Smart City Challenge Winner Readies for Implementation

Cities all across the world are reconsidering their transportation infrastructure, options, and the role of transportation systems in moving people to greater economic opportunities. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation held a competition designed to encourage cities how to plan for a smarter, more inclusive, and more innovative future.

In June the DOT selected Columbus, Ohio, as its Smart City Challenge winner.

Kathleen McMahon, AICP, past chair of APA's Technology Division and member of APA's Smart City Task Force, recently caught up with Jeff Ortega in Columbus, Ohio. Ortega is the assistant director of the Public Services Department for the City of Columbus. He also heads up the city's Smart City implementation team.

Here's what McMahon learned about the application and what happens next:

The Application

For Columbus, winning the Smart City Challenge is an opportunity to reconnect neighborhoods where residents lack access to jobs, healthy food, and transportation. It's also an opportunity to continue to strengthen the city's unprecedented culture of collaboration.

As the winner of the challenge, Columbus will receive up to $40 million from the DOT as well as 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. Selected from a pool of 78 cities, Columbus bested six other finalists including Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh Austin, Portland, and San Francisco.

Columbus's existing planning documents were the foundation for which its application was built. Foundational plans included the Insight 2050 plan prepared by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) and the Metropolitan Transportation Plan. Other plans included the city's Connect Columbus, a multimodal thoroughfare plan, and the Central Ohio Transit Authority's (COTA) long-range NextGen Plan.

According to Ortega, the smart city vision was developed with broad-based community involvement. The city team was composed of staff from the Mayor's office, the Department of Public Services, and the Department of Development. Other public partners included Ohio State University, Franklin County, and other communities in the Columbus region as well as the nonprofit Battelle Memorial Institute. Additionally, the private sector collaborated on the application with representation from General Motors, Honda, Uber, Car2Go, CoGo, the banking and insurance sectors, Clean Fuels Ohio, Siemens, AT&T, GE, and Ricardo.

What's Next

To implement the smart city strategies, the city is creating a Smart Columbus Program Office to be housed in the Public Service Department. It is envisioned that a nonprofit board will be established to continue to engage the various partners and to leverage external funding.

The smart city strategies will be deployed on a district basis. Planners from the Development Department were instrumental in formulating this approach. The four districts that will be the focus of initial smart city efforts include the Residential District, Downtown Urban Core, Commercial-Business Center, and the Logistics Rickenbacker District. Rickenbacker Airport is one of the largest cargo airports in the country and a major transportation hub.

It is intended that the smart city technologies that are developed for these districts will be scalable so they can be replicated in other areas. By partnering with Ohio State University, a large research university, the Smart Columbus project will have access to experts who can help develop technology applications and document best practices on the use of intelligent city systems.

The ingredients to this successful initiative are similar to any planning project. These include partnerships, community engagement, and building on existing plans. As stated in the Columbus Smart City application:

"Our approach to addressing these challenges and achieving our vision embraces our existing infrastructure, network, and data while leveraging the strategic implementation of smart technologies with our partners and stakeholders. Columbus' challenges are not unlike other mid-sized U.S. cities. However, unlike some of these cities, Columbus has the technology-based resources, the collaborative environment, and the existing physical and network infrastructure to complete this demonstration project."

For more information on the Smart Columbus Program, read the city's Smart City Challenge proposal.

Top image: Columbus, Ohio, skyline at night. Photo by Flickr user Mark Spearman (CC BY-ND 2.0).

September 12, 2016

By Kathleen McMahon, FAICP