The Public Space
October 28, 2015
by Ken Mayer
Despite my general disinterest in sports, I have noticed that the Cornhuskers have been losing and the Cubs have been winning. Seems like there must have been a rip in the cosmic fabric. How can this be?
The Wall Street Journal cleared this up recently with an article entitled “How the Cubs Emerged from the Stone Age.” Turns out the Ricketts family had to deal with a technology backwater at Wrigley. They found all of the team’s computer servers in a closet covered by a cafeteria tray to catch water that leaked through the ceiling when it rained. The team was still processing season ticket orders by fax machine and some employees were assigned to scan the Internet for relevant articles and deliver paper printouts to executives.
So, the Cubs spent nearly $6 million on technology upgrades. Executives now collect and analyze data on potential customers as well as players who are ready for the “Bigs.” They built a proprietary computer database that stores everything from scouting reports to advanced statistics. They even became one of the first teams to use neuroscience computer tests to analyze the talents of prospects.
Apparently, the hometown kids got tired of the taste of Billy Goat Soup.
This is not an isolated problem in a traditional sport. It is happening here. Did you know that Omaha’s traffic signals communicate with the traffic department by way of dial up modems? You know, the kind that make those squeal and beep noises when they connect. Fortunately, the traffic guys are working on a fix, but it makes me wonder what else might be back in the stone age.
Omaha’s post World War II success was, in part, built on a robust technology infrastructure. To support the Strategic Air Command, we were heavily innervated with phone lines. The availability of fast and inexpensive telecomm helped make industries like telemarketing and credit card processing possible and earned Omaha the nickname “America’s Back Room.”
It seems to me that we don’t have that advantage this time around. For our city to continue to prosper we are going to have to move decisively toward being a “smart city”. A smart city uses technology to enhance quality and performance of urban services, reduce costs and resource consumption, and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens.
Here’s the thing: the latest revolution is different.
Past technologies have been largely purpose built. We developed the internal combustion engine for the purpose of moving people and their stuff around. Refrigeration mainly preserves food and keeps up cool. But the new technology is not like that. It’s a universal engine that we have to tell what we want done. Besides telling it what to do, we have to feed it (it eats data).
If we want a better quality of life for our kids, and ourselves we will need to embrace the idea of the smart city. Chattanooga installed 1 gigabit service in 2009 – Omaha is only now seeing speeds that high in limited areas. Recently, they introduced 10 gigabit service city-wide. A study by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga found that the network has generated more than 2,800 new jobs!
That’s just the economic development piece. Imagine knowing exactly when the bus will arrive at your corner, or cruising out Dodge Street nice and steady without stopping for any lights maybe even without actually driving your car. Think about seamless and easy to access information about any aspect of city government with the opportunity to provide input on your nearby park without leaving your desk. Some neighborhoods are getting in on the technology already by forming virtual neighborhood associations using the NextDoor social networking platform.
Whether its finding your next job or sitting in the park reading Sartre, the smart city is the place to be (and become).
The Public Space
Ken Mayer is a freelance writer, photographer, consultant and adjunct faculty member at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He has served on the boards of The Nebraska Choral Arts Society, Downtown Omaha Inc. and Landmark’s Inc. Mr. Mayer has been a consultant and volunteer for Omaha by Design since 2002. Opinions expressed in this editorial column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Omaha by Design.