Columbus opens new learning center with ‘Smart City’ message


Associated Press

COLUMBUS

Ohio’s capital wants to get smart – and it’s launched an interactive learning center to get people to buy in.

The Smart Columbus Experience Center opened to the public Saturday. The showroom-style gallery, located in a reclaimed retail space, debuted with a “smart mobility block party,” featuring electric-car test drives, free ride share lifts and bike safety workshops.

It’s all part of a $50 million initiative Columbus has undertaken to become a smart city, or one that eases urban life by digitally linking transportation, energy and communication systems.

The city won a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation Smart City Challenge in 2016 and Paul G. Allen Philanthropies contributed another $10 million to the cause.

Integrating the transportation, power and data networks that have evolved over time in a city settled more than 200 years ago is no easy task. In fact, it’s still a dream.

Columbus won its spot as the testing ground over San Francisco; Pittsburgh; Denver; Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; and Kansas City, Mo.

The city’s smart cities team recognizes that it may be an uphill battle to get people in the sprawling metropolitan area of roughly 2 million residents to abandon their single-occupancy vehicle lifestyles and take up bikes, carpools, electric cars or ride sharing.

That’s where the learning center comes in.

Through educational displays, hands-on activities and test drives of electric cars, the center aims to answer the public’s questions about how a smart grid works, how an electric car drives or how a drone works.

The learning center serves as the lobby to the new Smart Columbus headquarters that will house the both public and private smart city employees, as well as programmers who will maintain the integrated smart city operating system launched last month.

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