What would a friendly, transparent city look like?

Touch-screen kiosks on streets with city information. Public-facing portal displaying city’s monetary data. 3-1-1 apps for non-emergency service requests.

A growing number of American cities are adopting these technologies to become more transparent, and friendlier. They want you to be able to easily access government information – from payroll and debt obligation to zoning codes. Their 3-1-1 systems are staffed with customer service reps to help you find out about city services, say, when to put out recycling.

Here are 5 such technology improving the livability of cities:

Show-Me Checkbook

If you live in the Show-Me state and want to know how your state is managing its money, the data is one click away.

Show-Me Checkbook

Missouri’s new public-facing portal, the Show-Me Checkbook, went live on Aug. 21.

Its designed to be a one-stop shop for residents looking to find the state’s monetary data such as payroll, debt obligations and cash flow. It’s populated by more than 20 million data points, with roughly 10,000 new data points added each day.

Missouri State Treasurer Eric Schmitt

Prior to the launch, Missouri’s financial data was hard to find and analyze. In fact, the state received a D+ grade for financial transparency from the Public Interest Research Group in April of 2018. The nonprofit advocate also rated the state as “lagging” in online access to agency spending data and ranked it tied with Maine in 39th place.

“Unfortunately, in the past, the state has not provided adequate tools for accessing information about state finances,” State Treasurer Eric Schmitt said.

“Missourians have a right to see how their money is being spent and managed in Jefferson City and Show-Me Checkbook lets them do just that.”

Smart Kiosks on the Streets

Kansas City and New York City have them.

Now St. Louis, Mo. and Aurora, Ill., are looking to install them on their streets – these 6 to 7 feet tall, smart touch-screen kiosks.

Smart Kiosk

If you are new to the city, they could very helpful.  They offer free Wi-Fi, directions to local businesses and tourist attractions, public transit maps and emergency alerts.

In addition, they monitor traffic congestion and air pollution.


New York City’s Chief Information Officer

In New York City, the LinkNYC kiosks – that replaced the old phone booths – is set to add bus arrival times to 29 kiosks in Brooklyn, with the service set to soon expand to the remaining 1,700 kiosks in the other boroughs.

The high-speed kiosks, which have Wi-Fi connectivity and allow users to charge their phones, make calls and download music or movies for free, will soon be installed in Downtown Newark NJ.

“From voter registration to healthcare enrollment, and now with real-time bus information on Brooklyn kiosks, LinkNYC has once again proven to be more than just fast and free Wi-Fi,” said Samir Saini, New York City’s IT Commission and Chief Information Officer.


3-1-1 is not new.

But it’s getting makeovers with new technology.

Boston's 3-1-1 App

An easy-to-remember number, 3-1-1 connects citizens with customer services rep who help with requests for non-emergency city services and information. For example, when citizens want to know when to put out recycling or alternate-side parking information, they often call their city’s 3-1-1 for information.

Many cities such as Pittsburgh, Boston and Los Angeles launched 3-1-1 apps in recent years with enhanced services including bill paying capability. In Boston, the system uses a computer model that takes a description of the citizen’s issue and suggests case types that are most likely to fit that description – making it easier to submit requests.

Baltimore was the first city to launch 3-1-1 for non-emergency policy services in 1996, with the help of a $300,000 federal grant. The following year, the Federal Communications Commission made the number available to police departments in other cities with the idea of relieving congestion on 9-1-1 circuits.

Today, more than 200 US cities have 3-1-1 in place.

The sophisticated systems now use 311 data not just to deploy services but also to measure their own performance and make crucial budget and policy decisions.

Dynamic Street

Imagine a city passageway that’s busy with foot and bike traffic during morning and evening rush hours.

But in the quiet afternoon hours, it transforms into a children’s play space.

Dynamic Street sidewalk

On weekends, its rejigged for a block party or even a basketball game.

That scenario is possible, if Dynamic Street – a prototype paver – pans out.

Carlo Ratti

Being developed by Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) alongside Sidewalk Labs — subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet, the modular system holds much promise with it hexagonal pavers designed to be easily moved around, “within hours or minutes,” according to the companies, during different time of the day for different purposes.

“The Dynamic Street creates a space for urban experimentation,” said Ratti, who also serves as the director of the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has told media. “With this project, we aim to create a streetscape that responds to citizens’ ever-changing needs.”


Local zoning codes aren’t easy to understand.

idevelop interactive zoning map

It could take a lot of time and effort to figure out the zoning codes of a particular jurisdiction if, say, a developer is looking to build a mixed-use project, or a policymaker wants to know the impact of a policy change.

idevelop.city is trying to help.

The California startup has digitized the zoning codes of 17 cities including Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, according to media reports.

The resulting interactive maps are easy to navigate, where users can customize their requests to see specific types of zones. Since the solution is aimed mostly at real estate developers, the company doesn’t charge cities for the digitization or the use of their software.

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