Chattanooga, Tennessee was proclaimed on the national evening news as the “dirtiest city in America” by Walter Cronkite in 1969. Since then, the city has forged a path of renovation and re-creation and is now celebrated as one of the nation’s great success stories. Much of that is a result of revisioning Chattanooga as a whole.
Part of that revisioning came in the form of the city’s Electric Power Board (EPB). In February 2011, EPB completed construction of the Smart Grid, the city’s fiber-optic communications network. The Smart Grid is the first fiber optic network providing up to a one-gigabyte fiber connectivity to 80,000 households and businesses in its 600 square mile service area, earning Chattanooga the nickname “Gig-City.” That service has now matured to a 10-gigabyte fiber connection, indicating the continued development of that network.
In 2011, the City of Chattanooga began an FHWA funded Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funded project of upgrading its Intelligent Transportation Systems infrastructure. That project leveraged the EPB fiber network to provide connectivity to more than 200 of the region’s 300+ signalized intersections. For the first time in Chattanooga, transportation professionals were able to collect data, monitor the operations, and implement new timing and control plans to the field devices from the Transportation Management Center.
In 2015, then U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx issued the Smart Cities Challenge, offering $40 million in capital funds to implement a smart city program in a medium-sized city. Chattanooga, along with 77 other agencies across the country including Nashville and Memphis, applied for the grant opportunity. Chattanooga was not selected as a finalist in that process, but a seed of innovation had again been planted in the community’s collective consciousness.
During the Smart City Challenge process, a unique dynamic of collaboration between several different organizations across the community formed. Disparate organizations came together to work on the 30-page submittal required for the application. Within the city of Chattanooga government, several departments supported the effort, such as the mayor’s office, Office of the City Attorney, and the Department of Transportation. They were joined by the Chattanooga Area Regional Transit Authority (CARTA), The Enterprise Center, EPB, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Computer Science and Data Analytics College.
Soon after the Smart City Challenge, these groups continued to look at various opportunities in which to collaborate further, such as National Science Foundation research projects, activities undertaken by the various partners with other research entities, and the National Laboratory system.
In October of 2018, the Chattanooga Smart Community Collaborative (CSCC) officially became a partnership between the governments of the City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County; EPB; academic institutions of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) and Chattanooga State Community College; Erlanger Hospital System, the nation’s seventh largest health care system; business and economic development accelerators; The Enterprise Center; and The Company Lab (CO.LAB). Other organizations that actively interact with the CSCC are CARTA and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
While the CSCC was being formalized, UTC programmed and funded the Center of Urban Informatics and Progress (CUIP). The CUIP is a new opportunity for research and innovation at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The Center will engage experts from across the statewide University of Tennessee system in cross-disciplinary research focused on solutions to urban challenges and research related to Energy, Mobility, Healthcare, Public Safety, Water, and Waste, providing local benefits while developing methods and models for use around the world.
Currently, the city of Chattanooga and its partners from the CSCC are actively working on several research programs. One such program is the “crown jewel” of the CSCC effort, the Martin Luther King (MLK) Smart City Corridor Test-bed.
The MLK Smart City Corridor is currently being deployed with a wide array of sensors, compute resources, and experimental wireless networks that will allow cutting edge research across the Smart City ecosystem. The initial research challenge posed by the city of Chattanooga Department of Transportation that the University has initially focused on entails processing information from a variety of sensors. These sensors include cameras, video detection technologies, LIDAR, RADAR, and audio, allowing the city to better understand how pedestrians are using Chattanooga’s existing transportation infrastructure and network to prioritize deployments and additional research opportunities that will address our city’s Vulnerable Roadway User Safety Initiative (Vision Zero) goals. The corridor is 1.2 miles of an arterial in the urban core of Chattanooga that runs between Market Street on the west to Central Avenue on the east, includes eight signalized intersections, and one mid-block pedestrian crossing.
Chattanooga’s commitment to the collection, aggregation, and analysis of quantitative data on a variety of processes will provide better levels of service and informed decisions based on the data. This includes critical infrastructures such as energy, waste, mobility, water, city planning, and sustainability, along with other city services. The overarching goal is to improve the quality of life for all citizens and facilitate sustainable economic development while managing likely increases in population density in urban areas for decades to come, under changing environmental conditions.