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Building on the recent successful conclusion of the Smart City Challenge (SCC), the City of Columbus has announced it is looking forward and Smart Columbus will become a collaborative innovation lab as it continues the development of new innovations to benefit its residents.

The SCC was created by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to evaluate a holistic approach to using new technologies to improve transportation performance, and how that approach could be integrated with other smart city domains, including public services, health, safety and energy. Columbus was named the SCC winner in 2016.

“They were really looking for that mid-sized city to accelerate technology deployment that was focused on data in transportation mobility,” said Mandy Bishop, Smart Columbus program manager. “We really looked at some of the challenges we were facing as a community and developed an application around that.”

Over the five-year program, using the $50 million SCC awards from the USDOT and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, along with $19 million in city, state and county cost-sharing, Columbus deployed a comprehensive portfolio of mobility technologies that showed how safer and more equitable transportation options create opportunity for residents now and in the future.

“If you think about the future of transportation, you can break it down into Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric—CASE,” Bishop said. “We needed to future-proof our economy when it came to transportation. The portfolio reflected that.”

Bishop said that prior to the pandemic, approximately 85 percent of Columbus residents drove personal vehicles to where they needed to be, so some projects were connected to vehicle technology, designed to give people more information when they drive. They also looked at shared mobility and deployed Pivot, a trip-planning app for people using the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) system that helped connect people with first/last mile options like scooters, ride share and ride hail options. Pivot is available at kiosks at smart mobility hubs in the city as well.

Smart Columbus also launched autonomous, self-driving shuttles in February 2020, but the outbreak of COVID altered plans because people suddenly didn’t need to be moved around.

“We saw food pantry usage soaring nationally, and it was also soaring in our community,” Bishop said. “We redeployed the shuttles to bring food boxes and bags into our largest public housing development in the central Ohio region, which is Roseland.”

Even with the challenges of a global pandemic, Columbus completed the SCC in May 2021, and the results speak for themselves.

“We added about 2,300 direct and indirect jobs, we were able to account for over $700 million in aligned investment and it’s really had some tangible economic impact,” Bishop said. “Also, it’s made Columbus more visible. It’s ‘America’s Smart City,’ and companies are coming here to do more business. Our Department of Transportation has shared that we’re the number one autonomous vehicle testing center in the country now. So, we’re able to help our residents, do more cutting-edge things and we’re being a leader in the transportation space, bringing in more jobs and opportunities.”

So, what now? The City of Columbus and the Columbus Partnership have announced that “Smart Columbus will be sustained as an agile, collaborative innovation lab that benefits the Columbus Region by anticipating and advancing what is new and next at the intersection of technology and community good.”

In a statement, Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said: “When we deploy technology in partnership with the community, we can address some of our most pressing challenges. Smart Columbus will continue to explore how mobility innovation, climate technologies, digitalization and other emerging technologies can help us address complex societal problems, respond to disruption and generate economic opportunity.”

My hope is that the techniques that we’ve learned and the impacts that we’ve seen will translate to other areas, specifically as it relates to our broadband and digitalization, and as it relates to our climate action plan and continuing to improve air quality,” Bishop said. “Technology has a place in a lot of different arenas, and I know Columbus is going to continue to leverage the tools and platforms we created in order to do more for our community.”

Jordan Davis, the executive director of Smart Columbus, said the future would still be rooted in transportation, “but going beyond that to take a broader, more holistic view of what a future city looks like, and what technologies will help us get there. Making sure we’re solving for equity and sustainability.

“The pandemic did a lot of disruption to so many normal ways of life and business functioning. But it also brought us back down to the essentials, what are the core things that we need in the community,” she continued. “And the quantitative data quickly showed where there were gaps in equality, access to internet, not access to internet. The problem of the digital divide is real, we knew that. We leaned into that.”

Smart Columbus is partnering with the city and the Columbus Foundation in a methodology that they are adopting into their innovation practice called Human Centered Design, which reaches out to residents for feedback on what problems the community needs solutions to. “Equity and inclusion are a big part of what the Human Centered Design is all about, like making sure lived experience experts are at the table, shaping this, providing feedback, getting at the core issues, and weighing in, so this isn’t just technology for technology’s sake and blind of all sensitivities. I think that allows us to move forward with the community, not just do it on top of the community,” Davis said.

Other projects include an Open Opportunity Port that will digitalize the criminal record sealing process, to make it easier for those who have expired records to get those off so they can better qualify for the workforce and jobs.

Looking at the workforce and the community, it’s a fact that as automation and technology take over aspects of people lives, sometimes jobs are lost. Davis said Smart Columbus can help the community plan for that.

“In every evolution of industry, there’s been new jobs created that you didn’t even know existed in the prior chapter, and I think we’re going to continue to see that with the rise of automation/AI,” she said. “I think our challenge is how do we help people up-skill and re-skill continuously through their lives. How do we make sure that people are equipped to be competitive in tomorrow’s workforce? That’s where we think there are lots of different tools that we can introduce and connect across the ecosystem. I think it’s important that we are a part of that ecosystem, and we’re helping bring that thought leadership discussion forward around how things are going to change and how we can work together to skate to where the puck’s going to go, so we know and can move that direction.”

Throughout the SCC and beyond, Smart Columbus and its partners have put community involvement at the forefront of developing and implementing new technologies, making them an example for cities across the country, and the world. The city is one of 50 Champion Cities selected by Bloomberg Philanthropies as part of the 2021 Global Mayors Challenge.

“I think the continued investment from the public and private sector to build this muscle is where we’ll continue to prove what’s possible, and hopefully the proof of what’s possible is what we can continue to export to other cities,” Davis said. “Obviously we want to continue to learn from other cities as well, but I think what’s really special about what’s possible here is how we can get players from all the different parts of the ecosystem at one table to think about the future and how we do that together. I think that alignment will allow us to take success on what to do and what innovative solutions we can pursue together. I think that’s part of the spirit of this.”

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Michelle M. Havich

Quelle/Source: American City & County, 28.08.2021

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