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Columbus, Ohio, in the Smart City Spotlight

Developments in recent months at the city of Columbus, Ohio, provide prominent examples of ways in which the utility industry has been playing an increasingly important role in facilitating smart-city related improvements and related that revitalize more than infrastructure—they revitalize the quality of life for people who live in urban areas.

Columbus, which proudly proclaims its status as the fastest-growing city in the Midwest, was the winner of the U.S. Department of Traffic’s Smart City Challenge, which includes plans increase EV usage fourfold and transform Columbus into a magnet for public-private partnerships for smart city related initiatives.

The project will bridge digital divides and connect people with jobs. Beyond installing electric vehicle infrastructure Columbus will convert public fleets and buses to electric vehicles, incentivize shared-use mobility options, and closely monitor air pollution to identify and address emissions hotspots. In addition, the project includes plans to install smart streetlights, some of which will provide Wi-Fi access.

The initial DOT award was $40 million, back in June, 2016, but after the initial award, the DOT upped the ante.  The origin DOT award was reported in Forbes, in June 2016 article:   Transportation Secretary Foxx On Why Columbus, Ohio Won The DOT's $40 Million Smart City Challenge.  Then, through public/private partnerships, the award swelled to $150 million, in part from a donation of $10 million from retired Microsoft executive Paul Allen’s Vulcan Ventures.  Other companies, including Amazon Web Services, contributed as well, both financially and/or by providing services.

From automated vehicles to connected infrastructure to data analytics, technology is transforming how we move around our country, and some of the most exciting innovation is happening at the local level.

—U.S. DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx

The city’s Smart Columbus initiative won out over the “runner-up” smart city plans of 6 other cities who achieved finalist status in the DOT evaluation: Austin, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland, and San Francisco, but as detailed in the DOT report, multi-million dollar grants were also awarded to Denver, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. In fact, the winning plans of the seven DOT Smart City Challenge finalist cities provide a great range of insights into smart city issues.  The proposals identified more than 150 industry and nonprofit partners pledging more than $500 million in resources, technology solutions, and technical support to implement smart city initiatives.

An update in late 2016 in Columbus Business First, "Companies from around the world are maneuvering for a piece of Columbus’ Smart City program pie," highlights the wide range of vendors seeking to participate in the grant’s implementation, including General Electric and its “ecosystem of partners," which includes Intel Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Oracle Corp. and AT&T Inc.  

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