Greensboro to Participate in Smart Cities Program

file photo of gate city boulevard
(Last Updated On: February 28, 2017)
file photo of gate city boulevard

Leaders in Greensboro plan to explore ways that technology can improve interactive transportation along Gate City Boulevard from Koury to the Coliseum and on to Downtown.

Once upon a time, we figured the city of the future would be one filled with flying cars, robotic groundskeepers and maybe even local spaceports. And the year 2000 seemed like a good target date for those dreams.

What we got was the age of information rather than the age of the Jetsons. It might not be as grand and science fiction-y as we’d hoped, but it has been something more evolutionary than revolutionary. Information is the commodity of the day and city governments are awash in it. They receive so much of it, in fact, that putting it all into perspective, much less good use, is a daunting task.

The City of Greensboro is making strides in corralling and converting that mass of data into working capital. As part of the efforts, the City will be participating in Envision America 2017’s National Smart City Program. Beginning with a conference in Charlotte in early March, representatives from the city government will be meeting with a select group of representatives from nine other US cities to share their projects and learn about technological advances and initiatives.

“We’re very excited to be part of this program,” City of Greensboro Chief Information Officer Jane Nickles said. Nickles will be traveling to the conference with two representatives from the city’s planning department, three from the city’s transportation department, two from the city’s IT department and a representative from UNCG.

Jane Nickles

Jane Nickles is the city’s chief information officer.

That may seem to be a lot of folks from a lot of different areas of focus, but Nickles explained that bringing together different groups and integrating their resources is very much what the Smart Cities initiative is about.

“The project we have selected to work on at the conference is a multi-modal corridor on Gate City Boulevard,” she said. “There are already some projects (public and private) underway there and this is a main artery into the city.

“We want to turn this into a smart, connected corridor, serviced with a special bus route that could run from the Joseph S. Koury Convention Center to the Greensboro Coliseum and then on to the college campuses and downtown,” she continued. Along the route, information kiosks could be set up with information about events, attractions, shopping and education opportunities, as well as visitor information of all types.

“Someone who comes to an event at the convention center could check out a kiosk, then hop a bus and then connect with a lot of different things happening in the city,” Nickles said. “It would also offer Wi-Fi and use sensors throughout the town to advise about the traffic, especially on days with events.”

Turning the technology and information available into a hands-on tool for visitors to the city, as well as city residents, can boost the city’s economy. The open invitation to explore that it would provide could bring tourist dollars into the downtown area, move students and their spending habits throughout the city and even be a major asset when it comes to business recruitment.

“We also want to have conversations about autonomous vehicles,” Nickles said, acknowledging that this will be a struggle for many cities in coming years. “We want to learn how we can build the smart corridor to accommodate these vehicles, and maybe even make the circulator bus be an automated vehicle.”

That might be as close as Greensboro gets to the flying car traffic of science fiction (barring a breakthrough by a local aerospace manufacturer), but it is something to look forward to. There’s also a low-tech transportation mode that could be improved as part of this plan.

“Suppose someone is visiting for an event at the Greensboro Aquatic Center,” Nickles said. “If the person wanted to get out and do something outdoors, they could learn about our greenway and then decide to hop on a bus and head down there and make use of bike sharing resources. They could maybe even see if a bike would be available and reserve it if it was.”

Smart water meters will also be part of the city’s project. Nickles said they hope to start a pilot project with UNCG to track water usage at the campus, which would allow both the facilities management for the university and the city to better and more efficiently coordinate water and sewer resources to meet needs there.

“The first day of the conference will be about projects other cities have done and then there will be an educational immersion opportunity to learn about the program and what has been accomplished so far. Day two will let us take our project to Envision’s experts from the appropriate fields and work with us.

“We’re very excited about that,” she continued, “we hope that they can cover a lot of things we hadn’t thought of. They can also help us with how we can plan through the project, implement it, fund it and how to tie all of the parts together.

“I’m sure that we will learn a lot of new things and come back with new ideas about how to leverage our technology and make something really special,” Nickles said. “We’re just so honored that Greensboro was selected and that we are being recognized as an innovative and progressive city.”

Other cities participating in this year’s Envision America’s Smart City program include: Kansas City, Mo.; Long Beach, Calif.; Detroit, Mich.; Chula Vista, Calif.; Burlington, Conn.; Providence, R.I.; Wichita, Kan.; San Antonio, Texas; and Jackson, Miss.