Aug 4, 2017 | Atlanta, GA
On July 21st 2017 at the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) offices, Georgia Institute of Technology—in partnership with ARC, Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), Georgia Centers for Innovation, Metro Atlanta Chamber, and Technology Association of Georgia (TAG)—convened local governments, government associations, and industry and academic leaders for a half-day workshop to discuss the application of advanced technology for local government. Reframing so-called smart cities, the workshop exemplified and explored how real-time sensors, automated systems, and other intelligent infrastructures are applicable beyond major metropolitan governments and dense urban areas. The Smart Communities Workshop welcomed “mayors, city council members, city-county managers, specialists in IT, economic development, community development […] to think about, from their perspective, how to move […] forward,” explained Debra Lam, Managing Director for Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation at Georgia Tech. The workshop drew more than 70 participants, including personnel from 20 city governments, eight county governments, three community improvement districts, and three US congressional districts. In total, the workshop accounted for local governments across almost one fifth of Georgia counties.
Cynthia Curry, Director of Internet of Things (IoT) Ecosystem Expansion for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, commented that the workshop was a “really is a great way to take smart cities technologies […] out to the rural community.” Mayor Dan Ponder of Donalsonville, GA—a city with a population just below 3,000 people—echoed Curry’s sentiment: “If there was such a thing as a rural smart city today, it would be out-of-date tomorrow.” With regards to the opportunity provided by the Smart Communities Workshop, Mayor Ponder continued, “This is a process where we can at least participate at the front-end of technology changes versus being the last one.” More than an emphasis on smart communities in rural settings, the workshop spurred conversation about smart community development in many different contexts.
The workshop featured a keynote from Sokwoo Rhee, Associate Director of Cyber-Physical Systems Program for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which focused on best practices and lessons from NIST’s Global Cities Teams Challenge. Participants also heard from a panel of Georgia-based thought-leaders comprised of Mayor Ponder, Lt. Keith Lingerfelt of the Gainesville Police Department, Professor Ellen Dunham-Jones of Georgia Tech, and Abe Kani, Gwinnett County CIO and Director of Information Technology Services. Kani reflected, “We have to understand what kind of a world we live in, and, as much as technology provides a great deal of convenience and opportunity, there are challenges.” Panelists touched on topics from citizen participation to public-private partnerships to deployment strategies.
Following the speakers were a series of small group activities, in which local government participants brainstormed proposals to pressing local issues and opportunities. Employing methods from design thinking, participants were led through a discovery process to understand what challenges might be best suited for smart community projects.
The Smart Communities Workshop is the first step in a larger initiative to launch a Georgia Smart Communities Challenge, a Georgia-wide peer-network and technical assistance program to support smart community projects with local governments. Attendees provided important insights into the scope and scale of such a challenge. “Getting folks from across the state to talk about smart communities really helps us calibrate to make sure we are working across our jurisdictional boundaries, “ commented Leslie Caceda, a transportation technologist with the ARC.
The Smart Community Workshop offered attendees a first glimpse of Georgia Tech’s fundamental role in offering guidance, direction, and technical expertise for smart community development, and attendees seemed eager for more. In closing comments, one workshop attendee asked, “When is round two?”