As a point of honesty, I admit that I was skeptical of the Smart Cities concept when I first learned of it. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the development of Smart Cities as an idea, and I worried that the concept was designed to sell products rather than make our communities better with the ultimate outcome being further division and isolation for citizens. Smart Cities and the technologies attached to them, at their best, have the capacity to improve citizen engagement, increase our capacity to collect data to inform decisions, reduce inequality, and lighten the impact of urban centres on the environment. Alternatively, poorly planned and implemented projects can further the digital divide and decrease the connection between citizens and their government.
Fortunately, Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge and the applications to it demonstrate that Canadian communities are utilizing community engagement and community innovation to shape their development as Smart Cities. The result is projects and proposals that use technology as a bridge to bring community together and address inequality.
The Smart Cities Challenge from Infrastructure Canada is a multi-year contest meant to encourage the adoption of the smart cities concept to promote innovation, data, and connectivity as tools to improve the lives of residents. The cities entering the challenge were encouraged to show how they would use technology to increase openness by improving access to transparent data; the integration of data to remove barriers between government units and public organizations; transferability of information through open-source and standardized platforms; and collaboration between community partners.
On June 1st during the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Annual Conference, 20 finalists were announced from the more than 200 communities that applied. These communities will receive $250,000 to further develop their ideas. In the Spring of 2019 Infrastructure Canada will announce four winners from the finalists: one $50 million prize, two $10 million prize, and one $5 million prize.
Proposals from the finalists include projects to improve educational outcomes while supporting traditional knowledge transfer and Indigenous languages; promote mental health and prevent suicide by supporting community, connective and digital access to resources and peer to peer networks; improving food security by establishing circular economic revenue through the use of big data and local knowledge; improve outcomes for Indigenous youth by reducing social exclusion while increasing a sense of identity, security and belonging; and promote child and youth wellbeing through engagement, connection, data-driven programs and learning technologies. Other finalists are aiming at addressing health outcomes, housing shortages, and energy poverty.
Importantly, the finalists of the smart city challenge reflect the possibilities that new technologies allow when cities engage their communities and work collectively to identify needs, and opportunities. As the finalists work to refine their proposals, they now have additional supports to further engage their communities to improve their results.
Smart Cities Challenge Website
Spotlight on Smart Cities Challenge Finalists
Can Smart Cities be Equitable?