May 09, 2019

Chattanooga joins national conversation on social impact of smart cities

By Andrew Rodgers

DSC00130.jpgOnce again I came away from the annual Smart Cities Connect Conference and US Ignite Gigabit Applications Summit energized and optimistic about the future of cities. The discussions continued well beyond the technology of smart city applications and tackled the ethical applications of these technologies in the public realm. UTC was well-represented at the conference, and I was proud to see UTC scholars demonstrating their work and leading important conversations about social impact. I was struck by the level of maturity in the discussion of urban technologies, much of the content shifting from the “what” and “how” to the “who” and “why”.

The conference, held in Denver this year, brings together government, research and industry leadership to discuss a range of topics affecting the future of cities, such as resiliency, mobility and sustainability. Although the conference was originally anchored in technology development and deployment, this year, Dr. Chandra Ward, an urban sociologist with UTC, attended for the first time, joining with peers sharing a people-first perspective to the conference. “I met leaders from other cities who are as excited and committed as I am to engaging and including members of our collective communities around smart city education and implementation,” said Dr. Ward.

While the benefits of things like license plate scanners, camera based sensors or real-time traffic monitoring to city leaders and planners is clear, there remains a lot of work in order for us to understand fully the implications these technologies can have on various communities. The level of focus demonstrated by Dr. Ward and her peers on better understanding how these technologies impact ALL of our citizens was forefront in many conversations I had with our peer cities, leaving me very hopeful.

I was also proud to join our partners at the UTC Center for Urban Informatics and Progress (CUIP) in presenting a preview of the recently announced MLK Smart Corridor on the exposition floor at the conference. The corridor, stretching a mile along ML King Boulevard through our urban core and adjacent to the University is enabling the rapid development and testing of advanced urban systems through the use of Chattanooga’s robust telecommunications network. Dr. Sartipi, director of CUIP, and her research team did an incredible job demonstrating the capabilities of the platform they’ve deployed, and we received valuable feedback that affirmed our vision for a robust, turn-key infrastructure that supports rapid development of urban innovation applications.

In addition to the researchers and faculty representing CUIP at the event, Bennett Bowden, an undergraduate researcher at UTC was in attendance and summed up his experience this way: “My biggest takeaway was rethinking how I view what technologies SHOULD be implemented in the Smart Cities context, understanding the broader effects these projects can have.”

The Smart Cities Connect Conference showed that the next generation is thinking about smart city topics with a more holistic view. It was good to see that not only is UTC actively engaged in smart city innovation, but also engaging in and driving but in many ways, they are helping shape conversations about community impact. The more connections we can make with peer cities, the more we can all begin to understand where the work lies. As UTC’s Dr. Ward puts it:

“This kind of collaboration paves the way for a much needed future of sharing our ideas, experiences, and expertise in constructing frameworks for cities that are inclusive and benefit as many members of our communities as possible as we go forward in designing cities of the future.”