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

Much has been said over the past week about the ongoing cryptocurrency meltdown, driven by an uncertain economic outlook and rapidly rising inflation. Over the past seven months, Bitcoin, for example, has fallen to $21,000 from its peak of $64,000. But while crypto markets may be on the back foot at least for now, the underlying technology driving the digital currency boom is advancing steadily, with practical applications for local governments.

In 2017, for example, Cook County, Illinois began real-world experimentation with blockchain, the technological basis for tracking transactions of all cryptocurrencies, as a means of transferring and tracking title deeds and other public documents, based on previous reports from US city and county (AC&C). In a 2018 report from the Illinois County Bureau of Technology, the council explained the reasons for implementing the pilot: “By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to data modification; once saved, block data cannot be changed retroactively. This increases security.

And in Austin, Texas, homeless people can get a digital identity stored via blockchain so they don’t have to carry a physical ID card, according to Lena Geraghty, director of innovation and sustainability at 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.

More recently, Reno, Nevada launched the first-ever US resident-run blockchain application that creates “a single ledger, documenting consecutive transactions in a designated process,” according to a city statement about the project. The app, called The Biggest Little Blockchain, is built on BlockApps’ blockchain platform, STRATO. The data is visible to anyone with the app.

“Once the technology is launched 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 said.

Like Cook County, Reno cited blockchain’s strong digital security properties as the driving factor in its decision to test the technology in a real environment: “Blockchain technology creates and stores records that do not cannot be lost or altered, which enhances government accountability. to the public,” the statement read.

The city’s historical register will be the first department to document its records through the app. Once it’s rolled out and fully operational, landowners and developers can apply for ‘certificates of adequacy’ – a mandatory step for making changes to buildings on the historic register – through the app. They can then track the status of those changes with a single click.

A useful feature for government users is the app’s “smart contracts” or “programmable logic that ensures that all requirements are met and the necessary information is provided in order to follow the defined process,” the statement said. If all goes well, other services should follow suit; the blockchain application should eventually be used for tracking regular maintenance, authorizations and licenses, among other services.

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

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

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

Melissa C. Keyes