published Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Krawchuk: Vision, technology key to dynamic future for city

After two decades of splendid progress, Chattanooga has reached a pivotal point in its history.

We all take justifiable pride in Chattanooga's transformation into a vibrant gem of a midsize city that attracts global companies to invest here, talented people to move here and tourists from far and wide to "choose Chattanooga." Chattanooga is the only city in the nation with more than 100,000 people to expand in the 1990s after losing a 10th of its population in the 1980s. The city grew 9.3 percent between 2000 and 2008, drawing young people and retirees alike.

But as we come out of this wrenching recession, now is the ideal time to be considering what bold steps we should be planning to make the next 20 years even more dynamic for our community.

The Century of Cities

Around the world, we live in an era of galloping urbanization. In 1900, only 13 percent of the world's population lived in cities. Today, more than half of us are urban dwellers. By 2050, it will be 70 percent.

This unprecedented concentration is an emblem of economic and societal progress -- and a huge strain on the planet's infrastructure. It's a challenge felt most urgently by mayors, heads of economic development, school administrators, police chiefs and other civic leaders.

Thankfully, help is at hand. Around the world, intelligence is being infused into the infrastructures and systems that make cities work -- revitalizing them so they can become smarter.

A "smart city" uses information and communication technologies to sense, analyze, integrate and respond intelligently to the activities and needs of its jurisdiction -- across the environment, utilities, city services and schools -- thereby creating a better place to live, work, rest and play.

What Makes a City Smart?

As we plan Chattanooga's future, let's look at the capabilities already being built into city functions around the world:

* Transportation officials in Singapore, Brisbane and Stockholm are using smart systems -- which include embedded sensors in roads -- to reduce congestion and pollution.

* The New York City Fire Department has created a central databank for all building inspection and safety information in the wake of a fatal blaze at a skyscraper two years ago. Firefighters responding to the blaze had been told that the standpipe, which supplies water to fire hoses, was working, and they wasted 20 minutes before realizing it was broken. With the new system, the aim is to collect and share data in real time so firefighters can better inspect buildings and know exactly what to expect when they go into burning buildings.

* In Mobile, Ala., the state's largest public school district uses an analytics system that gives administrators, principals, counselors and teachers up-to-date reports on the entire academic profile of every student -- including attendance, grades and disciplinary actions. With more rigorous tracking of at-risk students, Mobile hopes to reduce the dropout problem by steering students on the right path and monitoring their progress.

* New Mexico's capital city, Albuquerque, is using a business intelligence solution to automate data-sharing among its 7,000 employees in more than 20 departments, so every employee gets a single version of the truth. The city has realized cost savings of almost 2,000 percent through increased efficiencies and better coordination of services.

Local application

We can draw lessons from these public-sector visionaries and begin to develop a similar blueprint for a smarter Chattanooga.

We're already seeing positive steps in this direction:

* CARTA has deployed a federal grant for a transportation system that is bringing real-time diagnostics to show bus locations and reduce fuel consumption. Every CARTA vehicle is now equipped with Wi-Fi, the first public transportation system in the nation that can make this claim.

* EPB is the largest municipally owned utility to commit to universal fiber deployment and smart meters to every customer in its territory.

* The city is using EPB's high bandwidth wireless network to provide for the mobility of all government applications, which should help police, fire and medical personnel respond faster and more effectively to 911 calls.

* Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport has served as a test-bed for next-generation security technologies, and continues leveraging cutting-edge technologies to improve operational efficiency and security.

* The Enterprise Center -- an economic development effort run by the city -- is focused on job creation through advanced technology projects ranging from fuel cell development to electric drive technologies and maglev high-speed ground transportation.

These are good examples of how applying new capabilities and creative thinking can vastly improve the systems that our city must manage. As our state and local leaders consider strategies for the remaining $3.6 billion in federal stimulus funds allocated to Tennessee over the next few years, let's focus on projects that don't just preserve the status quo but prepare Chattanooga's economy to thrive in the future.

With vision and imagination, we can build on the momentum of the past two decades and become not only one of the world's most livable cities but also one of the most innovative -- a model for others. Let's seize this promising opportunity to build a smarter Chattanooga.

Sandy Krawchuk is an IBM sales executive based in Chattanooga. She can be reached at srkrawch@us.ibm.com.

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