As the global population is exploding and infrastructure is experiencing pressure, cities have a responsibility to make changes rapidly. Somewhere, this all work and no play kind of atmosphere is diverting a good number of cities from the main track.
What’s the result? Digital systems are pervading in a manner that is opening doors to inequality. Governments, private organisations, and individuals need to realise that tech-driven solutions are just as crucial to the poor as they are to the moneyed.
Atlanta, the capital of Georgia state in the US and home to over 2.5 million population has been focusing on this for a while. Having faced the big gap itself, the city has moved from reevaluating its initiatives to become equitable smart city.
In 2018, Bloomberg reported that Atlanta was facing the greatest income disparity in the US. In another analysis by the Brookings Institution, Atlanta’s highest income bracket make nearly 20 times more than those at the bottom.
But since Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms took control of the city’s leadership in 2018, she has emphasised that filling up the inequality gap must be at the heart of all smart city programmes. Following her vision, she introduced the ‘One Atlanta’ strategy to bring all the residents under one roof of ‘accessibility to opportunity’. The context given ahead unfolds the initiatives.
With the One Atlanta strategy in action, the equitable smart city is rolling out each initiative inclusively. The key is analysing how and where technology can help solve problems throughout the city. By doing this, the focus is also on securing connectivity and making use of data more sustainable and in-real time.
Data is playing a key role in connecting tech with all. Concentrating on inclusion, data is collected and translated to provide insights that can help citizens live better lives. This is one of the fundamental goals of One Atlanta.
In Atlanta, 75% of the households own a broadband Internet subscription and 87% own a computer. This shows that the rest of the population lacks access to digital services and opportunities that are crucial. Also, findings from the Brookings Institution reveals that lower-income families are, in general, worst afflicted by the digital gap in the US.
So, as a major aim, the Department of Atlanta Information Management set up a new Chief Information Officer Advisory Board. The board comprises public and private sector leaders and academia. One of its initial priorities is to create a strategy for public-private partnerships. This includes the deployment of broadband and 5G connectivity throughout the city.
In addition to the introduction, it will also focus on improving broadband speed, pricing and coverage quality. A number of telecommunication companies including Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint have already launched 5G networks in different locations. The launch is important to take the connectivity strides of the city ahead.
Street Lighting – Transforming Into Data Hub
Atlanta is transforming its street lighting into a data hub equipped with a range of sensors. The system delivers real-time data and applications through the IoT sensor platform. Currently, a company that sells energy management systems has supplied CityIQ sensor nodes that are installed on 200 street lights in five locations. Each node comprises a group of sensors that are powered by computer vision analytics and include optical sensors, acoustic and environmental sensors.
While Intel Silicon and IoT technology extract metadata, AT&T SIM card transmit the data via LTE. The high-volume meta datasets (not available before) are now supported by edge processing. This new system penetrates deeper and enables information related to traffic, pedestrians, bicycles, parking, etc. Moreover, it comprises enhanced gunshot detection system.
A single street lighting in Atlanta is now helping the city – from reducing crime to optimising mobility for everyone.
As better flow and management is equally important to deployment, the city recently appointed a Smart City Programme Director, Lillie Madali. She supervises the CityIQ initiative apart from others. More importantly, she ensures that the right data is gathered from the nodes and discovers ways to utilise appropriately.
Today, Atlanta is already employing the data to get better insights into local urban problems. This includes how lane closures, road construction, one-way streets and roundabouts affect traffic flow. An in-depth understanding of dangerous intersections, near misses, bicycle paths and curb utilisation is also a part.
Currently, Atlanta is working on discovering a better use of CityIQ to collect real-time data that can make the streets safer for everyone.
Cheap & Clean Energy – For All
The citizens of Atlanta have to deal with the energy burden of up to 10% of monthly income. This is relative to the national average of 3%.
Atlanta is foreseeing to lead in the clean energy sector by keeping sustainability at the centre while reducing the energy bills for residents. Indirectly, this will support the global climate agenda, generate local jobs, and improve resident’s health as well.
City Council embraced a plan in April 2019 to make Atlanta 100% reliant on green energy by 2035. The percentage will move from the current 6-8% that is derived from wind, solar, biogas, geothermal and hydroelectric.
The Clean Energy Plan stresses on affordable and equitable access to clean energy. And this will hugely benefit low-income and minority communities that are most affected by the adversity of extreme weather.
Noxious dumping, air pollution and untreated brownfields impact the young generation and the old. Hence, this action against climate change will not just protect the environment or economy, but also improve health – mainly the quality of life.
Safety starts at home. This is true in the smart city terms when homelessness disappears. The City of Atlanta’s equitability strategy also concentrates on affordable housing that is still a challenge.
On average, a renter has to pay $1,037 for an apartment. A buyer has to pay a median price of $238,700. Atlanta is exploring ways to enable affordable housing.
In 2018, a competition named domestiCITY looked for creative and replicable models for designing multi-family affordable housing units. This was based on the renovation possibilities of Santa Fe Villas, a four-acre 147-unit housing development.
189 participants from over 15 countries presented 20 designs in the competition. Six of the best ideas were demonstrated at the Museum of Design Atlanta. Tim Keane, Commissioner of the Department of City Planning stated: “It’s time that we approach affordable housing with beautiful design in mind.”
The city’s Department of City Planning is currently digging into ways to accelerate the permitting for housing development. In this, a minimum of 10% of units is at or below the affordability rates of the national government.
Furthermore, a lot more initiatives under the education and health sector are being operated under the One Atlanta strategy. The recently founded $100 million Georgia Cyber Centre in Augusta is delivering affordable cybersecurity education. The aim revolves around establishing the region’s cyber-security workforce. According to reports, the city is also working with public schools to spread the awareness of digital economy and cyber-security among youth. In fact, the CTO department is appointing students as paid interns and later are hiring them as employees.
Atlanta is moving on the path of a holistic reformation to call itself a true ‘Equitable Smart City.’ Although the importance is apparent, experts have expressed that it’s crucial for a city to be equitable.