new technology is compliant.
Public safety is one department in Chandler that’s extensively adopted new technology in recent years.
In addition to adorning police officers with body-worn cameras and publishing arrest reports online, the Chandler Police Department regularly collects and analyzes data on where it receives calls for services.
This last year, the agency was able to add an extra patrol beat to the city’s southern district and CPD says its already seen response times decrease in that region.
Because the police department collects so much information on a daily basis, the agency additionally looked for a way to synthesize all this data.
In 2012, the police department adopted Splunk software to initially provide audit functions. The software’s searchable format made it easier for officers to request and access data on arrest reports or crime trends.
For example, Splunk could quickly scavenge through communications recorded on the agency’s dispatch system and pick out inappropriate language spoken by officers.
According to Splunk, this type of auditing process would have otherwise taken several hours to complete without its software.
And the innovations are happening elsewhere across the city.
New smart cameras are expected to be installed later this year that could detect cyclists traveling near traffic intersections. If approved by the City Council, these cameras would adjust traffic signals to accommodate for cyclists or vehicles.
The city says it has several more potential smart partnerships under consideration that could offer new services to residents.
One partnership involves a pilot program with Lyft, the ride-sharing company, which could transport residents to Valley Metro bus stops on the city’s south side.
Due to a lack of transit service south of Pecos Road, the city put out a request from private entities to offer a solution that may be cheaper than expanding bus routes. Lyft responded with an offer to provide discounted rides, if the city paid a portion of a rider’s fare.
The city of Phoenix partnered with Lyft to implement a similar program in 2017. Chandler will spend the next month hammering out the details to its deal with Lyft before it begins deployment.
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