The U.S. Department’s Smart City Challenge was never really about the money. The $50 million prize was the way to draw cities and companies in; it was the impetus for the project, but it wasn’t the point.
The competition was about getting people moving to connect systems together. The competition encourages interconnection in many, many ways.
In the winning city — Columbus, Ohio — those connections become apparent. Mayor Andrew Ginther has made infant mortality a rallying cause — the problem just so happens to be worse in parts of the city where residents have trouble accessing transportation. So is it possible that connecting those people with the ability to get to prenatal health-care resources might lower the rate of infant mortality in the city?
And what about electricity? Vulcan specifically earmarked $10 million in funding for electric vehicle projects. Columbus chose to tie this in with its smart grid efforts — since electric vehicles necessarily contain big batteries, they can act as storage and provide services to the power grid.
Economic development? As U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has pointed out throughout the Smart City Challenge, mobility is a means of accomplishing more in life. That includes education, finding work and spending money on the things that are important to a person. Columbus’ plan establishes a “smart corridor” in one economically disadvantaged area of the city with a goal of making transportation and public transit more accessible for its residents so that their economy might improve.
And finally, the challenge was built on the premise that the winning city would work with other government officials to help spread smart transportation technology throughout the U.S. Columbus won’t just implement its concepts — it will serve as a model of what other cities should and shouldn’t do in the future.