A Summer of #SmartCities and Self-Discovery

Before this summer, I never imagined I would be working for local government, not to mention in Louisville, Kentucky. I had heard great things about OPI2, but I was wary of how my interests in math and technology would relate to government. However, when I arrived at Louisville 10 weeks ago, I was amazed by the innovative efforts of Louisville Metro–especially the Smart City initiatives led by the Office of Civic Innovation. I was impressed by the mayor’s devotion to using technology and data to further Louisville’s goals of compassion, equity, and growth and to improve the quality of life for all residents.

My main project for the summer was to work on the Smart City Playbook for Louisville. This plan would be Louisville Metro’s strategy for shaping and guiding the technological transformation of both the government and the community. Prior to this internship, I had little knowledge of smart cities and the smart initiatives of city governments around the world. But after 10 weeks, I guess you could say I’m a bit of a smart city expert.

After days of researching and reading many, many smart city plans, I realized that it is not a question of wanting smarter cities. We need smarter cities. By 2050, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas. So if we stay with our old model of city growth, the outcomes will continue to fuel inequality and inefficiency. As our cities expand, commute times get longer, the environmental impact worsens, resources deplete, and inequality deepens. This is a global challenge and cities must stay on top of it.

The second thing that stood out to me is that most of the conversation and planning of smart cities tends to focus on technology, but there is so much more to it. Yes, exciting solutions are emerging in virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and in other areas. But as much as technology plays an important role in any smart city, deploying every cool gadget across city infrastructure does not make a city smart. In order to make cities smarter and more sustainable, we need to effect changes to systems, infrastructure, and people to reap all of the benefits. What smart cities do is leverage technology to elicit the wisdom of its residents. They create platforms for residents to organize about, find new ideas and test them, and create positive changes in their communities. And government, private sector, and civil society must work together, not in isolation. I think this is really awesome because ultimately it is the people, through collaboration and innovation, that make a city smarter.

I could go on about everything I have learned this summer, but I have honestly experienced so much more than I could have hoped for in just 10 weeks here at OPI2. I had the opportunity to speak with so many wonderful people in Louisville Metro and learn all about the ins and outs of local government. I experienced real professional work and responsibility and became a valued member of a team. I learned that it is okay to not always have a clear direction on a project and the importance of taking initiative. But the most valuable takeaway for me is knowing that my passion for math and technology could actually be used to help people and communities directly and make a positive difference. I am so thankful for my time in Louisville and OPI2. Not only have I discovered so much about this awesome city, but I have discovered so much more about myself.

— Devika Kedia