Columbus, Macon become ‘Smart’ communities in Georgia. Here’s what that means.

Macon-Bibb County and Columbus are getting an assist from Georgia Tech for new programs aimed at improving access to technology for residents and local governments.

Georgia Tech announced Tuesday that Macon-Bibb County and Columbus received Georgia Smart Communities Challenge Grants to allow the two cities to develop pilot projects.

The Columbus program will focus on improving safety in the Uptown district, while the Macon program’s goal is to provide better access to government resources in underserved communities, officials said.

In both cities, the public will get free access to beefed-up Wi-Fi networks in certain areas.

Macon and Columbus will provide a local match of $25,000 to go along with the $50,000 grant. A Georgia Tech researcher and other experts will work with the local communities on the projects that will run for one year beginning in September.

“Georgia Smart takes Georgia Tech and brings it together with rural communities and public agencies to support the communities and their effort to implement cutting edge technologies,” said school President G.P. “Bud” Peterson.

Macon Smart Neighborhoods

The kiosks will allow Macon residents to report issues through the website and app SeeClickFix, so they can find information like when trash will be picked up, when a neighborhood will be sprayed for mosquitoes, etc., said Jeff Griffin, geographic information system manager for Macon-Bibb County.

People can also get a free Wi-Fi connection if they’re within a certain distance of the kiosks. A prototype will be used before the full system is rolled out. There will be various other local government resources offered through the kiosks.

“We’ll put kiosks in high-traffic areas like libraries and recreation centers so that those underserved areas have the same access to city hall as other areas do,” Griffin said. “We’re calling it putting city hall in your neighborhood.”

Residents also will be able to access online applications for government jobs, said Brett Lavender, chief information officer of Macon-Bibb County Information Technology. “That’s an idea of something that could be easily put out in the community to give someone the ability to conduct business and apply for a job.”

The extent of the program will be determined on the level of support from public-private partnerships.

The Macon-Bibb County Transit Authority and Macon-Bibb County Health Department, Urban Development Authority, The Downtown Macon Business Improvement District and Eisenhower Business Improvement District are also partners of the Macon Smart Neighborhoods program.

The Bibb County school district and area colleges will also be involved.

Columbus Smart Uptown

The Columbus Smart program is designed to boost the economy of the Uptown area by improving safety, transportation and wireless connectivity, officials said Monday.

It will use data collected through mobile devices, Columbus Information Technology Director Forrest Toelle said, as well as license plate-readers and motion sensors that count cars and people.

“We’re trying to figure out why certain sections aren’t good, why certain sections are, as far as economically,” he said.

The information will not only help with the perception of safety but also gives people living or visiting Uptown free Wi-Fi access, Toelle said.

“Right now we don’t have a major (public safety) issue, but the Columbus community has been thinking about opening the community up more like Savannah does with different alcohol ordinances,” he said. “We actually think that if people feel safe they’ll be more likely to be out there.”

The data also will help determine the economic impact by finding out where people are coming from, Toelle said.

“It will help us know who comes in and out of the city during major events,” he said.

Columbus is partnering with the Uptown Columbus and the Muscogee County schools on the project.

The cities of Milton and Woodstock were also announced Tuesday as recipients of Georgia Smart Communities Challenge.

Woodstock will use the money for an infrastructure study to improve congestion. Milton will use it to promote walking and biking to schools.