Philadelphia embraces technological solutions to improve city services

City Hall, Philadelphia.
Photo credit Holli Stephens/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- Philadelphia is getting a grant from the Knight Foundation to develop technology that will provide instant translation services for non-English speakers. It's the newest project in the "Smart City" initiative.

Ellen Hwang grew up speaking English, but she watched her immigrant parents struggle with the language.

"Countless times when my mom had to speak either at the PTA or with my teachers, it was really frustrating for me as a kid," Hwang said, "because I didn't understand why the language barrier was so tough."

Now, as Smart City director, she has the chance to tear the barrier down with the voice and translation project. 

Mayor Jim Kenney, last week, signed an executive order formally establishing the SmartCityPHL Initiative, but he noted parts of it are already at work: the city's fleet of vehicles have GPS trackers, gathering real time data on traffic routes.

"We have the chance to leapfrog a generation ahead in our ability to monitor and manage congestion," the mayor said.

Hwang says the city's air management program also uses real time sensors.

"Every day people are getting notifications if the air quality is good or bad," she explained, "whether or not if you have asthma and there are public health concerns related to air quality."

Future projects include a network of a hundred digital kiosks citywide offering free WiFi, public service information, emergency messages, maps and directions.