Smarter Cities team meets with citizens of Houston

Media coverage of the Smarter Cities Challenge

The Smarter Cities Challenge team continued our mission to complete the discovery phase, which will be completed at 4:30 PM Wednesday August 15th (but who is counting!?).  We were fortunate enough to get a full 2 hours with many of the Super Neighborhood leaders.   This provided great insights into their challenges and perceptions.

Houston has been divided into 88 Super Neighborhoods where residents of neighboring communities are encouraged to work together to identify, plan, and set priorities to address the needs and concerns of their community. The Super Neighborhood Council serves as a forum where residents and stakeholders can discuss issues, establish priority projects for the area and develop a Super Neighborhood Action Plan to help them meet their goals. In some cases, more than one of the Super Neighborhoods have joined together to create a stronger, more active Council. The Super Neighborhood initiative is building and improving on past successes and relies upon stakeholder participation and outreach. The people living in the neighborhoods themselves are best-equipped to know what their needs are, and are the most invested in seeing that those needs are met. They bring these concerns to the City and work together to have them addressed and resolved. Through this initiative, City government has established strong relationships within Houston communities.

As the great Massachusetts Representative and former Speaker of the House Thomas Tip O’Neill said:  “All politics is local”.  It does not get any more local than your own neighborhood.  The leaders of the Super Neighborhoods who attended last night are a passionate group of citizens who want the best for their neighborhoods and really desire to be part of a Smarter City.  This was clear in what they communicated to the team about being smarter about the way the city and Super Neighborhoods work together.

Some of the issues highlighted:

  • Communications:  The is a clear frustration with the communication mechanisms, the lack of a full closed loop communication process, an inability to share best practices and information across the Super Neighborhoods and with the city.
  • Individualized Services:  The feedback here is that there is not a “one size fits all” approach to delivering information or services.  An elderly person vs. a 22 year old right out of college have radically different preferences.
  • Analytics:  There was a clear statement about the need for analytics to understand what is going on in the neighborhoods, from basic reports to detecting patterns within and across the Super Neighborhoods.
  • Understanding the full role of the Department of Neighborhoods: This manifested itself through a discussion about what the Smarter Cities Challenge is attempting to address and how we will approach it.

All in all, the discussion and feedback we received from the Super Neighborhoods, while not necessarily positive, was extremely helpful and in line with what we have been hearing.    I really appreciate the candor of the Super Neighborhood leaders.  It is this type of interaction and feedback  that will allow the Smarter Cities Challenge team to develop recommendations which will have both and short term impact.

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