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October 03, 2019

Small can be smart: How small communities champion open smart initiatives

Plus, what the Community Solutions Network’s Advisory Service is doing to build capacity and empower communities

When one imagines a smart city, it is often a big or mid-sized city that comes to mind. A city with imaginative infrastructure or data-driven technologies and design, a large population, accessibility to funding, and with the work-force capacity to tackle a panoply of needs.

Canadian communities of all sizes are seeing collaboration between all sectors and residents to mobilize data and technologies to develop their communities through fair, ethical and transparent governance that balances economic development, social progress, and environmental responsibility. The outcome? An open smart city.

The tailored approach for small to become smart

Leading the Network's One-to-one Advisory Service, OpenNorth is bearing witness to the leadership of small communities exploring smart city solutions across the country. While these smaller communities may not have the internal capacity or financial flexibility that their big or mid-sized counterparts might, they are demonstrating a proactive approach. The tailored approach of the Advisory Service will help to build the capacity needed to become an open smart city, thus opening a plethora of possibilities to communities.

Communities such as Innisfil (ON), Plessiville (QC), or MountPearl (NL) have demonstrated their desire to learn more about data, governance and other open smart city key topics to better understand the concepts surrounding open data standards or how to manage issues such as citizen privacy. Consequently, they illustrate the steps that small communities can take to become open smart cities, and how they do it.

A Future Fix for small? Innisfil & Uber

In our conversation with Jason Reynar, the Chief Administration Officer of Innisfil in the first episode of the Future Fix podcast, we discussed the data-driven, community-wide smart city initiative that started in Innisfil in 2017.

Innisfil partnered with Uber—the well known ride-sharing app company—to help introduce local public transportation. This data-driven technology was implemented to provide access to transportation for residents through a roving fleet of cars that act in the same manner as would a transit system, providing travel between a network of “hubs,” such as municipal buildings, libraries or recreation centres.

The initial implementation of this project made transportation available to all residents, and was embraced by residents, with the app seeing over 80,000 rides in 2018. While the pilot has proved useful in the short term, the long-term sustainability of powering public transit with private transportation options raises many questions.

Now, having implemented this data-driven technology for public transit, Innisfil is looking to enhance the use of this data through ethical, fair and transparent decision-making. Municipal leaders are exploring how this data can be leveraged to improve service areas and consequently, directly improve the quality of life of residents in their community. They are also working to understand how to model and collect the data with the intent of protecting the privacy of residents, sharing and integrating data from multiple systems, and how to move forward with partnerships in a way that is aligned with best practices and standards on data governance.

These questions highlight the challenges and issues that municipalities of all sizes must now address in their transition to open, fair and ethical smart cities. Such an initiative demonstrates how the information collected through Uber is being mobilized to develop Innisfil, and more importantly, how municipal leaders are now championing the transition beyond smart, to open smart, with data-driven and community-centric solutions at the core of decision-making.

The building blocks on the foundation of smart

For smaller communities, an interest in learning and ability to build capacity is the foundation of an open smart city. Becoming smart is less about what isn’t there, and more about what can be built upon to improve the lives of residents through better decision-making and service delivery.

The Advisory Service provides a tailored approach to each community to equip and empower elected officials, municipal leaders and staff to champion open smart city approaches independently. This approach helps build capacity in the short term by reinforcing the foundation from which community leaders are able to implement open smart city solutions. In doing so, the Advisory Service educates and empowers leaders to make decisions that balance economic development, social progress, and environmental responsibility, instilling change and innovation that improves the lives of their residents now, and for years to come.