5 cities, 5 smart ideas: Chattanooga, Milan, Oklahoma City, Plymouth, Portland

Scroll down for our latest installment of five cities doing smart things. And if you'd like to nominate your city's smart idea, there's a link at the bottom of the article.

Milan's vertical forest takes green building to new heights
Green trees hug the exteriors of Milan's award-winning Bosco Verticale (vertical forest) skyscrapers. The two towers designed by architect Stefano Boeri are covered by more than 700 trees and 90 different plant species. All of the foliage helps reduce smog and noise levels, produce oxygen and regulate temperatures inside the buildings, according to Tech Insider. An irrigation system inside the building sends water people use out onto the decks to irrigate the plants. "Vertical Forest is a model for a sustainable residential building, a project for metropolitan reforestation that contributes to the regeneration of the environment and urban biodiversity without the implication of expanding the city upon the territory," Boeri says on his website. He adds that the vegetal system aids in the construction of a microclimate, produces humidity, absorbs CO2 and dust particles and produces oxygen.

What's the ROI on fiber optics? Just ask Chattanooga
A recent study by a University of Tennessee economist found that Chattanooga's much heralded smart grid and citywide gigabit Internet service has resulted in at least 2,800 new jobs and added $865.3 million to the local economy. The Chattanooga Times Free Press says that figure is due to a reduction in power outages, better Internet services and attracting new businesses. "This analysis suggests that the true economic value of the fiber infrastructure is much greater than the cost of installing and maintaining the infrastructure," study author Dr. Bento Lobo told the Times Free Press. EPB, the city utility, spent some $220 million to install fiber optic cable throughout its service territory and received a federal stimulus grant to help develop its smart grid. Technology from Council Lead Partner S&C Electric Co. played a key role in Chattanooga's smart grid success story.

Overweight is not OK in Oklahoma City
Longtime Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett didn't like seeing his city on a list of America's most overweight, didn't like the extra pounds on his own frame – and didn’t want to do nothing about it. So several years ago he declared war on obesity and challenged city residents to join him on a diet and to lose a million pounds together. The former television sportscaster made the announcement on a New Year's Eve in front of the local zoo's elephant enclosure. A fascinating piece in The Atlantic describes how he worked with – not against – fast food and soda companies and how the city embraced healthier living with churches organizing running clubs, companies holding weight loss contests, chefs competing to serve healthier meals, etc. And Oklahoma City did lose a million pounds – with 47,000 people joining the diet. But the mayor's zeal for a healthier city didn't stop there. His next move – motivated in part by yet another list, this one about his city being worst for walking in the country – has him reshaping the city as a place for people, not cars, by installing more amenities for pedestrians, more parks, more bike lanes, more trees.

Crowdfund Plymouth gives locals a say in how to improve their city
The city of Plymouth on England's south coast isn't the first city to try crowdfunding and likely won't be the last. But there are some interesting twists to how the city council has organized Crowdfund Plymouth. As a report on City Metric explains, the idea is that local people submit their ideas on the crowdfunding site and donations received in support of the projects are matched by the council up to 50% of the project's costs or a total of £5,000. So far there have been 65 projects pitched and funding for a variety of community improvement and startup initiatives – from a new open air cinema to a drop-in center for sign language users to an arts outreach project. But beyond the ability to get community inspired projects up and running, the effort gives city council members insight into the sort of initiatives citizens are most interested in.

A new kind of hydropower powers Portland homes
Working with the Portland (Oregon) Water Bureau and local utility PGE, startup Lucid Energy earlier this year deployed the first commercial application of its turbine technology that turns water flowing through pipes into clean, low-cost electricity that powers homes. As the water flows, it spins the turbines that create energy for PGE customers. The Portland-based company is sharing the revenue it gets from PGE with the city water bureau, according to a KGW TV report. Hydropower is nothing new in Oregon, where hydroelectric dams dot the Columbia River. But as the KGW report points out, this new variety of hydropower using city water pipes doesn't harm migratory fish or raise other environmental concerns.

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