Areas of Focus
By Michael Pearson
When it comes to smart cities, it is one thing to develop the technology. It is quite another to ensure those technologies serve the wants and needs of residents.
That was the premise of the recent Georgia Institute of Technology conference,” Smart Cities Dialogue: Building Inclusive Communities and Partnerships.” The two-day event held May 7-8 focused on inclusiveness and equity in smart city design. Chaouki T. Abdallah, Georgia Tech’s executive vice president for research, offered remarks to open the conference.
“We want to frame the discussion around developing solutions that create smarter communities with social ecosystems as a primary consideration,” said Abdallah. “We are proud to be unique in our approach to embed the best and brightest minds as part of the teams in these communities and create powerful social platforms and a model by which other communities can learn.”
The conference was “standing room only” according to Joe Bankoff, chair of the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, which helped organize the event.
“This conference makes clear that Georgia Tech has an extraordinary range of things to offer in the smart cities arena,” he said.
In addition to panel discussions, participants also got the opportunity to make site visits to labs and campus locations showcasing Georgia Tech efforts in the smart cities space. These ranged from a community map room created by faculty in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication to examples of resilient spaces, such as the nearly-completed Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design.
“There are a lot of conferences on smart cities,” said Dennis Lockhart, distinguished professor of the practice in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs who helped organize the conference as the third in his series of Infrastructure Dialogues. “However, there are very few that actually take the participants into a lab and show them firsthand some of the work that is being done,” he said.
The Nunn School is a unit of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.
The conference, which brought in smart cities scholars and practitioners with an interest in human factors from around the world, included plenty of discussion about the role of smart cities in promoting inclusiveness and eliminating social inequalities, the role of mobility in creating smart cities, and putting people at the heart of smart-city decision making.
“Do things with folks, not for them, have them in the room, make sure the interface makes sense, make sure it’s culturally appropriate, make sure it’s filling a need that actually exists and not one you assume exists” Deb Socia, executive director of Next Century Cities, told audience members during a panel discussion. Next Century Cities is an organization that works with community leaders to ensure access to high-speed internet.
Debra Lam, managing director for smart Cities and inclusive innovation in Georgia Tech’s Institute for People and Technology, played a leading role in organizing the conference, which was funded by the Nunn School and the Strategic Energy Institute. Georgia Tech Professional Education, the School of Public Policy, and the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering also supported the event.