5 cities, 5 smart ideas: Surrey, Lake Macquarie, Mexico City, Lebanon, Cape Town

Wed, 2015-07-29 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

Scroll down for five smart ideas from cities around the world...

Surrey, B.C. first to integrate IBM's Watson into 'My Surrey' app

The British Columbia city launched a first-of-its-kind pilot project to integrate Council Lead Partner IBM's  Watson technology into its My Surrey app. That means citizens can input questions into the app and receive direct answers rather than a traditional list of search results, much like Siri on Apple's iPhones. Watson has the ability to understand natural language and learn answers to common questions, for instance: Why wasn't trash picked up or how do I make an animal control complaint? The pilot is a collaboration between the city, IBM and mobile app development firm Purple Forge. “Surrey is excited to be the first city in the world to deploy this transformational technology,” said Mayor Linda Hepner. “Innovation is key to ensuring our city remains prosperous and prepared to face the challenges of the future. A successful integration of IBM Watson into the city applications will maximize efficiencies and provide residents with a better customer service experience.”

'Ideas wall' helps Lake Mac develop its digital economy strategy
The city council in Lake Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia, is working with the community of 200,000 plus to explore how digital technologies can make Lake Mac a more connected, prosperous and resilient smart city. To do that, it's using a new online "ideas wall" – an engagement tool developed in partnership with the local firm Social Pinpoint. The wall gives community members an opportunity to contribute ideas on their city's future and vote on ideas suggested by others. The wall is full of suggestions – from having an e-Wastemobile that can be hailed via an app to creating social media pages for each suburb to offering free Wi-Fi and low-cost, high-speed broadband service for businesses.

10 squats worth a free subway ride or package of condoms in Mexico City
As part of an effort to combat the country's obesity crisis, Mexico City has set up health stations at subway and bus stations around the city. In addition to promoting healthy, active lifestyles, the stations are equipped with machines with motion sensors that count the number of squats a person does. When they do 10, they get a receipt that entitles them to a free ride on public transportation -- or a package of condoms.  “The idea is that people go and get the message about being active,” Armando Ahued, health secretary for Mexico City said in a Fox News Latino report. Free medical check-ups, handing out pedometers and free outdoor gyms are also part of the get active initiative.

Lebanon, TN will turn waste into energy to power wastewater treatment
With a $250,000 matching grant from the Clean Tennessee Energy Grant program, Lebanon is constructing a waste-to-energy plant that will provide clean electrical power and reduce landfill usage, according to the Lebanon Democrat. When completed next year, the biomass gasification plant should be able to convert 64 tons of wood waste, sewer sludge and discarded tires into renewable energy that will power the city's wastewater treatment facility. “Receiving this grant is very exciting for our city,” Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead said in the article. “It further validates our decision to pursue an aggressive clean energy and innovative waste disposal direction." Nashville-based PHG Energy will build the plant.

FindMyWay a win-win for Cape Town
South Africa's second most populous city suffers from severe traffic congestion – to the point that poorer residents who live in outlying areas can spend hours getting to work on public transportation. Wealthier residents with cars are also challenged by congested roads. Mark Day, who oversees global efforts to help government agencies accelerate a digital mobile strategy for Council Lead Partner Microsoft, says Cape Town has started promoting FindMyWay, a Windows phone app developed by a local startup. The idea is to get people moving around the city faster. For those who can't afford smartphones, he says a text-based option is available for use on simple feature phones. "Helping poorer people find more affordable opportunities to get to work is good for the economy," suggests Andre Stelzner, Cape Town’s Director of Information Systems and Technology. "Making it easier for tourists to enjoy our beautiful city will boost tourism. And as we learn from people’s movement patterns from the app, we gain valuable information to ensure our future investments in public transportation match how people prefer to move around the city."

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