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Metro Atlanta Mayors Prepare for the Future of Smart Cities

January 13, 2017
This article appeared in the January 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
In November 2016 more than 40 mayors gathered at the Commerce Club in downtown Atlanta for a lunch program hosted by GMA and the Metro Atlan­ta Mayors Association. Here attendees learned from and engaged with smart city experts during a panel discussion. Panelists included Nicole DuPuis, NLC’s Principal Associate for Urban Innovation, Dr. Jennifer Clark, the director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Urban Innovation and Torri Martin, the director of SMART­ATL, an office within the Atlanta Information Man­agement Department, which works to advance and implement smart city initiatives throughout the city of Atlanta. Mike Alexander, the director of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Center for Livable Communi­ties, moderated the panel. 
Smart City experts (from left) Torri Martin, director of SMARTATL, Atlanta Information Management Department; Nicole DuPuis, principal associate for Urban Innovation with the National League of Mayors

 
Alexander said city leaders need to stay knowl­edgeable about emerging technology that could im­pact their respective cities. “You are going to get pitched a lot over the next 10 years by companies that are going to be promoting one particular technology over another,” he said.
 
Also, cities, even small cities, can be a smart city by starting with small projects.
 
“It can be installing LED lightening, it can be in­stalling sensor lights in one particular corridor, it can be upgrading your fleets to electric vehicles,” DuPuis said. “It doesn’t need to be this massive over haul.”
 
Added Clark, “You can start relatively small, with implementation of objects and then maybe a project or two.” However, Clark urged city leaders to have in mind a smart cities program that coordinates its ef­forts around technology and infrastructure and helps set priorities.
 
Cities, according to Clark, will have to grabble with how much investment is necessary to enhance connectivity, keep its existing businesses and attract new ones.
 
“Work is changing and mobility is changing, firms are thinking what infrastructure is necessary for them to come to a place and stay in a place,” she said. “This is pretty complicated. Is doing the investment mandatory or is it optional? I would argue that it is mandatory. The question becomes prioritizing these things.”
 
Clark also noted that leading research universities located in cities, like Georgia Tech, are working to help cities figure things out.
Martin said the good news for small cities is that tech companies often look for small cities to test their technology. “There is less bureaucracy to work through with the time they start the conservation to implementation,” he said. “That is advantageous to small cities.”
 
Maintaining current assets will also be a key factor for cities that want to be a smart city, the panelists agreed.
“Every city should be thinking about keeping in­frastructure in a state of good repair,” DuPuis said.
 
Maintaining a stop light to a state of good repair enables the city to do more with it, Martin added. “The way I look at smart cities is: taking the assets you already have and using that as a platform to do more,” he said.
 
Other advice from the panel for city leaders:
  • Think multi-modal— residents not only want to walk, but bike and take transit.
  • Be savvy about the Request For Proposal process and update procurement processes
  • Deploy fiber throughout the city
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