You drive to work every morning, a trip that takes about 20 minutes. Along the way, you pass through a section of town filled with trees, lush green lawns and beautiful flowers.
A bit further on, the scenery changes. Now it's industrial warehouses, some being used, some rusty and dead. Your car bumps over train tracks, jarring your spine as you bounce up and down in your seat.
Does one area of town energize you? Does one bum you out?
The Center for Urban Informatics and Progress programs
Social Science: Use the perceptions, reactions, emotions and thoughts of residents before starting urban design projects. Lead researcher — Chandra Ward (UTC)
Public Safety: Create ways to address such issues as crime detection, emergency response, traffic safety and building/bridge construction. Lead researcher — Mina Sartipi (UTC)
Water/Waste: Examine social and technical hurdles when designing stormwater systems. Lead researcher — Jon Hathaway (University of Tennessee). Improve the efficiency of municipal water and wastewater collection system and flood prediction. Lead researcher — Jejal Bathi (UTC).
Healthcare: Stroke rehabilitation and prediction. Lead researchers — Nancy Fell and Andrew Bailey (both UTC)
Mobility: Use technology to connect systems such as public transport, self-driving vehicles and traffic signals to improve safety and efficiency. Lead researcher — Mina Sartipi (UTC). Research into the category of Energy also is planned.
A new center at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will examine questions like that and many others focusing on quality of life in Chattanooga.
The Center for Urban Informatics and Progress — or CUIP — is an independent research entity housed at UTC that is designed to help Chattanooga be one of the worldwide leaders in the Smart City research. Mina Sartipi, director of the center and a graduate-level faculty member in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, said that going forward CUIP will be the "point person," so to speak, for all Smart City projects in Chattanooga.
"The goal is to directly or indirectly benefit local citizens," Sartipi says. "The 21st century is an urban living century. It is expected that two-thirds of global population will live in urban environment by 2050."
Using data-driven techniques, the center will focus on multiple areas, including health, urban development, stormwater/wastewater, public safety and energy. The goal, Sartipi says, is to "directly or indirectly improve citizens' lives and create an urban environment that is livable, accessible and healthy for all."
Under the Smart City umbrella, those challenges include designing transportation systems — both public and private — that are better-suited to the needs of city residents, making the delivery of utilities such as electricity and water as efficient as possible, ensuring that city streets are safer for drivers and pedestrians and improving healthcare in the region. Ultimately, finding the pieces to these puzzles will boost the quality of life across Chattanooga.
In its research, CUIP will use the high-performance computing abilities of UTC's SimCenter to crunch and analyze large amounts of research data, a critical part of the research projects already underway and those in the future. The center opened its doors with $1 million in funding from UTC and the UTC System.
But CUIP's projects won't be limited to Chattanooga. To research "urban challenges," Sartipi says, the center will combine the resources across UTC and the UT System with other colleges and universities. Locally, it will collaborate with EPB, TVA, Siskin Hospital, Co.Lab, the Enterprise Center and the city of Chattanooga, among others, while also conducting research with national groups such as the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
By working with others, CUIP will embrace a host of viewpoints on multiple projects, says Reinhold Mann, deputy vice chancellor for research at UTC and the "face" of the new center, promoting it, finding new research partners and making connections with possible funding sources.
"I think it's important to have outside advisors, people who bring in a fresh perspective," Mann explains. "The other part is just simply looking for new opportunities There may be other ideas out there."
But you don't have to go "out there" to find innovative ideas and perspectives, Sartipi says. Departments across the UTC campus can utilize the CUIP for their projects involving Smart City concepts. In doing so, different theories, approaches and viewpoints will benefit everyone, she says.
"Depending on the research area you're working on, your expertise, the course that you're covering, you can see that you would look at urban challenges differently," she recently told a group of UTC faculty and students at a presentation about CUIP. "The urban challenge would have a different meaning from the area that you are looking into. That is what makes this so diverse and multi-disciplinary; that is what makes it exciting to me.
"And that is really making it exciting for students to get involved, too," she continued. "I know a lot of you here are working in some areas in these fields. When you have a student that is working on, for example, 911 accidents. So, they are looking to see for the city of Chattanooga: What are the causes of accidents? How can they prevent it? How can they improve something to have less-severe accidents?"
As director, one of her responsibilities is promoting and coordinating with UTC's colleges and departments, making sure they realize that CUIP is a resource for them, Sartipi says.
"I'm making sure that I reach out to all colleges coming up with multi-disciplinary projects, to connect them, if they need to be, with the community," she says.
Beyond managing connections with groups from outside UTC, Mann says he'll also be looking for funding for CUIP projects, whether it's government-funded grants from such organizations as the National Science Foundation or financial support from companies, utilities or schools that want to conduct collaborative research.
"There needs to be significant funding opportunities because you may have great ideas, but if nobody wants to pay for it, that's not going to go anywhere," he says.
Shawn Ryan is an executive staff writer in the communications and marketing office at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.