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Digital Tuscaloosa The Connected Community Concept

Several years ago Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Huntsville were hit by one of the worst storms in recorded history. A Category F4 tore through this area while Huntsville suffered from a Category F5.  All areas suffered significant damage and loss of life. Weeks after the storms Chancellor Portera requested that the Presidents of the three UA System Universities and the Mayors of each city met in Birmingham with myself and Lev Gonick (VP & CIO at Case Western University) to discuss the rebuilding with the possible incorporation of an advanced network infrastructure into the process. The concept of building what has been termed a digital city or a knowledge based community is not new. However, to be able to take advantage of disaster recovery for the build-out of the cyber infrastructure and incorporate the laying of fiber to the premises is new.

The meeting was well received but the changing of the guard within the University System led to the decline of interest in the possibility of becoming digital communities.

Several years have passed since the initial meeting. Last summer the Executive Vice Chancellor and I met with Mayor Maddox and several of his staff to discuss the reemergence of the “Digital Community” concept. It was decided that the Mayor would host a special luncheon and invite key stakeholders to discuss the concept and gain support for the initiative. Mayor Maddox convened a meeting with the representatives of the education, healthcare, government, legal, and, the UA System. President Bonner, Chancellor Witt, Executive Vice Chancellor Hayes and myself represented the UA constituency.

It was decided that we would jointly become involved in the initiative and that a team of individuals would travel to Cleveland, Ohio to visit with our counterparts who had been involved in the One Cleveland Project. This project is one of the models for the United States and led to the build-out of the cyber infrastructure to provide fiber to the residences, businesses, hospitals, clinics, schools, pharmacies, libraries and museums. The Symphony Hall and all government buildings were connected as well. It truly is a digital city.

Several weeks ago 14 individuals from various agencies, businesses, and educational institutions took an overnight trip to Cleveland to experience this digital city. We met with museum directors, the Mayor, members of Case Western University, the University Hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic, and teachers from K-12 school system. Emergency Management Services from all agencies were also present.



So what does this all mean for Tuscaloosa?  What would be the benefits of becoming a connected community?

The vision of this initiative was derived from the following diagram, which is part of the Tuscaloosa Forward document.



This diagram translated into the following vision statement for the Tuscaloosa Forward initiative:

To courageously create a showpiece of quality of life through vital and unique neighborhoods that are Healthy, Safe, Accessible, Connected and Sustainable.”










The project is in its infancy but it is intended to continue to focus on its growth and development. Funding for this initiative will be through the National Broadband initiatives that provide assistance to communities interested in this enabling possibility.


I will keep you informed.








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