How smart cities’ smartness can be defined by their neighbours

Opinion Columbus, the capital of Ohio, is well on the way to becoming a smart city. Yet what are its relationships like with nearby cities?

As first reported by Statescoop, a new report by the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, at DePaul University, argues public transport services in nine metropolitan areas – including Columbus – are ‘pockets of pain’, with no service by Amtrak or express coach lines to cater to more than 700,000 inhabitants.

UK-based readers of this publication with long memories will recall the Beeching cuts in the 1960s, which cut more than half of railway stations and up to 8,000 km of railway line as the car boom took off. Of course, Beeching’s second proposal – which was not taken up – would have decimated the railway even further.

Given the much vaster terrain of the US, naturally the fastest option of journeys more than 250 miles is commercial air travel – but if citizens in the nine areas, among them Phoenix, Dayton and Tulsa, do not wish or are not able to drive nor fly, then options are limited.

In the case of Columbus, Megabus, which offers low cost bus travel at kerbside bus stops instead of traditional stations, ceased services at the start of this year. The report notes that both intercity bus and rail services have experienced a slowdown in traffic since 2015. Cleveland to Columbus is the fourth most popular route across the US with neither an express coach nor rail service. The travel time, of just under two and a half hours, is the shortest out of the top 40, with more than 1.4 million annual trips. A walk-up airfare is $466.

Columbus is “the largest city on the US mainland more than 100 miles from both an Amtrak or express coach stop” and “has not had rail service since the discontinuation of the New York-Kansas City National Limited in 1979”, the report asserts.

Yet there are advances being made. Columbus won the Smart City Challenge in 2016, competing with – and beating – 77 cities nationwide. “Transportation is not just about roads, transit and ride sharing,” said Andrew J. Ginther, mayor of Columbus. “It’s about how people access opportunity – and how they live.”

To that end, the city is building a smart city transportation network with the $50 million earned from the contest. As Tech Republic reported in May, additional funding has come from American Electric Power ($170m), Ohio State University ($64m) and the state of Ohio ($35m), putting the total nearer $500m. Writing for this publication in January, Laetitia Gazel Anthoine, founder and CEO of Connecthings, noted: “The city’s application proposes leveraging data collection and analysis technologies to transmit real-time information about traffic and parking conditions and transit options to minimise traffic issues associated with major events and incidents.

“These efforts to bring an ageing and obsolete mass transportation system network into the 21st century is a critical component to any smart city project. Like Columbus, most cities’ networks were built decades ago, and are based on proprietary solutions.”

Yet further down the line, will Columbus’ relationship with other cities define its smart status? Speaking to this publication at the end of last year for the first issue of the IoT News magazine, Roberto Minerva, chairman of the IEEE Internet of Things Initiative, brought about the example of Milan and Rome, if one is designated a ‘smart city’ but not the other.

“My view is there won’t be smart cities, but smart interconnected territories,” he said. “The cities [will] have to create a kind of common platform, so they have to form other data in a singular way.”

You can read the full report from the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development here.

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