The development of the blockchain may have revolutionized the use of cryptocurrency transactions, however, it is also providing new and innovative opportunities for smart cities worldwide.
In June, Austin, Texas, became one of the first smart cities using blockchain, with a city-wide program that gave 2,000 homeless people their own safe and secure identifiers in the digital space. The new program, notably, has allowed the marginalized population to centralize all their records in one database, enabling them to have greater access to medical services, social security, and housing. When it comes to anything that requires proof of identity and historical information, blockchain applications have helped make what can sometimes be a complicated process much easier.
Blockchain as a Public Service Tool
A blockchain is an online register that permanently stores information, and its cryptographic properties make it virtually “un-hackable”. Any information added to the blocks of information are recorded and monitored.
Therefore, Any would-be hacker would need 51% control of the system, and with encrypted data and decentralized computing power, no one person can have access to the whole database.
As a system for storing critical information representing properties, rights, and goods, it eliminates paper records and reinforces reliable and secure transactions. In the city of Austin, anyone can use blockchain applications for a number of services. For example, a homeless services worker can access a client’s information using just a smartphone.
In Austin, Blockchain is Transforming Smart Cities
The transient nature of homelessness can make keeping wallets, IDs and birth certificates difficult, which in turn can make accessing services – services that often require identification of some sort – almost impossible. Additionally, Austin’s homeless population benefits from this blockchain innovation as they no longer need to carry any physical proof at any time. Now, what was once an obstacle that could hinder the transition out of homelessness is no more.
This adoption of blockchain applications began as a grant from the Mayor’s Challenge program. Bloomberg Philanthropies sponsored the grant. Thirty-five cities won pilot grants, with the most successful city receiving $5 million.
For Austin, it was all about wanting to improve its ability to provide comprehensive, integrated aid to its homeless community. If a person was seeking medical care, information from the database would give the right people relevant historical data. It will indicate what they were treated for and when to give a broader understanding of their needs and circumstances.
Smart Cities Growing in Number
Austin is not the first place to use blockchains to improve public services.
- In San Francisco, its OpenData program supports projects for smart cities that aim to improve public transportation and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
- In Estonia, blockchain technology is used to provide its citizen’s control of their data using a secure digital identity. Estonians have easy access to their healthcare registry to find out which medical professionals have accessed their records and when.
- Dubai has developed a blockchain system to track the import and export of goods. And as it allows for IoT, people can look at its hyper ledger and validate any smart contracts.
- In Moscow, the technology is used for voting. Each vote is a transaction. Moreover, it has no risk for fraud because it has zero opportunity for changing or altering transactions. Votes immediately appear in a ledger that forms a blockchain, thus results also appear in real-time.
Other Blockchain Applications
Blockchains can help improve different features of smart cities. With its help, cities can make use of microgrids, which will let communities utilize solar power and other sustainable sources. This will lower costs for electricity. With blockchain-enabled microgrids, citizens would also have surplus energy, which they could sell.
Often, the homeless do not use banks and have debts, unpaid bills, and bad credit. It is possible to establish financial credibility with a blockchain as an alternative in building and monitoring transactions.
Additionally, the US could adopt blockchains for a new voting system. In 2016, just over half of the voting-age American population went to the polls, suggesting low civic engagement. If voting, therefore, became easier and more accessible, there could be a stronger motivation to vote. Disabled people, people of color, and other marginalized communities would be able to represent themselves through their votes.
The blockchain is a disruption that builds inclusivity by offering its services to a wider audience. It is more than just a vital tool in cryptocurrency—it can enhance the urban experience.