Smart Cities Initiative Starts In Cleveland

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Cleveland city staff and local experts in the fields of economic development, the arts and social sciences met earlier this week with professors from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville about a new initiative designed to benefit both the city and the university.

It was the first meeting since the March announcement that Cleveland was selected as the pilot city for the Smart Communities Initiative that begins in the fall.

SCI was founded upon the idea that universities and communities should work together to improve the health and vitality of their areas.

Each semester, municipal partners will work with SCI staff to identify relevant projects for service-learning or internship-based courses.

Discussions at the Municipal Building were the beginning of the collaborative effort. The city benefits in its pursuit of becoming a more vibrant community and in its preparation to cope with added growth pressures. The university benefits from producing graduates with more practical and relevant educational experiences.

City Planning Director Greg Thomas said he looked forward to the collaborative effort because it is difficult for the small city staff with a modest budget to bring projects to fruition.

“It is wonderful that the SCI program exists. I really think it is going to help us,” he said during introductory remarks.

He said Cleveland is part of the Piedmont-Atlantic Megaregion that stretches roughly from Raleigh, NC, to Birmingham, AL. Between now and 2050, the area is expected to experience 78 percent growth, which equates to about 14 million people. The current population of Tennessee is 6.49 million, according to 2013 estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“One of the things that helps growth work better is if we can do it more compactly in terms of cost and delivering services as well as cost to citizens,” he said.
The percentage of lower and moderate-income households’ budgets for housing and transportation goes up as urban sprawl increases. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in Cleveland is $35,736 and 23.8 percent of city residents live below the poverty level. Comparatively, the median income in Tennessee is $44,140 and 17.3 percent of Tennesseans live below the poverty level.

Kelly Ellenburg, UTK campus coordinator for Service-Learning, said during her introductory remarks that one of the goals was to get people “to thinking about how they could address complex problems, which are inherently interdisciplinary, on a local level.”

She said the consensus of that thought process at UTK was that characteristics that define a smart city are multifaceted, such as providing its citizens with the things they need. “But also access to opportunities and access to education and health care — a lot of things that seem common sense, but are really difficult in implementation over the long term,” she said. “(Also,) Working with regional partners to connect what’s happening at the local level to the direction that the region needs to go.”

The definition also includes making conscious decisions to preserve ecological assets and natural resources of the area, “and thinking long term about how to strategize and to say ‘yes’ to the forces that are working in favor of the community and ‘no’ to the forces that are not.”

SCI will work with one city each year and match faculty with projects proposed by the city. Mr. Thomas submitted 19 projects for possible selection: Eight were transportation related, eight were non-transportation related, two were hybrids and if Bradley County agrees, one project would be an improvement and expansion analysis for the Bradley County Health Department.

The City of Cleveland is responsible for funding the $3,000 to $9,000 cost per project up to a maximum of $100,000. UTK faculty and staff will determine which projects they will accept.

The SCI will build upon the BCC2035 Strategic Plan and more detailed planning and project initiatives such as the Long-Range Transportation Plan, the City of Cleveland Comprehensive Plan. A series of more detailed small area plans, including the Central City Area Plan, accompanies the Comprehensive Plan.

Sustainability features of the Comprehensive Plan include brownfield redevelopment, adaptive reuse of older industrial properties, bicycle/pedestrian and transit improvements, greater urban mixed-use and housing density, and flood and stream quality improvements.
Other community and economic developments underway in Cleveland that could benefit from the SCI partnership include:

— A privately initiated effort, Impact Cleveland, has begun under the auspices of the United Way with substantial support from Habitat for Humanity and others. Impact Cleveland is designed to bring about improvements to housing and meet other identifiable needs within targeted portions of the area encompassed by the Central City Area Plan. The City has provided technical support for Impact Cleveland and is represented on the advisory board.

— The City recently worked with the Cleveland Urban Area Transit System to apply for a Tennessee Department of Transportation Multimodal Access Grant to provide sidewalks and transit bus shelters that will serve the core of the Central City plan area including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. The City Council recently approved the grant. The budgeted amount for the project is $961,624. The 2013 Multimodal Access Grant will fund 95 percent of the cost and the Cleveland Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is responsible for the remaining 5 percent.

— An engineering study of Cleveland’s major drainage basins by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, with a major financial contribution by the City, is still in the early stages. The purpose of the study is to determine flood hazard boundaries with respect to existing development. The study will also provide information useful to the possible future design of a stream restoration effort for Woolen Mill Branch, a stream, impacted and encroached upon by development since the 1800s, crosses the Central City Area.

— In another effort that will affect Woolen Mill Branch, Cleveland is presently working with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to update its stormwater regulations, which will entail improved collection of quality data.

— The CDBG target area is within the Central City. It has benefited from sustained efforts to improve community facilities, drainage and housing.

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