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Smart Cities delegation

A delegation of representatives from Racine County was in San Diego Tuesday as part of the Smart Cities Week Conference, including Racine Mayor Cory Mason, center. The Smart Cities Council has chosen the City of Racine as one of the five winners of its Smart Cities Readiness Challenge, the council announced Tuesday.

RACINE — The Smart Cities Council has chosen the City of Racine as one of the five winners of its Smart Cities Readiness Challenge, the council announced Tuesday.

As one of the winners, the city will have access to expertise and financing for projects “using technology and data-informed decisions to better deliver City services and create a more equitable community,” according to a city release.

In March, the Smart Cities Council announced that Racine was one of the 10 finalists in the Smart Cities Readiness Challenge. More than 100 cities across North America applied.

“Winning the Smart Cities Readiness Challenge is the culmination of more than a year’s worth of work in which the City has brought together amazing community partners around the idea the we can use technology to deliver better services to our residents while at the same time creating a more inclusive and equitable City,” said Mayor Cory Mason, who was at the Smart Cities Week Conference Tuesday in San Diego, where the results of the competition were announced.

The Smart Cities Council is a network of experts and stakeholders in smart technologies that offer information and consulting for cities, the public sector and businesses to help build a smarter and more sustainable society.

The council’s website says it promotes cities that embody its three core values: sustainability, workability and livability. It supports cities that provide healthy living conditions without pollution with a digital infrastructure that makes services conveniently available. The Council also helps cities become smarter through a combination of advocacy and action.

What did we win?

The city will receive services that “will help propel the City’s smart cities initiatives,” including:

  • Access to best practices. The application process is almost like a smart cities workshop. Knowledge resources coach you on best practices as you go along.
  • Access to the Smart Cities Project Activator, an online tool to help cities and their public and private partners plan, manage, and finance smart city projects.
  • Access to other cities to share lessons learned and expand the peer network.
  • Access to financing to explore alternative business models and financing options.

The City also touted the nationwide publicity Racine will receive as a hub for innovation.

As for how smart technologies will be employed, the City laid out several priorities in the press release that it hopes to use smart technology to address such as:

  • Communitywide connectivity to address the digital divide. “Access to high-speed internet is essential to ensure that we level the playing field for everyone — from students doing their homework to adults who need access to online education and training.”
  • Providing multimodal methods of transit to provide better access to jobs and address the needs of employers.
  • Creating intelligent intersections that prioritize public safety, emergency services and public transit.
  • Launching a comprehensive municipal energy audit in cooperation with the Wisconsin Office of Energy Innovation as part of the City’s efforts to lower its carbon footprint and meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accords.

Key Collaborations

Mason credited the win to the city’s collaboration with Gateway Technical College, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Racine County Economic Development Corporation, Racine County and Foxconn Technology Group.

“I have always said we get things done in Racine through collaboration,” said Mason.

“A key to successful community initiatives is collaboration,” said University of Wisconsin-Parkside Chancellor Deborah Ford. “This is a real opportunity for Racine to transform itself as a Smart City, and the UW-Parkside learning community is excited to be a part of the transformation.”

Alan Yeung, Foxconn director of U.S. strategic initiatives, extended his congratulations to Racine for the honor and said the initiatives align with Foxconn’s plans for Racine and Racine County.

“Foxconn is proud to have contributed to the City’s drive to transform into a ‘Smart City,’ and will continue to deepen our partnership’s positive impact on the community by leveraging technologies developed in the Wisconn Valley ecosystem,” Yeung said in a news release.

While Mayor Cory Mason signed and the City Council approved a memorandum of understanding with the Foxconn Technology Group to form a public-private partnership on smart technologies, at this point, it is unclear whether Foxconn will be involved with the Smart Cities Council and if so, in what capacity.

Moving forward

Racine is the first “Smart City” in Wisconsin, and also was the smallest city to make the list of finalists, second to Palm Coast, Fla., with a population around 86,000. The City’s press release stated that on average other finalists had populations around 800,000, though “98.5% of U.S. cities have populations lower than 100,000.”

“Because of its size, Racine will serve as an effective Smart Cities laboratory for small-to-mid-sized cities,” the release stated. “Being a city at the forefront of innovation is nothing new for Racine. For generations, Racine has been known as ‘Invention City.’ The blender, the garbage disposal, hair clippers, gas-powered lawnmower engines, early versions of automobile, and even malted milk were invented in Racine, improving the quality of life for millions around the globe. At one point in its history, Racine held more patents per capita than any other U.S. city.”

The city plans to conduct public outreach with the goal of “engag(ing) stakeholders from every sector of the community and to meet residents in their neighborhoods so that there is a clear understanding of what Smart Cities means and how it can benefit their lives.”

“We know the City faces a number of very serious challenges,” said Mason. “We have housing, workforce, and educational-attainment needs that we must address.

“There is no one solution to solve the inequities of our community, but if we are intentional about our planning, making sure the community is engaged, and the benefits of smart cities initiative are broadly shared, investing in smart city solutions will be an important component of creating a more equitable Racine.”

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Reporter

Christina Lieffring covers the City of Racine and the City of Burlington and is a not-bad photographer. In her spare time she tries to keep her plants and guinea pigs alive and happy.

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