Why it's not only technology, but communities that make cites smart.

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How community is crucial to a smart approach

Cities across the world are waking up to the fact that they must engage communities – and not just integrate state-of-the-art technology and data management systems – if they are to be considered as truly ‘smart’.

Arguably nowhere has this been more conspicuous this year as in Canada, where political leaders have thrown their weight behind innovative programs that place communities at the heart of the smart city conversation.

The pan-Canadian Smart Cities Challenge is one such initiative. Open to communities of all sizes, the challenge has encouraged stakeholders in communities of all sizes to come together and propose smart approaches that would enhance their lives through innovation, data and connected technology.

Some 130 applications were submitted from across Canada, with 20 selected for the final stage of the competition. Each finalist is receiving $250,000 to help them home their proposal ahead of the announcement of the award-winners next spring, with prizes ranging from $5m to $50m, depending on the size of the population impacted.

Simultaneously, Canada’s Ministry of Infrastructure and Communities launched an opportunity for not-for-profit organizations across the country to participate in a new Smart Cities Community Support Program.

Quality of life

These Canadian initiatives illustrate the increasing realization that smart cities require more than just technology. They require the support and involvement of a population that understands that such an approach can improve their lives – from reducing energy costs to cutting pollution levels.

Likewise, the prevalence of sensors, for example, may give a city the technological infrastructure needed to gather valuable data. However, without a central management system that can adequately categorize increasing volumes of big data, the ability to analyze and then implement changes that will improve quality of life will be limited.

At the heart of smart cities in the notion that individual citizens are part of a wider ecosystem, which can then expand to a wider region.

An ultra-local starting point will ensure a smart approach is relevant and valuable for the public affected, with the infrastructure then built up gradually and responsibly around a destination’s unique infrastructure and community, rather than simply transplanted from another city that has a different model and set of challenges.

A community approach

“The Smart Cities Challenge has been creating excitement in communities of all sizes across the country,” Canada’s Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, Amarjeet Sohi, said.

“We want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate, including small and medium-sized municipalities and rural, remote and Indigenous communities. This open and competitive callout provides a unique opportunity for organizations to support the drive to a culture of change, continuous improvement and innovation in communities across Canada.”

A smart approach can be adopted by individuals in their daily lives as we move towards a world underpinned by machine learning and the internet of things.

In Canada, the aim is to work on the ground up with citizens to hone a smart approach that can be tailored for destinations with contrasting sizes and resources across the vast country.

From the tiny town of Bridgewater in Nova Scotia with a population of less than 10,000 to the bustling metropolis of Vancouver, which has teamed up with neighboring Surrey to represent more than 2.5 million citizens, the finalists of Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge could not be more different.

However, they do demonstrate that when it comes to being ‘smart’, size really doesn’t matter.

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