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Helping Communities Outside Atlanta’s Urban Core Get ‘Smart’

Posted on: Apr 26, 2018

Learn more about Georgia Smart Communities Challenge, A competitive grant program to prepare communities for future technologyThink of the phrase “smart community.” You likely envision transportation technology in the big city—self-driving cars, or vehicles like fire trucks and city buses zooming through multi-lane intersections without once hitting a red light, thanks to powerful technology connecting them to the infrastructure they travel through.

But there’s a lot more to the potential of smart technology than traffic challenges in urban landscapes.

In fact, if our connected future is going to work well anywhere, then all communities—urban, suburban, and rural—must be included. After all, we are all connected. That’s the big idea behind the Georgia Smart Cities Challenge, which is wrapping up its application process now.

The Challenge, a partnership of ARC and Georgia Tech, is offering up to $50,000 in seed funding to four communities to plan their “smart,” connected future. Winners will also gain access to technology solutions, researchers, and industry expertise — as well as the opportunity to connect and form key partnerships with other leading-edge communities.

But what makes this challenge unprecedented, is that it’s open to communities of any size, anywhere in Georgia.

“When we talk about smart cities, it’s often about the mega-urban areas – your New Yorks, Londons, San Franciscos,” said Debra Lam, Managing Director of Smart Cities and Inclusive innovation for Georgia Tech, “so it becomes a very exclusive discussion. We’re looking to level the playing field.”

Small Communities Matter

For large cities and counties, forays into smart technology have mostly revolved around transportation solutions — take plans for autonomous shuttle buses in the city of Chamblee or the city of Atlanta’s smart corridor on North Avenue.

But smaller towns – both in the suburbs and in more rural areas – have different issues that  smart tech can also help address.

“This is about solving very practical problems,” said Lam. “How to ensure your town’s parking tickets get paid? How to ensure you get enough community engagement at your town hall meetings? At that basic, core level, the question is: What are the available technologies or tools that can address some of these fundamental problems that my community has?”

Winners Will Think Collaboratively

The Georgia Smart Communities Challenge is about matching appropriate technologies to the community—but winning proposals will do more than request funding to purchase or develop one simple technology. Lam said they want to avoid the “smart city arms race” mentality, in which City A “wins” simply by purchasing some shiny tool, like LED streetlights.

This is about thinking bigger—municipalities that partner with a local industry, university, or start-up, for example, and work with their communities to determine residents’ key challenges, and chart a course for the long-term.

The Future is the Biggest Prize

In the end, the challenge is about building a consortium of communities that share knowledge and build a foundation on which Georgia can build its connected future.

“Honestly, we want to make sure that we can get ahead of some really key, basic questions that every community has,” said Leslie Langley, Principal Program Specialist with ARC’s Mobility Services Division. “Things like: What infrastructure to invest in? What are some sources of funding for these new projects?”

The Challenge connects communities of all sizes to the answers, and, importantly, to one another, said Langley, and that’s a win for the communities, their regions, and the state of Georgia as a whole. “And that — that scale — is probably the most exciting part of all.”

Winning communities will begin work on their projects in August.