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What is a Smart Community?

Fall colors in the Smoky Mountains National Park

Smart communities invest in local commerce, and feed wealth back into their communities. They breed opportunity for citizens across lines of race, class, age, and gender, and retain the talents of a diverse workforce.

The word “smart” in the context of urban planning comes with several associations, not all of which are necessarily reflected in our program identity. We recognize that every community is unique, thus each has its own path to resiliency. Further, we recognize that no one understands a community like its citizens, thus successful change cannot happen without meaningful citizen involvement. Therefore, we feel there is no single definition for what makes a community “smart,” “resilient,” or “viable,” nor is there a single outcome. Instead, we prefer to think of “smart communities” as those that adopt long-term visions for resiliency in line with their unique qualities and authentic values.

This king of long-term approach can run contradictory to many mainstream processes and incentive structures. The SCI hopes to assist communities who adopt it in spite of inherent challenges to reach a greater level of security and viability as a result. We hope to not only grow the capacity of these communities to better meet their needs, but to also contribute to long-term improvements that cross jurisdictional lines.

These things considered, there are certain positions that we purport in the Smart Communities Initiative program design and work. Our hope is to continually test these assumptions, and to better understand how they function within the diverse contexts of Tennessee communities. These positions are reflected in our value statement, as follows:

Smart communities are strategic, purposeful, and resourceful. They are driven by long-term commitments to safeguard their natural resources and economic opportunities for future generations, and preserving the beauty, vitality, and equity of the region. This level of dedication is reflected in their approaches to land use, economic opportunity, transportation, infrastructure, the arts, real estate, education, healthcare, food systems, and communication. These communities protect their ecological assets from destruction or degradation, promote renewable energy solutions, and practice sustainable development.

Smart communities work closely with regional partners to connect local efforts to a larger community vision for the good of the region. They invest in local commerce, and in doing so feed wealth back into their communities. They breed opportunity for citizens across lines of race, class, age, and gender, and retain the talents of a diverse workforce. In creating equal access to quality education, jobs, and healthcare, they secure the health and human dignity of their populace for years to come.

Smart communities nurture a diversity of individuals, identities, and perspectives, and enjoy the benefits of strong social fabrics. These communities observe a long-term commitment to their people, opportunities, and places, and are resilient to the multitude of challenges facing our modern world.

SCI is founded upon the idea that universities and communities should work together to improve the health and vitality of their areas. Through the leveraging of interdisciplinary research and scholarship, community dialogue, human capacity, and innovation, community and university partners will collaborate toward the pursuit of smarter, more vibrant communities.

The SCI invites community partners to help us build out our understanding and collection of case examples of what makes different types of communities smart and resilient. We in turn commit to using this expanded understanding to better serve our existing and future community partners.

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