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Maria Saporta ATL Business Chronicle

Column: Atlanta set to host Smart City Expo, will explore ‘inclusive economy’

Maria Saporta
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Agnes Scott President Lee Zak (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Sept. 6, 2019

When Aarti Tandon was looking for the right city to anchor an annual “Smart City Expo” in the United States, she settled on Atlanta.

“We felt Atlanta was the ideal market to hold this conference,” said Tandon, co-founder and CEO of Smart City Expo Atlanta, a spin-off of the world-renowned Smart City Expo World Congress that’s been held in Barcelona since 2011.

So between Sept. 11 and Sept. 13, Smart City Expo will be held at the Georgia World Congress Center with an all-star lineup of speakers and presenters. The plan is for Atlanta to host the Smart City Expo for the next three years.

But unlike other “smart city” conferences, this one will not just focus on technology solutions.

Aarti Tandon

“We want to explore what it means to build an inclusive economy, on what makes a city smart,” Tandon said in a telephone interview. “We just felt Atlanta was a place that would understand. The community has been so supportive, and the generosity has been tremendous. Our whole goal has been to redefine the world ‘smart.’ ”

For example, Tandon talked about a woman who has designed a jacket for the homeless that can become a sleeping bag at night. Other examples are cities that have programs to capture carbon emissions or cities that have incorporated refugees into their social and economic fabric.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms “commitment to equity and inclusion” also played a role in Atlanta becoming the site of the conference.

“There hasn’t been another conference like this before,” Tandon said. “It’s designed to be an annual conference. We may have satellite events in other cities, but the idea is to anchor it in Atlanta. We want to create an inclusive 21st Century economy. We want to create compassionate cities.”

Aarti, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Emory University and now lives in New York City, has been an entertainment attorney and a documentary filmmaker on social justice issues.

She has lined up a top tier group of backers for the Expo, including Southern Co. as the founding partner. Other sponsors include Cisco, Cox Enterprises, Verizon, Bird and Greenlots.

The speakers will include Alex Taylor from Cox; former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young; Bernice King of the King Center; rapper and entertainer Tip “T.I.” Harris; Bill Rogers of SunTrust; John Hope Bryant of Operation HOPE; Denver Mayor Michael Hancock; Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell; Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis Jr.; Néjia Lanouar, CIO of Paris, France; and Ozzie Areu, founder of Areu Brothers Studios and former president of Tyler Perry Studios.

“Our responsibility is to make sure humanity, justice and equity are part of smart cities,” said Tandon, who added that planning the Expo has been “an extraordinary and magical coming together.”

Sonia Sotomayor and Agnes Scott

Agnes Scott College secured a coup during the AJC Decatur Book Festival. It hosted U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on its campus for a program on Sept. 1 to discuss her latest children’s book, “Just Ask! Be Different. Be Brave. Be You.”

Although the audience included such notable adults as Lee Zak, the president of Agnes Scott, and U.S. Congressman John Lewis, Sotomayor focused all her attention on the children in the audience.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Agnes Scott President Lee Zak (Photo by Maria Saporta)

All the questions asked of Sotomayor came from the children, and she agreed to have her picture taken with anyone who was under 18 years old.

During the program, Sotomayor disclosed that she has suffered from juvenile diabetes since she was a young girl, when she had to learn to give herself injections of insulin.

“I’m now 65 years old, and I still give myself these shots,” she said. “I spent a big part of my life hiding my condition.”

One day, she was at a restaurant and had to go to the bathroom to give herself an injection. A woman who saw her returned to her table and told her dinner guest that Sotomayor was a drug addict, a comment Sotomayor overheard.

“I told her, ‘I’m not a drug addict. I’m a diabetic,’ ” Sotomayor recalled. The children asked her all kinds of personal questions, which she answered. She likes to play poker, ride her bicycle, read mysteries and was raised by a single mom.

About her current role, Sotomayor said, “They say that being a Supreme Court justice is like being struck by lightning.”

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Maria Saporta
Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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