The "Smart Cities Challenge" paid Columbus, Ohio $50 million to kick start a revolution of urban technology. The revolution never arrived, according to a recent assessment by Wired writer Aarian Marshall.
An article by Aarian Marshall evaluates the results of the $50 million grant awarded the city of Columbus, Ohio for the U.S. Department of Transportation's "Smart Cities Challenge" in 2016. Both the competition and Columbus' victory were huge urbanism and planning stories at the time—and the grant program was intended to achieve a game-changing legacy for the Obama administration. But after setting aside those aspirations, Marshall's assessment does not find much progress to report as a result of the competition.
Among the plans included in the winning grant proposal from the city of Columbus were "Wi-Fi-enabled kiosks to help residents plan trips, apps to pay bus and ride-hail fares and find parking spots, autonomous shuttles, and sensor-connected trucks," explains Marshall. Columbus also promised to deliver all of these new technologies in locations that provided access to underserved communities.
Here's how Marshall sums up the fruits of five years and $50 million in Columbus:
According to the project’s final report, issued this month by the city’s Smart Columbus Program, the pandemic hit just as some projects were getting off the ground. Six kiosks placed around the city were used to plan just eight trips between July 2020 and March 2021. The company EasyMile launched autonomous shuttles in February 2020, carrying passengers at an average speed of 4 miles per hour. Fifteen days later, a sudden brake sent a rider to the hospital, pausing service. The truck project was canceled. Only 1,100 people downloaded an app, called Pivot, to plan and reserve trips on ride-hail vehicles, shared bikes and scooters, and public transit.
As for the consequences of the failed "Smart Cities Challenge" experiment, Marshall warns of relying on technology as a silver bullet solution for all urban challenges, and also notes that some tech advancements that once seemed full of promise, don't seem quite as shiny. The same sentiment was echoed by a statement from Elon Musk the same week as Marshall's article declaring self-driving cars and autonomous vehicle technology a "hard problem" to solve.
For more background on the Smart Columbus Program and the Smart Cities Challenges see Planetizen tags for both.
Indiana Once Again Considering Ban on Dedicated Transit Lanes
The proposed legislation would impact the construction of planned IndyGo Blue Line, the third phase of the city’s bus rapid transit system.
4 Ways to Use AI in Urban Planning and City Design
With the ability to predict trends, engage citizens, enhance resource allocation, and guide decision-making, artificial intelligence has the potential to serve as planners’ very own multi-tool.
LA’s ‘Spongy’ Infrastructure Captured Almost 9 Billion Gallons of Water
The city is turning away from stormwater management practices that shuttle water to the ocean, building infrastructure that collects and directs it underground instead.
New York DOT Status Report Shows Slow Progress on Bus, Bike Lanes
According to a report released by the agency, NYCDOT failed to meet its benchmarks for installing new dedicated bus and bike lanes.
Washington State Requests Federal Funding for Tsunami Preparedness
The state’s Department of Natural Resources says it needs continued funding to map coastal areas at risk for tsunami impacts and prepare mitigation and evacuation plans.
Creating More Green Schoolyards in Los Angeles
Led by the Trust for Public Land, the “28×28” Initiative seeks to green 28 schools in Los Angeles by the 2028 Olympics.
City of Grand Forks, North Dakota
HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research
Harvard GSD Executive Education
City of Laramie, Wyoming
Colorado Department of Local Affairs
Lassen County Planning and Building Services
This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.