How we grew to become Yamagata City Ambasadors

Our Smarter Cities Challenge team did not become ambassadors of Yamagata City over night. When we first arrived,  the six IBM team members, three Japanese, two Americans and one from the United Kingdom, were all strangers to this area of Japan.  We arrived in Yamagata City together from Tokyo on one of Japan’s high speed shinkansen trains which planted us right in the middle of the center of the city.   We did not know it at the time, but this station would become our home and gateway to becoming ambassadors.  Since our hotel was connected to the station, we began and ended our three weeks adventures there.

We discovered that Yamagata City, located in the center of Yamagata Prefecture, is a former castle town that has developed since the middle of the 15th century. In Kajo Castle Park, noted for its cherry blossoms, are moats and stone walls recalling scenes of life at that time. We can see the Kajo Castle and many of the mountains that surround the city from our hotel windows.

So how did we become Ambassadors?  The Yamagata Smarter Cities Challenge team was very fortunate to work on a project that would require us to visit all the amazing attractions that make up the cultural, spiritual and vibrancy of this rural city. Day by day we began to discover why people want to live, work and spend time in this City.

While the people of Yamagata are considered shy,  they can easily be drawn into a conversation and once invited to chat, are extremely appreciative of the engagement.  We’ve encountered groups of school children that giggle with delight when they hear a simple “hello” is spoken to them.

 

Last Sunday we were guests of our Yamagata City Government Tourism Team’s imonikai (imoni get-togethers) a festival celebration of Autumn in beautiful park along the banks of the Mamigasaki River.  There we discovered hundreds of local Yamagata City residents gathered around their “Imoni pots” creating a delicious stew for their friends and families. The citizens invited us to share in their celebration sharing special treats, fresh fruits, local vegetables and local beer and sake.  We helped light the fires and stir the pots. On our way home that afternoon,  we all shared the special feeling we had about the friendliness of the local people.

These are just a few examples of the friendly people we are meeting in Yagamata City.  We meet them daily in our travels.   Restaurant works and owners, business men and women who own various attractions large and small.  They have all shown their willingness to communicate the beauty of the City and the welcome the tourist.

 

 

 

 

 

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We are on a journey to become Yamagata City ambassadors

Our Smarter Cities Challenge team did not become ambassadors of Yamagata City over night. When we first arrived,  the six IBM team members, three Japanese, two Americans and one from the United Kingdom, were all strangers to this area of Japan.  We arrived in Yamagata City together from Tokyo on one of Japan’s high speed shinkansen trains which planted us right in the middle of the center of the city.   We did not know it at the time, but this station would become our home and gateway to becoming ambassadors.  Since our hotel was connected to the station, we began and ended our three weeks adventures there.

We discovered that Yamagata City, located in the center of Yamagata Prefecture, is a former castle town that has developed since the middle of the 15th century. In Kajo Castle Park, noted for its cherry blossoms, are moats and stone walls recalling scenes of life at that time. We can see the Kajo Castle and many of the mountains that surround the city from our hotel windows.

So how did we become Ambassadors?  The Yamagata Smarter Cities Challenge team was very fortunate to work on a project that would require us to visit all the amazing attractions that make up the cultural, spiritual and vibrancy of this rural city. Day by day we began to discover why people want to live, work and spend time in this City.

On our daily walks we meet the young high school students in the station who quickly break out in smiles and laughs when we simply say “hello” and then engage in a short conversation using our smartphone app for translation from English to Japanese and back.  We’re also found that useful in restaurants, shops and attractions.  The single major attribute of a Yamagata Citizen is friendly.

 

Best Imonikai in Japan!

We were lucky enough to be here in Yamagata City to experience “Imoni-kai,”  a seasonal celebration. As autumn arrives in Yamagata, family and friends gather at the riverbed and put cobbles together to make a furnace; then enjoy outdoor one-pod cooking “Imoni-kai” with taro, beef, konnyaku, and green onion.   While there were hundreds of people there,  the entire event felt like a back yard fall party with many ““Imoni-kai” plots with people of all ages gathered around their pots.  Sharing fire making skills and recipes.  We felt right at home since it was very easy to walk about and start a chat with just about anyone.

