ALBANY — A team from Georgia Tech and officials with the city of Albany took part in an engagement workshop Tuesday in an effort to move the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge forward in the city.

Four Georgia communities, including Albany, are seeking “smart solutions” through the Georgia Tech-led program to implement smart design solutions to some of the city’s challenges. This initiative, in its inaugural year, is meant to bring together industry and public agencies to help local governments implement smart development.

The program provides seed funding, access to technical assistance, expert advice and a network of peers. A Georgia Tech researcher advises and conducts research in support of each group’s goals.

“We want to make sure all the citizens see what we are doing,” Albany Technology and Communications Chief Information Officer Steven Carter said.

Greg McCormick, director of the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge, said the initiative is the first grant challenge of its kind. It reached two-thirds of the state’s population in four of five months and has generated more than $900,000 in match funding.

“(The goal) is to develop a platform that can be pushed into other cities and regions,” he said.

The Albany project will be a housing data initiative. Led by the city of Albany, the project will evaluate an automated housing registry. The system will allow for improved neighborhood infrastructure and revitalization and encourage a safe and sustainable housing inventory for the city.

City Manager Sharon Subadan said it will help officials to make better decisions on the public’s behalf.

“It is an opportunity to get real data on how we (compare) to other cities like Albany,” she said.

Omar Isaac Asensio, assistant professor in the Georgia Tech School of Public Policy, is the researcher assigned to the Albany project. Debra Lam, managing director for Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation, said all communities have the potential to be smart, they just need the tools to empower them to be so.

“Albany is a great demonstration area to prove this,” she said.

William Sparks, crime analyst for the Albany Police Department, gave a demonstration using a Canadian suburb to show how maps outlining city wards, police districts and the location of crime reports can expose how visuals with information on where people live and work impact those individuals.

“This hub is an ideal way for everyone to find out what is going on in their neighborhood,” he said.

Carter said the intention is to build something that can evolve over time to help city officials to do their job. Each department already has its own slice of data, but a central hub needs to be built for this data.

Whether it is through Google or smartphone tracking, data is pretty much everywhere. An objective eye, he said, is needed to get better mileage from the information.

“It is still your own data,” Carter said. “We are just going to have your data available to more people and other people’s data more available to you.

“The goal is to open this data to more and more people, and allow more and more people to analyze this data. I think there is something we can do to make Albany better.”

Georgia Tech officials, along with representatives from program sponsor Georgia Power, met with members of the Albany and Dougherty County governments and educational leaders in Albany in June to announce the project. The program also has a presence in the city of Chamblee, Chatham County and Gwinnett County.

Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard said the initiative is an exciting prospect for Albany in that it aligns with what the city is trying to do to enrich quality of life. She said officials have their eye on the future when implementing the initiative.

“I believe this is a win-win for everyone,” she said.

Georgia Smart supports communities of all sizes, including smaller towns that may not have been as prominent in smart development because of a lack of resources. Seventeen communities applied for the program. While each selected team is led by a local government, the work is a collaboration between different government agencies and nonprofits.

The teams each receive $50,000 in grants and $25,000 from Georgia Tech in research support. The selected communities each raised an additional $50,000. Georgia Power is the lead sponsor of the program, with additional financial support from the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Work on the projects is set to continue through September 2019.

Staff Writer

I'm a 2007 graduate of Georgia Southern University, and I've been a reporter for The Albany Herald since 2008. I cover news related to health care, Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, SOWEGA Council on Aging and other areas as assigned.

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