Charlotte has a tremendous opportunity to leverage our technology infrastructure and become one of the world’s leading Smart Cities. You can read about the City of Charlotte’s initial plan in this 2016 report Beyond Traffic: Smart City Challenge.

First, a little background: The term “Smart City” refers to the integration of multiple technologies and data sources to manage city assets. The ultimate goal of a Smart City is to improve the quality-of-life for its citizens by increasing the efficiency of the services it provides. Charlotte is part of the national Smart Cities Initiative launched last September to make it easier for cities, Federal agencies, universities, and the private sector to work together to research, develop, deploy, and testbed new technologies that can help make our cities more inhabitable, cleaner, and more equitable.

Charlotte is rich in talent and resources in broadband infrastructure, data science (see 10 Things to Know about Data Analytics in Charlotte), data centers, and IoT. As a result, we are perfectly positioned to benefit from the opportunities Smart City provides.

This article explores what you need to know in the following areas:

  •         Opportunities for our city
  •         Issues and Concerns
  •         Lessons to be Learned

Opportunities for our city:

1.       Smart Energy

a.       Lighting. Smarter use of lighting, particularly use of LEDs, can lower costs. When no people are in the vicinity, lights can be dimmed or turned off. Lights can also blink, and/or change colors when conditions dictate – a traffic accident for example. Some cities are using lower color temperature LED bulbs (low Kelvin) in accordance with American Medical Association guidance.

b.      Envision Charlotte became a national role model for energy savings in an urban environment, and became the role model for Envision America. This Charlotte initiative has reduced uptown energy use by 16 percent since 2011.

c.       Dallas Innovation Alliance and Envision Charlotte announced “For Cities, By Cities,” a new collaboration that will bring cities together from around the globe over the next two years to workshop steps to become smarter, more sustainable, and efficient. Convening in Dallas, Texas in 2017 and Charlotte, North Carolina in 2018, the conferences will feature city officials sharing their perspective with peers about lessons learned regarding what works, what to avoid, how to get started, and how to define success.

d.      Smart Grid is another energy savings project. Through outage detection, disaster recovery processes, support field operations, and smart meters, the city can work around outages and get services restored faster.

2.       Transportation

a.       Multi-model transportation becomes intelligent in a Smart City, with real time location of buses and streetcars. Technology also helps with fleet management, with sensors that measure idle, jackrabbit starts, and the GPS location when using a fuel card.

b.      Smart traffic lights – cameras can detect traffic flow, keeping traffic moving faster, and ideally resulting in fewer accidents.

c.       Did you know Charlotte has over 1500 video cameras deployed across the city? These cameras monitor traffic, provide real-time views of streets, and have license plate readers that alert when they recognize stolen tags. In 2015, the city’s Real Time Crime Center (RTCC) recovered over 300 stolen vehicles through use of this technology. The RTCC primarily focuses on crimes in progress and priority alerts. All the video cameras have pan-tilt-zoom capability, so RTCC officers can follow incidents and relay information and intelligence to officers in the field. For more information, see this 2014 case study on Charlotte’s RTCC.

d.      Smart parking – with sensors embedded in parking spaces, cities can reduce the time drivers take in finding spots. On the enforcement side, cities have an opportunity to raise revenue with fines for cars parked after their expiration time.

3.       Smart Data

a.       Open Data Portals are becoming the norm for a Smart City. This means having a data repository that anyone can access. See Charlotte’s Open Data Portal.

b.      Esri and ICMA sponsored a nice report about Charlotte’s Open Data Portal effort (read the report here.) Kudos to Twyla McDermott, Corporate IT Program Manager, City of Charlotte for spearheading the initiative.

c.       Code for Charlotte, part of the Code for America network, is a nonprofit working to bridge the gap between residents and local government. They use technology, education and advocacy to increase civic engagement in Charlotte. The goal is to make government and community services as simple, effective and easy to use, for everyone. To join the effort, attend one of their free weekly hack nights on Tuesdays at Industry Charlotte – check out the meetup here.

d.      Smart City technology provides the ability to generate new data from sensors. Examples include pollution and pollen levels, which can be made available to citizens who are sensitive to environmental changes.

e.      Open data also means the ability for citizens to report issues. Services can be improved, and authorities can respond faster to issues.

f.        Running data analytics on open data can yield insights on improvement opportunities. Stratifyd is a successful Charlotte based data analytics company, and this blog post demonstrates how anyone can quickly and easily use their platform to analyze and visualize the data. They have a 14-day free trial, so feel free to try it.

g.       Open data also has business use. Imagine a restaurateur deciding where to locate a new restaurant. Using traffic data from a Smart City data portal one can pinpoint good restaurant locations that have high volumes of traffic at specific times on specific days.

h.      The City of Charlotte and UNCC are part of the MetroLab Network, a Lab focused on the intersection of big data and human services. The Network’s mission is to pair university researchers with city policymakers to undertake research, development, and deployment projects that improve our infrastructure, public services, and environmental sustainability. 