 

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Yamagata City, a foodie paradise

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The Internet of (African) Things

I was recently selected to work with a team of technology professionals on a Smarter Cities Challenge in the city of Abuja, Nigeria.  Smarter Cities are cities that interconnect citizens, government, businesses, and data to efficiently run city operations and meet the service needs of the citizens.  Similarly, the Internet of Things is the broader concept of interconnecting any device in any environment so that consumers of the device data can benefit from services like situational awareness and data analytics.  In a way, Smarter Cities and The Internet of Things use technology to bring people together in a more harmonious way.

Before arriving in Africa, I expected that my assignment would help me better understand how the Internet of Things could interconnect the people and government of Abuja in a way that would improve the lives of everyday citizens.  As an African-American on my first trip to Africa, I also expected a unique cultural experience that would more deeply connect me to the history of African-Americans.  Growing up in America I learned the history of some of my ancestors who were taken from Africa and enslaved for a period that lasted for hundreds of years.  Although I have embraced my ancestral connection to Africa, it has always felt distant and to some degree it has been an intangible Thing.  This changed for me the minute I landed in the city of Abuja.  One of the first things that stood out to me was the customary greeting I received from so many of the citizens of Abuja.  “You are welcome”, people of Abuja would consistently express in the most sincere and warm fashion.  I truly felt welcomed.  This feeling was reinforced while meeting with the government officials of Abuja.  I did have mixed emotions to say the least. My feelings ranged from a sense of belonging to something with pride to a sense of returning to a place that I never really knew or understood.  I have heard others express similar feelings about visiting Africa, but witnessing the pride and beauty of Africa first hand is nothing like I have ever felt before.   I witnessed people with physical features and mannerisms that closely resembled people who were neighbors and schoolmates of mine while growing up in America, but the warmth, pride, and level of self-determination I witnessed made me proud and more appreciative of the beauty of Africa and the African Diaspora.

There was something else… something that was missing.  This was not obvious because it is something that I have never experienced before.  I was in a country where every position of importance was held and controlled by people with “black” skin and the low expectations of inferiority, criminality, poverty, and lack of self-determination, to name a few, were strangely absent.  I suppose these are things that have attached themselves to African-Americans after more than 300 years of oppression.  It seems that Native Africans, while having challenges of their own, do not have the residual stigmas associated with being descendants of “slaves” (I prefer to call my ancestors Africans because it is more humanizing).

As part of my adventure in Africa, I went to visit Lagos and the Badagary Slave Port.  This obviously was an emotional experience and one that I will never forget.  To walk along the sands where some of my ancestors left Africa forever was almost an out-of-body experience.  Some of the things I saw angered me.  However, I am grateful to be an American with the freedom to pursue happiness in a way that few global citizens can.  This was part of my IoT experience, my Internet of African Things experience.  I am thankful that I work for a company which is probably the only company in the world that can provide opportunities for me to genuinely help communities across the globe while connecting me to a part of my ancestral history in a way that is meaningful beyond words.

Source: The Internet of (African) Things

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Smarter Cities Challenge 2017-18 winners announced and exciting results from the SCC Memphis project

JenCrozier

Last Thursday was an exciting day for the Smarter Cities Challenge program. Atlantic Magazine featured the City of Memphis and their innovative approach to alleviating pressure on their overburdened 911 system. One out of every five phone calls to 911 in Memphis is a mistake. That results in costly, unnecessary trips to the emergency room. By applying technological solutions, the city is able to reduce the load on the system, while getting targeted care to those who need it. This is a result of the recommendations provided by the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge program.

“What we’re doing now, based on IBM’s recommendations, is a system wide approach. Let’s all work together as a group, so everybody is doing it the same way. I think that’s why we’re having such good success.” Andrew Hart, division chief for Emergency Medical Services at the Memphis Fire Department.

We also announced 5 more cities to benefit from the Smarter Cities Challenge (SCC) grant program.  Earlier this year, over 100 mayors applied for IBM’s support to help their cities tackle a pressing issue.  Congratulations to the 2017-18 Smarter Cities Challenge winning cities:

Busan, Korea; Palermo, Italy; San Isidro, Argentina; San Jose, USA; and Yamagata City, Japan. Each of these cities submitted compelling applications based on issues shared by many other cities. Our goal is that the work IBM and these cities do together can be shared broadly to help other cities tackle similar issues.

