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Columbus Shows How a Smart City Puts People First

Columbus Shows How a Smart City Puts People First

So by now, you’ve heard.

Ohio finally got to bring home the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy. 

While I missed the parade in Cleveland, today I was joined by Mayor Andrew Ginther in Columbus to congratulate them on a hard-fought yet deserving Smart City Challenge win.

When I launched this challenge in December of last year, I asked cities nationwide to define the phrase “Smart City.” I tasked them with telling us how they would reshape their transportation systems if they had the opportunity. How would they reimagine the way people and goods move? I challenged them to think beyond sensors, copper, cables, and fiber optics coursing beneath the pavement. I floated the idea of a smart city that is not only connected to the pulse of technology and innovation, but also connects its technology to the pulse of the community and its residents?

Seventy-eight cities accepted the challenge, seven outstanding finalists were chosen, and ultimately, Columbus shone above the rest.

Columbus’ proposal puts people first. They plan to install street-side mobility kiosks, a new bus-rapid transit system, and smart lighting to increase safety for pedestrians and improve access to healthcare for traditionally underserved areas and neighborhoods. They plan to install traffic signals that communicate with vehicles so that the signals can adjust in real-time to the flow, rhythm, and demands of traffic. And in a clear demonstration of their dedication to solving problems for their most vulnerable residents, one of the ways that the city plans to measure the connectivity of their transportation infrastructure is by linking it to the  infant mortality rate. 

The commitment by Columbus to explore new ways to use technology to reach beyond the tech savvy and easily accessible is commendable and it underscores the reasons why we started this challenge.

Each of the seven finalists put forward an array of thoughtful, intelligent, and innovative ideas that defined a vision for the future of the American city and formed a blueprint to show the world what a fully integrated, forward-looking transportation network looks like. The Smart City Challenge required them to think about transportation as cross-functional, not in silos, but as a transportation ecosystem. The bold initiatives they proposed demonstrated that the future of transportation is not just about using technology to make our systems safer and more efficient – it’s about using these advanced tools to make life better for all people, especially those living in underserved communities. While Columbus is the winner of the Challenge, we believe each city has come out of this process with a stronger sense of how to address transportation challenges with technology and innovation.

As winner of the Challenge, Columbus will receive up to $40 million from the Department and up to $10 million from Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc. to supplement the $90 million that the city has already raised from other private partners to carry out its plan. In addition, we will collaborate with government and private sector partners to help the remaining finalist cities – Austin, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland, and San Francisco – to move forward with ideas that each city has developed over the past six months. The Department has also provided technical assistance to the 78 cities that submitted applications to help them identify and apply for approximately $6 billion in federal funding those cities could use for these same innovative transportation projects.

The reasons that got us into the Smart City Challenge are the same reasons cities across the globe are now asking themselves how can technology and innovation can be implemented so that they fully address the challenges a city may face in an holistic, overarching, and inclusive manner.  With so much at stake and even more to be gained, I am excited to see how Columbus – and the other six finalist cities – begin answer that question. 

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I'm still salty about the championship, but it's good see the city is using it to their advantage. Too bad you didn't get the World Series, but there's always next year. It's more important that the city is capitalizing on money and attention by trying to do something for the people.
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