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People playing a game on a street in Toronto during the Film Festival.

March 18, 2019

Making the case for Open Smart Cities

Since the beginning of cities, technology has acted as a catalyst for urban transformation.

While it might seem like we are in the midst of the technological transformation of our cities, with new innovations and companies influencing policies, urban planning and investments, urban change has always been pushed forward by new advancements. Technology has always been a constant.

But the change has not always been positive.

The widespread adoption of the automobile brought highways to North American cities that physically broke up communities and neighbourhoods, and spurred urban sprawl. Many of our Canadian cities are still feeling the effects of being built for the car and not people. In other words, built for technology.

We are currently on the brink of another urban shift led by technology. But will “smart” city approaches make our cities better or will they be just another “new car”?

Our newly-announced Community Solutions Network, led by partners Evergreen and OpenNorth, will help communities across Canada ensure smart cities approaches are applied in a way that makes a lasting impact on the lives of their residents.

This capacity-building program, designed to run parallel to Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge, will share the required resources, tools and connections needed for communities of all sizes to build more inclusive, livable cities within the smart cities landscape. 

Our mission is not just to help these communities execute their projects, but to also further the advancements of the Open Smart City.

The Open Smart City is defined as a place where residents, civil society, academics, and the private sector collaborate with public officials to mobilize data and technologies when warranted in an ethical, accountable and transparent way to govern the city as a fair, viable and liveable commons and balance economic development, social progress and environmental responsibility.

Montreal's place des festivals and modern art museum photographed on a P20Pro mobile phone during a Springtime sunset. Several people are seen in the foreground as they cross the plaza.

Openness in one of the key elements required in smart city initiatives, so that new technologies can become tools to help our cities become more equitable, regenerative and prosperous. 

OpenNorth’s Open Smart City Guide recognizes the open smart city does not yet exist, but highlights the numerous initiatives, programs, and practices that demonstrate how it might be achieved.

Released as a living document, the Guide will inform the development of the Community Solutions Network’s methodology. 

“An Open Smart City is participatory, collaborative, and responsive,” highlights the Guide. “It is a city where government, civil society, the private sector, the media, academia and residents meaningfully participate in the governance of the city and have shared rights and responsibilities. This entails a culture of trust and critical thinking and fair, just, inclusive, and informed approaches.”

The framework of the Open Smart City aims to bring critical reflection to the way we design our communities, while recognizing that the implications of data and technology occur at individual, organizational, community and systems levels.

The Community Solutions Network strengthens this desire for continuous improvement and innovation in Canadian communities, making information and approaches about Open Smart Cities available and accessible to everyone. We will focus on helping communities talk to the right people and find the right partners.

In the coming months, we will be kicking off our event-based programming, starting with a series of Idea Camps. These and other events will provide advisory and capacity-building resources and supports, and will take place in regions across the country, in communities of every size.

Visit the Community Solutions Network page for more information or subscribe to our newsletter to keep up-to-date on all Future Cities Canada initiatives.

This article was written in collaboration with OpenNorth.