The announcement of these five projects makes all of us excited for the mayors, their staff, and the IBMers who are about to embark on this incredible journey.  By using some of IBM’s leading technologies such as Watson Analytics, and weather data from The Weather Company, an IBM Business, the IBM teams will be able to help tackle issues in public safety, immigration, affordable/sustainable energy, affordable housing and economic development.

Cities have evolved since the inception of the Smarter Cities Challenge program in 2010. They have become more sophisticated and are facing new, more complex issues.  With more and more of the world’s population moving into cities, it is imperative that cities address these new issues with sustainable, creative and technological solutions.

To the Smarter Cities Challenge 2017-18 mayors and city leaders, congratulations!  You are about to have some of IBM’s best and brightest work with you to tackle and address the key issues your cities are facing.  They will immerse themselves in your community and you will be amazed at the level of understanding they will gain about your challenge, the passion and dedication they will give, and the deep problem solving they will impart. We have no doubt that our colleagues will work tirelessly, with you, to ensure the recommendations they make are actionable.

Jen Crozier is Vice President, IBM Corporate Citizenship and
President, IBM International Foundation

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A letter to the Smarter Cities Challenge 2017 winners from The Honorable Jim Strickland, Mayor of Memphis

Jim Strickland

IBM is announcing the next round of winners of its Smarter Cities Challenge grants today, and, as mayor of a city that received one of these great pro bono consulting engagements just last year, I can speak from experience when congratulating the cities of Busan, Korea; Palermo, Italy; San Isidro, Argentina; San Jose, USA; and Yamagata City, Japan.

Many other cities competed to make the case as to why IBM should invest its time and expertise in helping them address these issues of local, critical importance. There could only be a limited number of winners, and you were in that elite group.

Having had the good fortune to be in your position, I can say confidently that you can expect truly transformational experiences when you work hand in glove with the experts from IBM. To the mayors and citizens of the cities announced today, think of it this way: Your IBM visitors are something like honorary citizens. They come in person from all over the world – because it’s very hard to get a true sense of a city’s essence over the telephone and computer – to truly understand the personality, quirks and strengths of your respective regions. Although nearly every waking hour will be spent thinking about and discussing the assignment you’ve given them, the IBM team members will immerse themselves fully in your culture and witness firsthand the qualities that make your regions so attractive. They will eat your cuisine (they loved our barbecue!), visit landmarks and cultural sites, chat with residents, and see firsthand the legacy and potential of your regions.

When the IBM team visited Memphis in early 2016, I had just begun my term. The collaboration was an excellent way for my administration to dive right in. The city had asked IBM to come because we felt as if we needed to take a more strategic, methodical, data-driven approach to the issue we identified, which, at its root, is public health.

See, over the years, we’ve found that our emergency ambulance service, provided by our fire department, became overwhelmed with too many telephone calls that were not true health emergencies. This made it challenging to dispatch paramedics in a timely way to those suffering from acute, life-or-death health problems. We found ourselves in this position because residents know that we are always going to take their phone calls seriously, and provide transportation to the hospital emergency room if necessary.

Therefore, it became difficult to provide ideal service because our ambulance corps’ territory had grown with the city’s boundaries, and had a limited budget with only so many dispatchers, ambulances and paramedics. We were facing $20 million annual shortfalls in our emergency services budget, yet annual ambulance trips had increased over five years by 24 percent – that’s more than 124,000 trips. While our population had stayed the same since the 1970s, the geographic area of our boundaries had roughly doubled.

But perhaps most daunting of all was an over-reliance on the ambulance service for basic, non-emergency calls. Too few patients were availing themselves of the primary care offered by providers to better manage chronic, long term health and related lifestyle concerns. This was putting sicker patients at risk of not receiving timely attention.

In short, we needed to rethink our entire approach to emergency health services.

As with all cities that apply for a Smarter Cities Challenge grant, we already had a lot of good ideas. But we needed IBM to help us identify and validate our most promising approaches, and to further flesh out specific details for their implementation. IBM showed us how different city agencies could pool and analyze information to identify our challenges, then make better joint decisions. The team showed us how we could use data in a more systematic way to make the case to enlist the help of third parties, such as health insurance companies and health care clinics.

