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Georgia Launches Smart Cities Competition Grant Program

Four winning jurisdictions will receive grants to explore issues around mobility, equity and resilience.

Communities, big and small, around Georgia are encouraged to enter a new smart city funding and support competition. The Georgia Smart Communities Challenge, led by Georgia Tech University, will award grants of up to $50,000 to four cities, counties or city-county governments willing to explore smart city projects around themes such as mobility and equity or resilience.
“We’re defining resilience in a very broad term,” explained Debra Lam, managing director for Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation at Georgia Tech, adding these could be projects that help a city recover from sharp setbacks.
One element would be how quickly a community can “bounce back and bounce forward, from predicted and unpredicted shocks and stresses,” she added.
Georgia Smart will hold webinars throughout March and April to help communities prepare their proposals, which are due May 1.
In addition to cash funding, winners will receive expert advice and technical assistance. Georgia Smart brings together a number of partners in the private and public sectors, and also academia and nonprofits.
“Community initiatives can be more successful through collaborative, people-focused approaches, and those qualities are what make the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge an important effort for the region,” said Doug Hooker, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, in a statement.
Organizers of the challenge grant project say it’s important to structure the program to ensure cities outside of the Atlanta orbit will be equally considered. The four winning recipients will come from two regions: Two from within metro Atlanta, and two from outside the Atlanta metro region.
“It’s not just one winner. It’s a cohort of winners,” said Lam.
Atlanta is no stranger to smart city projects. The city includes a “living lab” to test Internet of Things (IoT) technology along North Avenue, while also hosting events like the MetroLab Annual Summit
“We at Georgia Tech have a very fruitful relationship with Atlanta. And that’s wonderful and great,” Lam went on. “But we can’t do smart cities based on one city. What about the other local communities in Georgia, and what can we do with them?
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all. And that’s why we kept the themes fairly broad,” she said. “Because we want to show that you could be ‘smart’ in different ways.”
To plan and develop the challenge grant program, university officials held a number of workshops across the state to receive feedback from cities — many of them small, where staffs may not include positions like chief information officer.
Part of the conversations held in cities across Georgia was about the meaning of smart cities. “It’s for the community to say, ‘What are our challenges? What are our priorities? And what do we have, and what do we need?’ Rather than a top-down approach saying, ‘You need to be smart.’ And here’s that very prescriptive approach to be smart,” said Lam.
A recent survey by the tech association CompTIA found that only 9 percent of city officials are “deeply engaged” with smart cities initiatives. Larger cities, with more than 250,000 residents, seem to be more involved with smart cities, with 23 percent of city officials saying they are “deeply engaged,” while only 7 percent of officials from smaller cities report the same, according to the survey.
“What’s important for us to think about for smart cities and smart communities, is there’s no population constraint,” said Lam. “All communities can be smart if you are cognizant about the process.”
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.