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Montgomery, Ala., Begins the Smart City Metamorphosis

One of the capital city’s most active corridors will soon be home to a nine-block living laboratory, complete with Wi-Fi, smart streetlights and a host of other tech-laden features.

Alabama’s capital is perking up with new intelligent streetlights, free Wi-Fi, app-based parking management and more.

Montgomery is trying on these new technologies in its Smart City Living Lab downtown. The project — a public-private agreement known as the Montgomery Smart Community Alliance — is a partnership among the city, Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, Alabama Power and other university and county partners. It is taking a page from numerous other communities nationwide that have looked to connect Internet of Things technology for improved efficiencies and enhanced services. 

The so-called lab will consist of a nine-block area connecting the Montgomery Biscuits Stadium — home to the city’s Minor League Baseball team — to downtown’s entertainment and conference district, and ultimately, to the Alabama State House several blocks away.

“This is a major artery in downtown Montgomery that consists of our main entertainment district, tourism hub, conference center, state offices, and business and retail,” said Willie Durham, chairman of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce. “The idea is to start with this corridor and expand.”

The area will be anchored by fiber-optic infrastructure to support free Wi-Fi access, expansion of the city’s open data portal, smart parking and more. Alabama Power will take the lead on upgrading existing streetlights to LEDs, ultimately bringing the technology to some 22,000 streetlights citywide and saving an estimated $650,000 over five years, according to utility officials.

“The benefit of reliable connectivity can be used to support a multitude of applications and ultimately deliver more for those who live in and visit Montgomery,” said Leslie Sanders, Alabama Power’s vice president of the Southern Division, in a statement.

The first phase of the free Wi-Fi access was released earlier this month, with plans for expansion to be complete in March or April. 

The Open Data Montgomery portal — an interactive site full of information culled from the police and fire departments, permitting, finances and even recreation and tourism — is set to be put to further use once features like smart streetlights and parking come online, said Mayor Todd Strange.

“Information on LED lighting, energy use, traffic and downtown could be integrated into the city’s already robust Open Data Montgomery portal,” the mayor added in an email. “The city wants to explore potential ways we can apply technology to public safety, as well.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.