January 15, 2021

Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge: Catching Up with the Winners

A view of the City of Montreal from the top of Mont Royal


Lessons learned on building the cities of tomorrow from the four winning teams of Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge.

Across Canada, communities of all sizes have set out to solve some of the most pressing challenges of our time using data and technology to improve the lives of residents.

In the fall of 2017, Infrastructure Canada launched the Smart Cities Challenge – a first-of-its-kind opportunity designed to increase innovation capacity in communities, to spark multi-stakeholder partnerships and networks, and to accelerate the adoption of promising new technologies and facilitate the broader sharing and replication of solutions across the country. The response to the Challenge was unprecedented with over 200 applications received, and in May 2019 four teams from across the country were selected as the winners.

As part of Future Cities Canada: #UnexpectedSolutions, Evergreen caught up with the four winning teams – City of Montreal, QC, City of Guelph and Wellington County, ON, Katinnganiq Makerspace Network, Nunavut and the Town of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia – as they reflected on their journey since being announced winners.

Here are 4 insights from our winners into building community-tailored smart solutions:

Trust the expertise and connections of local partners

The City of Montreal, whose proposal earned them the $50M award, is working conjointly with 13 local partner organizations to improve mobility and access to food by leveraging data as a shared public good. According to Stéphane Guidoin, Director of the Montreal Urban Innovation Lab, the project gave way to important lessons learned, especially around efficient collaboration with parners: “We had to learn to rely on the expertise and knowledge of our individual partner organizations. They are the ones who have relationships with the people we want to reach in the community. The idea was be able to get information to shape the project from our partners, and position the City of Montreal more as a connector and a support team.”

Manage your team’s capacity

For the City of Guelph and Wellington County, winners of a $10 M prize, the mission to become Canada’s first technology enabled circular food economy came from a stark realization – there is tremendous waste in the food system and upwards of 35 per cent of food never makes it to the plate. The Ontario community intends to create new circular food business opportunities, transform food waste into resources, and increase access to affordable and nutritious food.

For Barb Swartzen-Truber, Director of the Smart City Office at the City of Guelph, capacity management was a key learning that emerged from their ambitious project: “We were surprised at the beginning by the large amount of interest that the project generated and the number of partners who wanted to be a part of it. It quickly became a capacity issue.” She adds: “After some time, we figured out how to solve it and the partners themselves are now collaborating with each other. When done well, these projects can almost be like a social movement.”

Communities have individual needs

With their proposal allying youth mental health and digital literacy, the Nunavut-based Katinnganiq Makerspace Network was awarded $10M. Ryan Oliver, Chief Executive Officer of the Pinnguaq Association, a quarterpartner of the Katinnganiq Makerspace Network, points out that their approach centred on connectedness and responsiveness demonstrated the vital need for community-led initiatives: “It is an incredible challenge to connect 25 communities with different priorities and goals across two million square kilometers, and we are very careful not to just be a one size fits all. Each community is going to have different priorities around health and wellness and it is a key part to make sure that the communities are leading what these technologies and solutions can do for them.”

You can’t rush transformative work

The Town of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, was awarded the $5 M prize for their program Energize Bridgewater. The ambitious project aims to tackle energy poverty using a range of community engagement activities, neighborhood energy retrofit programs as well as innovative technology solutions to manage and monitor community energy use. Having worked on the project since its inception, Leon de Vreede, Sustainability Planner, has gathered many valuable insights over the course of his smart cities journey: “One of the big lessons learned was the perspective that things are going to take time. We had an ambitious agenda from the start, but we found out quickly that you can’t rush transformative work. It’s going to take time because it deals with complex systems, and it deals with people’s attitudes, beliefs and lived experiences. You need to take the time to hear them and have those people engaged in a meaningful way.”

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