When many people hear the term “smart city” they may think of major innovations like advanced water meters or buildings that run on solar power. While technology is the catalyst for a such innovation in communities across the United States, there are other factors that go into determining what a city of the future looks like. Leadership and community involvement may be equally important.
Enter Smart City Expo Atlanta. The three-day conference wants to change the narrative around what makes a city “smart” and who gets to determine that. The conference is taking place Wednesday through Friday, and will bring together some of the world’s most important voices in technology, inclusion and city planning at the Georgia World Congress Center.
The expo is an offshoot of the Smart City Expo World Congress, a major gathering on innovation and urban planning that happens every year in Barcelona, Spain. The event in Atlanta will mark the first time it will be hosted in the United States. .
Atlanta, organizers say, is primed for an event like this because of the city’s focus on collaboration in addition to its capacity to fund innovation. Aarti Tandon, the lead organizer for the event, said in other tech hotbeds like Silicon Valley, where a lot of technological strides are being made, the benefits of innovation aren’t applied locally.
“For us, what makes a city smart [is] to have equity and inclusion at the center of it and Atlanta is moving in that direction,” Tandon said. “We don’t want to disrupt to disrupt, we want to disrupt for people’s benefit.”
Such inclusion is a primary focus of the summit, as new advances make life easier for some of us while others are left behind.
An example is cashless stores. Paying for coffee or groceries with the tap of a mobile device is a convenience for some. But it excludes a portion of the economy that’s is “unbanked,” consumers too poor or considered too risky to have traditional bank accounts.
“A city is only smart if we’re addressing homelessness, if we’re addressing hunger, if we’re addressing affordable housing, and tech can be used to address all of those things. That’s the lens from which we’re operating.”
This year’s expo hopes to tap into Atlanta’s diverse tech ecosystem to start conversations around how to make smart cities equitable and inclusive for everyone.
“There are so many successful people of color who live in Atlanta, who choose to live in Atlanta, and understand that we need to create opportunities for the next generation,” Tandon said.
Familiar names such as former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and rapper and entrepreneur Tip “T.I.” Harris will be among those speaking about how cities around the world, and Atlanta specifically, can be improved by fusing technological innovation with diversity and inclusion.
Tandon says the conference will be in Atlanta for the next three years and the hope is that the conversations that happen at this year’s event will lead to new projects and partnerships that benefit the metro area.
“We’re not just here to host a conference. There’re a million conferences in Atlanta. We’re going to be part of the fabric of this community.”
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