The City of Racine captured an honor this month when it was designated a “Smart City,” one of five cities selected nationwide by the Smart Cities Council, a national network of consultants and technology experts and stakeholders.

Don’t take a bow yet, the work is just beginning.

The challenge for “Smart Cities” is to use data to make their communities better, to make them more efficient in delivery of services, to make them more responsive to the needs — and wants — of their citizens. In other words — to become smarter.

Racine is not alone in its efforts — it was supported in getting the designation by the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Gateway Technical College and Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave and others who see the Racine test as one that could expand and apply to their needs as well.

No, there is no big pot of money associated with the award — but it does offer access to national — and local — experts to identify and collaborate on solutions to problems or ways to enhance the liveability and productivity of the city.

It is not, as Peggy James, dean of Social Studies at the UW-Parkside, talking about cities with flying vehicles 300 years from now — it’s about better using information and data, some of which is already collected, to be responsive to a city’s needs.

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That can be some small things — Delagrave gave the example of a “smart park,” which collects data on what equipment is used and what people do at the park in order to put the information to use for planning new parks or changing existing parks.

Or it can be larger things — things like improving emergency services by syncing police and fire vehicles and ambulances with traffic lights; transportation systems to better serve low-income residents; using drone technology to assist law enforcement; boosting wireless internet access; or using sensors to notify emergency services if an elderly person has fallen down or can’t get out of bed.

It’s a nice award, but it’s an even better challenge to use information and data to better use existing resources efficiently and develop new ones that will better serve area residents. It will take a collaborative effort, and it’s good to see the city has already gotten support from other area institutions and governments.

It’s a challenge to be innovative for a city that has a storied history for invention and innovation. And it’s going to be boots-on-the-ground practical and not pie in the sky.

As Parkside’s James put it, “It’s going to happen; this isn’t just the flavor of the year. This is going to happen, so doing it right now will be absolutely excellent for southeastern Wisconsin.”

So let’s be smart about it.

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