4.       Smart Infrastructure

a.       Smart City infrastructure captures high volumes of data, but converting raw data into information is the key to improving services. This is where data analytics comes into play, providing insights into the big data to determine the critical few items of concern.

b.      Sensors can detect lead content in water, and measure it in real time.

c.       Sensors can measure the water level in streams, in real time. Smart Cities have the ability to associate flood conditions to traffic lights and lighting systems, alerting citizens of issues and directly them safely away.

d.      InfoSense is a Charlotte startup success story that implements acoustic technology to detect blockage in sewer lines. The Charlotte Business Journal ranked InfoSense #1 in the 2015 Fast 50. They are a terrific example of Smart City technology improving city services and efficiencies.

e.      Crowd control is another area where Smart Cities can use technology to improve services. When crowds form, access to food and drinks, restrooms, and trash removal are important. Sensors can detect when crowds gather, alerting authorities that a surge in services in needed at a location.

5.       Smart Mobility

a.       For communities to benefit from the Smart City opportunity, data has to be mobile, interoperable, not constrained. The term “open data” describes transparency and availability in source information. In the case of Charlotte, one can pull data in csv format, making it easy to import into Excel or a data analytics program for analysis. Other cities have achieved a high degree of usage of their open data portals. Recently Chattanooga reported over 1.3M views of their portal in the first 9 months of 2016.

b.      Cities need to balance this opportunity against privacy issues. Data anonymization removes personally identifiable information from data sets, so the people whom the data describe remain anonymous.

c.       Charlotte joined Philadelphia and 20 other cities to launch a new initiative focused on ensuring responsible and equitable deployment of smart city technologies. The cities have committed to a common set of guiding principles that emphasize privacy, security, sustainability, resilience, equity and efficiency in their use of these technologies.

6.       IoT Devices

a.       The Internet of Things provide us with reams of data. Integrating this data with social networks is a means of providing proximity information. While typically seen in social apps like Foursquare, proximity data can also be used to point out tourist attractions nearby, or when the next bus is scheduled to stop, or the open and close times of nearby stores.

b.      Sensors and beacons are the IoT devices typically mentioned for Smart City applications. The data collected on the devices needs to be transported to a storage device over a broadband network. In Charlotte, this can be fiber, or wireless connections. Once the data is stored, it can be analyzed for useful insights and real-time alerting.

c.       Charlotte has an active IoT meetup group sponsored by SnapAV, Logical Advantage, and To join click here. Organizers include Dan Thyer, Graham Hardy, Jenn PariseJoe Mullins, Mike Lisankeand Rob Skoon.

d.      Charlotte is collaborating with the larger NC Regional Internet of Things ( organization based in Raleigh. Charlotte recently held a RIoT event at UNCC’s uptown campus on August 2, 2016


Issues to consider when rolling out Smart City technologies include:

1.       Intellectual Property: Who owns the data collected by the city? Who owns the data reported by citizens? Is all data open and freely available, or is some information restricted?

2.       Security: The opportunities and capabilities listed previously sound great, but what happens if hackers access the system of lighting and traffic signals, or water flow, or smart grids to reroute energy? Could ransomware apply to cities as it does to businesses and individuals?

3.       Privacy of personal information. Data anonymization needs to be part of the design of the Smart City. Deciding where and when to anonymize the data is important, as well as replication of the data for backup purposes.


Lessons Learned from other Smart City deployments:

1.       Data deluge. Smart Cities have found that as they deploy technology, the need for larger data storage and bandwidth become evident. When will the data be stored? How long will it be retained? How will data be analyzed? Cities are finding that data is consuming more computing resources, and like the line in the original Jaws movie, “we’re going to need a bigger boat”.

2.       Smart Cities have found the need for strong cross-functional collaboration. All citizens need to have access to information, and cities need to collaborate with businesses and organizations.

3.       Multi-vendor technology will become the norm, making integration key to success.

4.       Much of the Smart City technology is bleeding edge. This is an immature market, with protocols needing to be standardized across vendors. Kansas City is road testing the Internet of Things for Smart City, and you can read about their efforts here.

Charlotte is getting national and international recognition as a Smart City. One such example is this article from

It is clear that Smart City has many opportunities for Charlotte, but it is still early in the technology life cycle, and there many issues that need to be considered. We don’t know all the answers, but we do know the future of Smart Cities is going to be exciting!

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CategoriesSmart City