As a result of this collaboration, we formed a steering committee co-led by the Memphis Fire Department. We recently launched a pilot program where we send a doctor and a paramedic trained in community health to those patients with chronic health conditions that aren’t immediately life threatening. These patients are ultimately guided to community clinics, where they can work with physicians to manage their conditions and improve their lifestyles. Over the course of about two months, we discovered that about 64 percent of ambulance callers were better suited for a long-term approach rather than an immediate emergency room visit. We’re training nurses to evaluate callers and follow up with them over the long term to ensure that they establish a relationship with doctors. Local hospitals support these initiatives, as they ease their caseloads and ensure that they can adequately treat the very sick. The IBM team also helped us create the basis of an education campaign that has made residents more aware of the consequences of better decision making.

We were very glad to have hosted the IBM team, which brought an outsider’s neutral perspective and a fresh set of eyes to evaluating our opportunities. I know well that there is a lot of hard work ahead of you – but I also know well just how valuable the IBM team will be as you make your cities even better places to live, work, and enjoy.

The Honorable Jim Strickland is the Mayor of Memphis, USA.

Related Resources:

IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge to Help Five Cities Improve Services to Their Residents

The Atlantic – CityLab: Too Many People Are Calling 911. Here’s a Better Way

Read About the Memphis, USA Smarter Cities Challenge

Read More Blogs by Smarter Cities Mayors

Learn More About the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge

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The Internet of (African) Things

I was recently selected to work with a team of technology professionals on a Smarter Cities Challenge in the city of Abuja, Nigeria.  Smarter Cities are cities that interconnect citizens, government, businesses, and data to efficiently run city operations and meet the service needs of the citizens.  Similarly, the Internet of Things is the broader concept of interconnecting any device in any environment so that consumers of the device data can benefit from services like situational awareness and data analytics.  In a way, Smarter Cities and The Internet of Things use technology to bring people together in a more harmonious way.

Before arriving in Africa, I expected that my assignment would help me better understand how the Internet of Things could interconnect the people and government of Abuja in a way that would improve the lives of everyday citizens.  As an African-American on my first trip to Africa, I also expected a unique cultural experience that would more deeply connect me to the history of African-Americans.  Growing up in America I learned the history of some of my ancestors who were taken from Africa and enslaved for a period that lasted for hundreds of years.  Although I have embraced my ancestral connection to Africa, it has always felt distant and to some degree it has been an intangible Thing.  This changed for me the minute I landed in the city of Abuja.  One of the first things that stood out to me was the customary greeting I received from so many of the citizens of Abuja.  “You are welcome”, people of Abuja would consistently express in the most sincere and warm fashion.  I truly felt welcomed.  This feeling was reinforced while meeting with the government officials of Abuja.  I did have mixed emotions to say the least.  My feelings ranged from a sense of belonging to something with pride, to a sense of returning to a place that I never really knew or understood.  I have heard others express similar feelings about visiting Africa, but witnessing the pride and beauty of Africa first hand is nothing like I have ever felt before.   I witnessed people with physical features and mannerisms that closely resembled people who were neighbors and schoolmates of mine while growing up in America, but the warmth, pride, and level of self-determination I witnessed made me proud and more appreciative of the beauty of Africa and the African Diaspora.

There was something else… something that was missing.  This was not obvious because it is something that I have never experienced before.  I was in a country where every position of importance was held and controlled by people with “black” skin and the low expectations of inferiority, criminality, poverty, and lack of self-determination, to name a few, were strangely absent.  I suppose these are things that have attached themselves to African-Americans after more than 300 years of oppression.  It seems that Native Africans, while having challenges of their own, do not have the residual stigmas associated with being descendants of “slaves” (I prefer to call my ancestors Africans because it is more humanizing).

As part of my adventure in Africa, I went to visit Lagos and the Badagary Slave Port.  This obviously was an emotional experience and one that I will never forget.  To walk along the sands where some of my ancestors left Africa forever was almost an out-of-body experience.  Some of the things I saw angered me.  However, I am grateful to be an American with the freedom to pursue happiness in a way that few global citizens can.  This was part of my IoT experience, my Internet of African Things experience.  I am thankful that I work for a company which is probably the only company in the world that can provide opportunities for me to genuinely help communities across the globe while connecting me to a part of my ancestral history in a way that is meaningful beyond words.

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