Leading the Charge for Innovation

Leading the Charge for Innovation - one small city at a time, how a city of 4,500 residents became the testbed for smart technology.

From public transportation to public safety, smart city technology can improve one person's journey between work, home, and leisure. And while "smart city" may seem like a term most ubiquitous with a sprawling metropolis, rural communities and towns with less than 5,000 residents can realize the benefits quicker - and more obviously. Just ask Seat Pleasant, Maryland and their 4,711 residents.

The city's implementation of smart tech created an unprecedented impact to its communities: service response times improved, crimes dropped, and residents (nearly all of them at 91%) felt more invested in their community. How does a city with an estimated per capita income of $17,802 in 2000 become a model for city leaders around the world? Through partnerships with innovative companies large and small.

"It was critical to bring both opportunities and resources to my residents," says Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant, who took office in 2004. "I know the future of our city depends on our ability to remain competitive with where the world is going - and it's no doubt that the future is smart technology."

Seat Pleasant, Maryland Quick Facts

  • 4711 population
  • 0.73 geography (1.89 kilometers squared)
  • $52,484 median household income
  • 10 miles outside of D.C.
  • $214,700 median property value

The Nation's Testbed for Innovation

Home to fewer than 5,000 residents and under one square mile in size, Seat Pleasant has partnered with more than 20 organizations for its smart city projects.

The city started with data collection policies to improve public safety and city services and identified opportunities to create efficiencies with simple tech solutions. Manual data collection and filing were abandoned, BoardDocs replaced paper city council agendas, and the My Seat Pleasant App provided its residents the ability to quickly report service requests. As a result, Seat Pleasant reduced expenses in half and improved service response time by 90%.

Seat Pleasant "is pro-innovation and pro-business," says Mohamed Abdelhameid, Director of the Center for Government Synergism for Seat Pleasant, formerly a senior consultant at IBM and a pivotal character in the city's smart transformation. "We want to enable people with great ideas for solving problems and give them the opportunity to test out new solutions and technology here in our town."

Small Is Smart

A thoughtful technology strategy ensures that Seat Pleasant is a serious contender for companies looking to implement and test high tech and machine learning solutions while deploying smart services. Seat Pleasant has capitalized on its size to build partnerships that apply smart city technology to the real world.

Seat Pleasant created a holistic ecosystem that allows tech experts to see the full capabilities of their developments. The city's size lends itself to comprehensive data collection, policies that increase the safety and protection of citizens, and the development of programs that prepare the local workforce of the future.

Unlike larger municipalities, small cities are able to move at the speed of development. With a much smaller chain of command, policies are created and passed quickly to accommodate the needs of developing smart technology while its smaller footprint makes deployment more efficient. The small city advantage also makes it easier to pivot, test, and monitor improvements or challenges in emerging technology.

The Future Is Small & Smart

Although, approximately 60% of the nation's population lives in small cities (source: Pew Research Center), large cities often dominate in gaining access to valuable resources. With small cities more-recently at risk of further decline in population, education access, and decaying infrastructures, Seat Pleasant's approach has become a successful model for other municipalities to adopt, implement, and afford. A shared services hub gives smaller cities access to affordable smart tech and a network of other city leaders facing similar growth and accessibility challenges.

In addition to collaborations with large companies like AECOM and IBM, the city is working with other partners to bring smart kiosks, benches, and lights to the area, with hopes to deploy even more smart tech in the coming year. Most impressive is the city's collaboration with Circle GX to implement 5g, marking them the first in the Washington, D.C. area with the technology. The partnership is also working to expand broadband through 5G, the first program of its kind.

Part of the city's passion to define smart city initiatives in urban environments includes equipping residents to use the emerging technology and become experts in Seat Pleasant proprietary smart ecosystem. The city is developing resident and business training programs to staff tech companies as they make their homes in the area.

"As we work hard to welcome new businesses to our city, we must also work hard to prepare our residents to fulfill these positions," says Mayor Grant. As part of that effort, an eight-week smart city course at Prince George's County Community College began this fall.