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November 23, 2022

Exploring the Community Innovation Agenda with Smart City Challenge Winners

3 panel members and moderator sit on stage below headshots of them projected on screen

By Evergreen

for the Community Solutions Network

Montreal, Guelph (Wellington) and Bridgewater gather at Intelligent Cities conference November 9, 2022

Imagine your “smart cities” proposal gets the major funding you competed for in 2019 and then: COVID hits and uncertainty is the new normal. Where do the Smart City Challenge winners find themselves, three years after winning? 

Depending on where you live, you’ve likely felt the three years very differently. 

In a keynote panel to kick off the Intelligent Cities conference in Toronto/Scarborough, the winners of Infrastructure Canada’s 2019 Smart Cities Challenge assembled to discuss where their projects stand today. Moderated by Evergreen’s Program Director Alison Herr, the panel featured: 

  • Patrick Lozeau, Innovation Advisor, City of Montreal  
  • Jessica McDonald, Energize Bridgewater Project Director, Town of Bridgewater  
  • Molly Plewes, Program Lead COIL, Smart Cities Office, City of Guelph 

Here’s what you need to know from the session. 

Montreal’s methods are rooted in co-creation

When it comes to social and urban innovation, Montreal is known as a leader both nationally and internationally. The City’s innovation advisor Patrick Lozeau shared an anecdote with the panel before discussing Montreal en commun or Montreal in Common, their Smart Cities Challenge project. 

In 2016 they were told by the International Community Forum (ICF) that one of the reasons they won an ICF award was “because there was this huge ecosystem inside the city of people trying to make Montreal a better place to live: the universities, the businesses, the nonprofits and the citizens.” 

Montreal en commun was created to improve the quality of life of people living throughout the city; in particular, improving access to fresh locally grown food and improving urban mobility in Montreal’s 19 boroughs. Lozeau said that when COVID hit and many people were staying home and working from home, they joked about having solved the challenge of urban mobility.  

What they’ve learned is that working together with 14 partners to co-create a city that works for everyone has its challenges but remains true to the project. “We’re trying to prove that solutions come from the community, from the citizens that are closer to the city. It’s not an easy way to govern projects but it needs shared leadership.”  

Lozeau noted they are currently working with Open North on data governance and the development of a data trust – a legal framework for managing shared data. 

 

What’s emerging in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia is loads of learning

The Town of Bridgewater is trying to solve the problem of energy poverty for its 9,000 or so residents. Many homes are old and lack energy-saving basics like insulation and residents can’t afford to pay high heating bills.  

Since winning the Smart Cities Challenge in 2019, they’ve had to adjust their expectations for what their project Energize Bridgewater can achieve. 

“One big learning for me is that we’re in some ways too small to be a smart city,’ says Jessica McDonald, Energize Bridgewater Project Director. “We don’t have deep pockets. We don’t have a lot of staff. So really, very naïve to enter the competition and how we thought we might undertake this effort.” 

Their focus remains on educating homeowners about energy efficiency and retrofitting. Moving forward, progress they’ve made in data collection can also help to build tools they can use for the improvement of other services like wastewater collection or snow clearing.  

“Our commitment to it has never wavered, but our approach has, and one in where we need to work in partnership with other organizations.” 

The Town has found some help from residents and academics in addition to the advisory services offered by Community Solutions Network lead technical partner Open North. Jessica says they are very interested in working with more solutions-oriented people! 

 

Guelph innovates with first-of-its-kind program in Canada

The City of Guelph and County of Wellington launched Our Food Future with the goal of building a circular food economy. The Food Future’s Data Hub is an innovation platform where data is shared with the community and a place where residents can build maps and tools, gain insights on their food ecosystem and learn how to transform waste into a resource.

Regarding data collection, the Guelph-Wellington Civic Data Utility Project was also created with funding from the Smart Cities Challenge. The new datasets showed several pockets of food insecurity in the region, demonstrating that emergency food relief was now in constant demand. This led to the creation of a pay-what-you-can program for grocery shopping, another first of its kind program in Canada. 

“Any of our solutions that we ended up implementing were very much data and community-driven first,” says Molly Plewes of the Guelph Smart Cities office. “There were tech elements to it but in our situation, the tech always came last; it was not the thing that solves everything, it was a tool to be used to get what we needed.” 

Molly reports that their project pulls seven new data sets, all of which are shared as open-source data. She says the tool can be the basis for any food security work in any community in the world. 

What’s next?

The Winners agree: working with other groups who can support their goals and putting people’s needs first before implementing tech solutions is the way forward. 


Editor’s Note:
A representative of the winning project in Nunavut was unable to participate in the panel. But you can visit KATINNGANIQ: Community, Connectivity and Digital Access for Life Promotion in Nunavut to learn more. It was created for Nunavummiut (youth) to connect, learn skills through culturally responsive initiatives, and express themselves in safe environments. 

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