The word ‘blockchain’ often makes headlines because of its association with cryptocurrency and the dramatic turns of that volatile market, but the technology is finding a growing niche among city administrations that are looking to take advantage of blockchain’s most fundamental utility – as a digital ledger.

Blockchains are stores of information managed by a distributed and decentralized network of computers. The data on a blockchain cannot be changed without gaining control of the whole network, a notoriously difficult task even in today’s world of advanced cybercrime. This makes blockchain ideal for sensitive but important records that need to be updated and shared quickly, but are impossible to alter.

The capital of Texas, Austin, was the first to try a pilot program that logged the ID documents of homeless people on a blockchain that allowed the city of Austin services to better help those individuals. Since then, other municipalities, including Cook County (Chicago) and South Burlington (Vermont), have followed suit in trialing blockchain ledgers, this time for housing ownership records.

Reno, Nevada is the latest US city to announce blockchain adoption, in the form of a pioneering record-keeping system called the “Biggest Little Blockchain,” with the aim to boost increased transparency in government and accountability for officials.

The system is being built pro bono by New York software company BlockApps, which is keen to showcase the tech’s use for municipal administration. According to the city, it will first be deployed by the Reno Register of Historic Places. At first, the blockchain will show any changes that are made to these buildings considered to be important parts of the city’s heritage. Following this initial rollout, Reno intends to incorporate other types to encompass other city records, such as public works and permits as well as infrastructure maintenance and the granting of licenses.

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