This spring, Seattle started looking for a Smart City Coordinator–the first in the city’s history. After a few months of searching, Seattle found the right candidate, Kate Garman. On July 20 the former Innovation Policy Analyst for Kansas City, Mo.’s Office of Innovation was officially appointed to the role. Though she’s been on the job for only a couple of weeks, Garman is already praising the team around her.

“I am extremely grateful to my Seattle team. It has been a wonderful transition and they have been so helpful,” Garman told 21st Century State & Local. “I’m really excited to join the leadership team in Seattle. It’s an incredible opportunity to start from the beginning and put together a smart city strategy with the different departments.”

Kate Garman is Seattle’s first Smart City Coordinator. (Photo: The City of Seattle)

Seattle’s existing technology team is similarly excited to have her, and is hoping to bring over some of the work she did in Kansas City.

“Kate brings a wealth of experience and a collaborative approach to developing innovative smart city projects,” said Seattle’s Digital Engagement Director Jim Loter, in a blog post. “Kansas City is a model for how cities can use technology to operate more efficiently, provide better service, and improve people’s quality of life. I’m very excited that Kate is joining us in Seattle to help accelerate our smart city work.”

As Smart City Coordinator, Garman will collaborate with IT staff, city stakeholders, partners, vendors, and members of the community to develop a holistic smart city strategy for Seattle. She will be responsible for ensuring that the city’s smart city projects are well-coordinated and are designed and implemented with the city’s business needs and goals in mind. While no two days will ever be identical for Garman, her primary task will be meeting with other department heads, she said.

“Since it’s the beginning of this position, its about finding out what’s going on,” Garman said. “Right now I’m an ear. I’m focusing on discovering what opportunities are out there and what conversations are taking place.”

The creation of the coordinator position highlights Seattle’s desire to be a leading city in emerging technologies.

“Seattle strives to become a smarter city, responsibly use new technologies and data to improve our community’s quality of life,” said Chief Technology Officer Michael Mattmiller, in a blog post. “This means bringing together stakeholders from across the city to understand when these technologies can provide value, and to facilitate deployment in a manner trusted by our community. We are excited to have a proven leader like Kate help us advance our efforts in this space.”

In terms of what she’ll be working on, Garman sees many projects on her horizon.

“I think there are a lot of things that can be in the scope of smart cities,” Garman said. “Smart cities are a way to gather data to proactively make decisions that better the lives of residents and visitors. It’s about how we can improve the city of tomorrow and the city of today.”

Garman said she has a personal passion for infrastructure technology.

“I think it affects so many things in one’s life, including economic status, where you live, and how you move your kids around,” Garman said. “I think there’s a rich opportunity there.”

Aligned with Garman’s interests, Seattle has a number of transportation projects underway with the city’s Department of Transportation, Fire Department, City Light, and Public Utilities all focusing on smart city tech. Upcoming projects are focused on streamlining traffic flow, fostering economic development, and enhancing aspects of the city’s livability, workability, and sustainability, according to a city blog post.

Aside from transportation, Garman said closing the digital equality divide is essential–and that smart city technology can help.

“Connectivity is key,” said Garman. “Cities have to address digital equality and make sure residents are connected. That’s the first step and it’s a game changer. That basic connectivity is critical and will have the big impact on everyone in your city.”

Even before Garman came onto the scene in Seattle, the city was working to close the divide.

“We actually have just created a digital equity plan,” Garman said. “Seattle has identified zones in the city where there is a significant opportunity to improve connectivity and those zones will become a priority for us. There is a lot of purposeful planning around this and as part of our smart city plan we will continue to increase our focus on these zones.”

For cities looking to dive into smart city tech, Garman says there’s no one-size-fits-all model to follow.

“It really depends city to city,” Garman said. “For example, if you look at Seattle, San Francisco, or New York City–those cities have different areas of difficulty, such as traffic and congestion. Other more midsized cities are too spread out and need different environmental considerations. What it really comes down to is infrastructure needs.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs