On Thursday, November 2, Georgia Tech and the Georgia Municipal Association hosted mayors and public officials from 10 Georgia hub cities and counties at the inaugural Mayors’ Leadership Forum on Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation.
Officials from Albany, Augusta-Richmond County, Brunswick, Columbus, Dalton, Gainesville, Macon-Bibb County, Rome, Savannah, and Valdosta gathered at the Centergy Building in Tech Square for the day-long event. Together, the populations of these metropolitan areas represent 23-percent of Georgia and their gross domestic products (GDPs) make up 18-percent of the state’s overall GDP. The purpose of the forum: translate innovative research and development on smart communities into collective action and deployment.
“We are witnessing some exciting times for local government leadership and action. Never before have we seen as wide advancement and rapid deployment of technologies, data, and other similar tools to drive improvements in government operations, accountability, and transparency,” said Debra Lam, managing director of Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation at Georgia Tech. “Georgia with its rich, diverse and dynamic communities is a natural testing ground, and it becomes more powerful when local governments come together.”
The forum began with welcome addresses from Lam, Dene Sheheane, Georgia Tech’s vice president for Government and Community Relations, and Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson. Peterson discussed Georgia Tech’s culture of innovation and collaboration, including the Institute’s partnership with the City of Atlanta on the North Avenue Smart Corridor project.
WATCH: Forum Introductions
“What we’d like to do is help you understand how can you take some of the ideas that we have here and perhaps apply them in your communities to enhance innovation and apply some of the techniques and technologies of smart cities to make a better, more robust living environment in your communities, not to try to replicate what we’re doing,” said Peterson.
The first panel of the day explored the role of technology in socio-economic development and its limitations when faced with persistent disparities, such as the “digital divide.” The panelists discussed ways in which technology is currently being used to spur economic and community growth and who those efforts include and exclude. The discussion also provided some ideas about how local governments can support the organic growth of technologies, services, and applications that promote social inclusion, participation, and economic equality.
WATCH: The Role of Technology in Socioeconomic Development
“I think it’s important to understand what the cities are thinking, what the mayors are thinking, what are their priorities and what are their pain points?” said Hardik Bhatt, vertical lead, Smart Cities and Mobility, World Wide Public Sector – State & Local Governments, Amazon Web Services. “Having [nine] hub city mayors sitting in one room and thinking through collaboratively not only how can they share their challenges and problems but also jointly come up with solutions that they can apply to their cities. I think this is a fantastic way of learning what’s happening in American cities and how they are addressing those challenges.”
After lunch and a tour of Tech Square, a second panel discussed how to address infrastructure failures and reexamine our social and physical infrastructure. The goal is to not only better withstand natural and human-caused disasters but to build more resilient communities.
WATCH: Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities
“The smart city conversation is a catalyst for a much larger conversation. Not just how do we bring more technology to our cities, but how do we utilize technology as a tool to solve the challenges that have been in our cities for decades on end?” said Rohit Malhotra, founder, Center for Civic Innovation.
WATCH: Meet the Speakers
After each panel, the mayors and other local officials gathered in small groups to discuss challenges to and opportunities for smarter growth and development in their own communities. After sharing their own struggles and successes, they identified common issues, including concentrated and generational poverty, communication and coordination — both internal and cross-jurisdictional — accessibility and transportation options, educational programs and workforce development, and disaster preparedness.
“Anytime we can come together and talk about how cities are utilizing technologies to improve services to their citizens, to coordinate partners, that’s a very good day and a good use of our time,” said Teresa Tomlinson, mayor, Columbus, Georgia.
ADDITIONAL VIDEO COVERAGE
Meet the Mayors:
Mayor Hardie Davis – Augusta, Georgia
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson – Columbus, Georgia
Mayor Robert Reichert – Macon-Bibb County Georgia
Mayor Dennis Mock – Dalton, Georgia
Mayor Dorothy Hubbard – Albany, Georgia
Mayor Cornell Harvey – Brunswick, Georgia