Understanding Our Urban Environments

SmartBlockPHL – a part of the SmartCityPHL program in Philadelphia, PA – is a pilot project created with the goal of attaining a dynamic understanding of the urban environment. The city, Comcast, US Ignite, and Juganu have partnered to examine how streets and sidewalks are being used. 

14 smart streetlights will be installed in Midtown Village that will use sensors to collect  information about pedestrian traffic, street activity, and the environment by counting people and objects, checking air quality, and monitoring weather conditions. This location was selected for the pilot due to the mix of dining and retail uses, foot traffic, and existing public infrastructure. The data will be collected in real time, and then processed in the cloud.

US Ignite will serve as a facilitator for stakeholder engagement, and bring its technology expertise to the project. Comcast will provide the technology to equip the streetlights to collect the data, while ensuring privacy.

The SmartBlockPHL project is prioritizing data privacy and respect for civil liberties. The city has pledged that: no personally identifiable information will be collected or stored; the City and its partners will not have access to any real-time imagery or audio; the City will not use this data to enforce laws or issue tickets; and only aggregated and anonymized metadata will be used for internal studies and released through Open Data Philly.

“The goal of this project was to test and validate new sensor-based technologies against legacy methods of collecting the same information,” said Labonno Islam, digital engagement and communications manager for the city’s Office of innovation and Technology. “As the city learns more about the quality of data from this project, its teams will develop ways to operationalize it in the future.”

The data collected is expected to help the city respond more effectively to emergencies, and also better understand neighborhood conditions with respect to environmental quality, overall safety, and movement.