An aerial view of downtown Montgomery, Ala.  

Mar 04 2019

Montgomery, Ala., Lays the Foundation for Smart City Projects

The city plans to enhance Wi-Fi connectivity, lighting, parking and public safety.

Smart city tools and technologies are not just the province of large cities like New York, Boston or Tampa, Fla. Smaller ones, like Montgomery, Ala., want to get smarter as well.

In mid-January, Montgomery launched a smart city program in conjunction with the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce and utility Alabama Power. The group announced the creation of a “Smart City Living Lab” in downtown Montgomery that will feature fiber-optic infrastructure, an expansion of the city’s Open Data Portal, free public Wi-Fi in downtown areas, the conversion of street lights to LED lights, a public safety initiative and deployment of smart parking solutions

The smart corridor will be formalized through the creation of the Montgomery Smart Community Alliance, a public-private partnership focused on advancing smart city initiatives in the city. 

The alliance is currently coordinating a smart community strategic plan to identify community priorities and solutions that address them, with several initiatives already underway.

MORE-FROM-STATETECH: Find out why these cities are the smart cities to watch. 

“Smart cities are the ones that will survive in the next few years, and we will be a survivor,” Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. “And we’re going to march forth and be the example, throughout Alabama.”

Meanwhile, nearby Maxwell Air Force Base is working on its own smart city projects, including smart surveillance cameras, and may partner with the city. 

“At this point, it’s totally base-oriented, but we have had discussions with the city of Montgomery as they move forward with their own smart city project,” Lt. Col. Lloyd McDonald, commander of the 42nd Communications Squadron at the base, tells FedTech. “We’re looking at areas where our interests coincide, and where Defense Department rules for public-private partnerships might allow us to partner on different pieces of technology insertion that would benefit not only the base, but also the city.”

MORE-FROM-STATETECH: Find out how smart cities gain efficiencies from traffic sensors. 

Montgomery Aims to Improve Public Safety and Parking

Part of the program includes the expansion of the city’s Open Data Portal, which was launched in January 2017 and has already deployed several internal city initiatives to streamline processes and more efficiently and transparently track resources. 

The Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce launched the first phase of the free public Wi-Fi network called “MGMWiFi” in January and plans to expand in the next few months. The network takes advantage of Alabama Power’s fiber-optic network infrastructure. 

Alabama Power’s Southern Division Vice President Leslie Sanders told local TV station WSFA12 that the company is putting “a substantial” amount of money into the project, worth millions of dollars. Sanders said such community investments are one of the company’s priorities. 

“This is a huge investment from the Alabama Power Company,” said Strange. “The payback, though, is tremendous. The cost for them is a fraction of what it is today in regular lighting, so the payback for them will come over time. For the city, we will reap about a $500,000 financial benefit over five years.” 

Montgomery will contribute about $50,000 for the expanded Wi-Fi access, Strange told WSFA12. The station reports: 

Currently the city offers free public Wi-Fi at Riverwalk Stadium and in the Alley. Once the work is finished, downtown visitors and residents will be able to access free internet from the Capitol steps, all the way down Dexter Avenue, to the fountain and then all the way down Commerce Street to the Riverfront.

Additionally, Alabama Power is working to enhance energy infrastructure around the corridor and is also beginning the process of converting more than 22,000 streetlights to LEDs to help improve public safety, increase uniformity and create over $650,000 in savings over the next five years. 

By the end of March, the city expects to launch a mobile application for smart parking. The app will allow residents and visitors looking for parking to locate available spots, pay for parking and be notified when their time is up. 

Montgomery is also working to gain access to every surveillance camera in public spaces in the city, both private and public. In February, the Montgomery Police Department unveiled a crime-fighting technology tool that uses the cameras in a single network called “STAR Watch,” WSFA12 separately reports

Police officers can quickly pull up camera footage if a call comes in and can send screen shots to officers dispatched to the scene, improving officer safety and giving them more situational intelligence. 

“At the end of the day, you’re going to have smart parking and smart lighting,” Strange said, according to WSFA12. “You’re going to have cameras that are smart. That can be helpful with public safety. You’re going to be able to raise lights or lower lights. It’s going to be a better quality of living here.”

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