It was a Thursday in Washington DC when Kate Garman received a phone call from Jim Loter, the Director of Digital Engagement in the City of Seattle, breaking the news to her about hiring her as Seattle’s first Smart City Coordinator. Before taking office on July 26, Garman worked as Innovation Policy Advisor for the City of Kansas City, Missouri, the city she’s originally from.
She has also served as the legal and policy analyst of the Office of Innovation which included drafting ordinances and policy recommendations to foster a culture of innovation in Kansas City. She managed the Innovation Partnership Program, a civic entrepreneurship program that helps pilot technology solutions at City Hall. Garman has a journalism degree from the University of Kansas and a law degree from the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law. Seattle’s first Smart City coordinator loves to hike and – as an ex-journalist – she enjoys reading the news, noting that journalism has affected Garman’s take on things, especially with regards to community engagement. “You want to engage people regularly from the beginning and you want to be clear about what you’re doing and why you are doing it,” she elaborates.
At the moment, Garman’s team consists of Loter and Michael McMiller, the Director of Seattle’s IT Department, and they will start working with a F– USE fellow starting this fall. “We are working across departments [to come] up with a playbook [illustrating] how to build a comprehensive smart city,” she adds.
Challenges in the city are yet to be identified since the team’s short-term plan is to “learn what’s important to the community, the people, residents and visitors of Seattle, how to acquire data to set city and department priorities and how can we better analyze the data we already have.” In the past two years, she adds, there has been a huge emphasis on environment in smart cities – and there still is. Now, there’s a lot of conversations emerging on the other side of the spectrum about including smart transportation, for example. Garman finds Columbus, Ohio as one of many cities that have set a good example on smart transportation, which makes her very excited about joining forces with the Seattle Department of Transportation. Garman’s personal definition of a smart city is: “Really changing how a city operates to a paradigm shift city and using data in a proactive way rather than a reactive way; making sure people are connected,” she tells progrss. “I think smart cities will be using technologies directly for departments to make well-informed decisions and talk to their citizens to improve and connect on that database sharing.”
Seattle comes fourth in the U.S. cities with most gentrification, with 50% of the city being gentrified. As we spoke with Seattle’s first Smart City Coordinator about innovation versus gentrification, Garman was assured that Seattle is racing towards social justice and that there are community round tables and programs specifically dealing with this issue. “I’m very much excited to work with their department. Social equity is a smart city pillar and we will be very careful in looking at that,” she says.
As a child in Kansas City, Garman tells us that she wasn’t very aware of city infrastructure as she wandered about with her best friend and neighbor on the city streets. “That’s why keeping it safe for families is a good priority in terms of pedestrian and transportation infrastructure,” she reasons.
When we ask about the fears that come with her new post, she tells us that the City of Seattle has been very helpful thus far, and that she’s been welcomed and supported as shapes her growing team and hones her visions for Seattle’s smartness as a city. “I’m so excited with how much progress the city is doing and how much recognition [it’s getting] from a national level; it’s empowering a lot of cities to move forward,” Garman says.
But she’s not just happy about the success of the city’s public sector; “I applaude and am thankful for the private sector. I think a good example [of smart technology we need to leverage on] is that people can track ride-sharing from Uber and Lyft apps on their phones. So, the private sector is certainly pushing expectations for the public sector,” she says.
There are some groups in the Seattle community that have already expressed interest and want to know what’s going on with the city’s plans. “We want to make sure we contact everyone in the city. We want to know what they would like to see from a smart city; we want to make sure we’re delivering projects that will be useful.” In ten years, Garman wants to see Seattle as a leader in the smart city space, making decisions and looking at processes from a data informed perspective. She sees great potential in Seattle’s performance nationally and sees the city as an innovative leader in many of its services.