University of Maryland launches Smart and Connected Communities Initiative for Baltimore Avenue

University of Maryland launches Smart and Connected Communities Initiative for Baltimore Avenue

Pairing UMD research and community needs will make Baltimore Avenue a “living research corridor”

University leaders, local government officials, community partners and academic researchers assembled yesterday to launch a new collaborative initiative aimed to improve the safety, engagement, accessibility and quality of life along the College Park areas of the Baltimore Avenue (Route 1) Corridor using smart and connected technologies. Sponsored by the National Center for Smart Growth (NCSG) and the College of Information Studies (iSchool), with support from the Office of the Provost, the Baltimore Avenue Connected Communities Initiative will pool the University’s collective “smart cities” research, and, working with local jurisdictions, apply them within communities across the corridor.

“There is so much cutting-edge research happening all over campus, but there haven’t been many opportunities to understand what other people are doing or explore ways to collaborate,” said Gerrit-Jan Knaap, Director of the NCSG. “This initiative is designed to bring researchers and communities together and see where we can align community needs with research and technology in development at UMD.” 

“This workshop is about creating connections and sharing ideas,” said Keith Marzullo, Dean of the iSchool. “To create a living research corridor on Baltimore Avenue, we need to begin by working with communities to understand needs and opportunities.”

Nearly 100 stakeholders and academics gathered to participate in the workshop’s collective ideas exchange and lay the foundation to engage research with community investment. Representatives from College Park, Hyattsville, Riverdale Park, Berwyn Heights and Prince George’s County spoke about their cities’ challenges, but also the barriers to entry when it comes to implementing smart technology.

“When it comes to smart technologies, we don’t know what we don’t know,” explained Steve Beavers, Community Development Coordinator for College Park. “An event like this, where we can see the whole range of opportunity and understand smart city challenges as issues we face together, that’s when we start moving the ball forward.”

iSchool Alumna Danielle DuMerer (’02), now CIO and Commissioner for the City of Chicago, spoke about Chicago’s efforts and successes in smart technology implementation, which she considers a marriage of science and community engagement.

“What is the problem we are trying to solve? That’s the platform that brings city officials, researchers and community together,” said DuMerer. “Our initiatives all have one thing in common: we put people at the center.”

The event also shared insights from the work of 17 different UMD researchers from 7 different schools and colleges, in areas including transportation, data analytics, health equity, urban agriculture, environmental science, disaster resilience, the built environment and the arts. This included a project update on the NCSG’s West Baltimore Smart Community Engagement project, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The project team for the Baltimore City initiative, which includes faculty from Morgan State University and the University of Baltimore, is working closely with community stakeholders and residents to target the challenges specific and unique to their neighborhoods.

“You can’t just cut and paste what other cities do,” explained Sokwoo Rhee, Associate Director of the Cyber-Physical Systems Program at National Institute of Standards and Technology. “Each city, each neighborhood has different needs. But, a lot can be replicated. This workshop is exactly the kind of collaboration I like to see; at the end of the day, you want to create something scalable that can be replicated in other places.”

The NCSG and iSchool will compile and assess the wealth of information that was shared at the workshop and begin to develop a plan for implementing smart city technologies on the Baltimore Avenue corridor. They also hope this will result in opportunities to engage other Maryland communities with smart city-related research and innovation. The process will continue to be a collaboration with the community and a valuable opportunity to meet community needs while studying the impact of these technologies. For updates, visit the NCSG website at