Reno launches first-ever municipal blockchain app to track public transactions

Much has been said in the last week about the ongoing meltdown of cryptocurrency, driven by an uncertain economic outlook and rapidly increasing inflation. Over the last seven months, Bitcoin, for example, has dropped to $21,000 from its $64,000 high. But while crypto markets might be in retreat at least for the moment, the underlying technology that’s underpinning the digital currency boom is marching steadily forward—with practical applications for local governments.

In 2017, for example, Cook County, Ill. began real-world experimentation with blockchain, the transaction tracking technological foundation of all cryptocurrencies, as a way to transfer and track property titles and other public records, based on past reporting by American City & County (AC&C). In a 2018 report from the Illinois county’s Bureau of Technology, the board explained its reasons for implementing the pilot project: “By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to data modification; once recorded, the data in a block cannot be altered retroactively. This increases security.”

And in Austin, Texas, homeless people are able to get a digital identity that’s stored via blockchain so they don’t have to carry around a physical identification card, according to Lena Geraghty, director of innovation and sustainability at the National League of Cities (NLC) Center for City Solutions and author of the recent report “Cities and the Metaverse.” Geraghty previously spoke to AC&C about the report’s findings.

Most recently, Reno, Nev. launched America’s first-ever resident-run blockchain app that creates “a single ledger, documenting consecutive transactions in a designated process,” according to a statement from the city about the project. The app, called The Biggest Little Blockchain, is built on BlockApps’ blockchain platform, STRATO. The data is viewable by anyone who has the app.

“Once the technology launches later in the summer, the public and all relevant city departments will be able to access the same record through an online platform, providing clarity and transparency,” the statement says.

Like Cook County, Reno cited the robust digital security properties of blockchain as the driving factor behind its decision to test drive the technology in a real-world environment: “Blockchain technology creates and stores records that cannot be lost or changed, providing increased government accountability to the public,” the statement says.

The city’s Historic Registry will be the first department to document its records via the app. Once it’s rolled out and fully up and running, landowners and developers can request “Certificates of Appropriateness”—a required step to make alterations to buildings on the Historic Register—via the app. They can then track the status of those changes with one click.

A useful feature for government users is the app’s “smart contracts,” or “programmable logic that ensures all requirements are met and necessary information is provided in order to proceed through the defined process,” the statement says. If everything goes smoothly, other services are expected to follow suit; the blockchain app is expected to be used eventually for the tracking of regular maintenance, permitting and licensing, among other services.

Allowing open access of this data makes available a previously impossible level of transparency while keeping everything secure. Each transactional record is documented in a “block”; together, the consecutive transactions—or “blocks”—in a given process make the “chain.” Once created, the blocks cannot be altered in any way, an important feature that ensures accountability.

Notably, unlike cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology is not detrimental to the environment.

“I’m excited that the Biggest Little Blockchain showcases the usefulness of blockchain technology for all Reno residents,” said Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve in a statement about the initiative. “Citizens deserve transparency and accountability from their government, and this new pilot project empowers every Reno resident with easy access to information, and how fitting that we are starting with the historic buildings that are the heart and soul of our community.”

New Technology Era

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