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The term “smart city” was coined in the mid-2000s to describe an idealized blend of modern technologies, enlightened urban planning and broadly inclusive civic engagement. It’s a semi-utopian notion that draws on a deeply rooted human instinct for gathering together and creating shared spaces that provide safety, security, and comfort.

But what does it take for a city to become genuinely smart? The City of Bridgeport offers some intriguing clues. Despite a series of political, economic, and social challenges, the Park City is thoughtfully implementing innovative solutions that qualify it as a “smart city.”

That is the assessment of Connecticut-based writer and professor Michael Barlow, whose recent book, Smart Cities, Smart Future, surveys cities from around the world, including Paris, Singapore, and Mexico City, to identify effective strategies for designing urban spaces that are equitable, efficient, and sustainable. Barlow’s research examines how technology, urban planning, and people-power can work together to create and sustain vibrant communities, and he recently discussed his findings at a Necessary Voices lecture at the University of Bridgeport. One of his conclusions is that the City of Bridgeport itself provides a case study in a city that is pursuing “smart” strategies that parallel the best practices outlined in his book.

That is the assessment of Connecticut-based writer and professor Michael Barlow, whose recent book, Smart Cities, Smart Future, surveys cities from around the world, including Paris, Singapore, and Mexico City, to identify effective strategies for designing urban spaces that are equitable, efficient, and sustainable. Barlow’s research examines how technology, urban planning, and people-power can work together to create and sustain vibrant communities, and he recently discussed his findings at a Necessary Voices lecture at the University of Bridgeport. One of his conclusions is that the City of Bridgeport itself provides a case study in a city that is pursuing “smart” strategies that parallel the best practices outlined in his book.

In his lecture, Barlow identified several examples of Bridgeport’s “smart” planning. He pointed out that Bridgeport’s Office of Planning & Economic Development spent the early Covid years working to develop an online form-based zoning code, something few other Connecticut municipalities had attempted. The online system, Zone Bridgeport, allows the city to have greater control over uses, defined by the building type and zone, as well as the quality of the buildings developed.

The code has been made available on its own website that enables interactive viewing of the code and the zoning map, empowering users to understand what can be built and what purposes are possible on any parcel in the city. Zone Bridgeport is complemented by the Park City Portal, Bridgeport’s digital permitting software, which allows users to submit (and track) zoning, building, and other city department submittals, all in one place.

Another way Bridgeport continues to innovate is by finding partners to assist when there is a capacity gap or when the partner has efficiencies that the city cannot provide. These partnerships can take many forms. For the Downtown Public Art Program, the city partnered with the Downtown Special Services District, aka Colorful Bridgeport, to administer the program using city funds, because they can be more agile and responsive to immediate needs that public art can require.

The city has also been collaborating with Fairfield University’s Center for Social Impact to recruit young and active minds to explore new issues or ideas for engaging the community and building on the city’s successes. The city is also working with the Metropolitan Council of Government, or MetroCOG, to explore ways to reconfigure Stratford and Connecticut Avenues and possibly undo the harm done by their one-way conversions decades ago.

Community engagement is essential for smart city projects. Many of the city’s plans have their own websites to invite participation and allow users to interact with the final documents. The city is also creating a subsite, called Engage, specifically for the Office of Planning and Economic Development to keep residents aware of ongoing initiatives like Complete and Safe Streets and Public Art and Placemaking programs.

“I give the City of Bridgeport high grades for its efforts to become a city that is more responsive to the needs and desires of its stakeholders, which include residents, workers, students, visitors, businesses, corporations, local civic organizations, and religious institutions,” Barlow says. “A quick look at the City of Bridgeport’s numerous programs aimed at encouraging and enabling citizen engagement at all levels reveals the extent of the city’s commitment to becoming a better place to live, learn, work, and raise a family.”

The Necessary Voices lecture itself is a reflection of the strong ongoing relationship between the University of Bridgeport and the City of Bridgeport. Students at the lecture were joined by Jonathan Delgado and Cathy Fletcher, who work in Bridgeport’s Office of Planning and Economic Development.

Delgado has led the city’s public art initiative and Fletcher is coordinating the city’s complete streets efforts. They spoke with UB students about the work they do and about their efforts to build a collaborative, equitable, and forward-looking urban community. This stimulating conversation between the city and the university provides a clear sign of a “smart” community working together to create a bright future.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Randy Laist

Quelle/Source: ct mirror, 14.03.2024

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