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Open smart cities in Canada: ideals versus reality

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A 2014 report by Frost & Sullivan, an international consulting firm of over 1800 analysts in 45 global offices, predicted that the Smart City global market will be valued at USD 1.565 trillion by 2020. The burgeoning Smart City market employs and reproduces a whirl of media about the technologies and goals that underpin the term Smart City. Multiplicitous and contradicting definitions of a Smart City emerge from within this jumble of speculation and hype.

An environmental-scan (e-scan) and gap analysis of Smart City practices and strategies at the Cities of Montreal, Ottawa, Guelph, and Edmonton disentangles the web of digital media to elucidate how these cities imagine and deploy their vision of a Smart City. In addition, the two methods identify key stakeholders and consulting organizations that influence and regulate requirements of a Smart City. Both the e-scan and gap analysis are parts of a larger Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN) GeoConnections funded project entitled Open Smart Cities in Canada.

The project is conducted by a core team of researchers and experts from OpenNorth, Prof. Tracey Lauriault (Carleton University), Prof. Mark S. Fox (University of Toronto), and M. David Fewer (Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)

Project findings so far, based on Smart City event programs, blogs, government reports, news articles, and academic conferences, paints an urban landscape full of technologies to realize goals such as improved urban mobility, participatory governance, ubiquitous computing, and energy efficiency. Cities included within our report engage these ideas through the implementation of technological-based solutions. Examples of deployed technologies include test-beds for automated electric vehicles, open data programs, public services dashboards and digital applications, and systems that convert heat from waste into renewable energy. However, while cities in Canada have deployed some Smart City technologies and projects, we still await the reality of the Smart City vision. The gap that exists between now and then provides an opportunity to reflect on the values and benefits we would like to see Smart City technologies reinforce. In addition, there remain questions about the likelihood that currently proposed technological-based solutions can achieve their promised goals.

In sum, an array of questions motivate the e-scan and gap analysis for the Open Smart Cities Project:

  1. Who defines a Smart City and what requirements do they employ?
  2. How do Cities in Canada define a Smart City?
  3. How do Cities procure new technologies that work towards Smart City ideals?
  4. What role will open source platforms and open data play in Cities’ Smart City policies and practices?
  5. How can principles of transparency and equal access translate to municipal Smart City policies and practices?

By answering some of these questions, the project’s deliverables elucidates definitions of a Smart City by Cities and the tools they utilize to realize their definition. Information about geospatial tools, standards, intellectual property licenses, open data, and procurement procedures are crucial components for answering these questions. In addition to the e-scan and gap analysis, the Open Smart Cities in Canada project will include directly asking government representatives about their definitions of a Smart City. Our approach is inter-jurisdictional and includes outreach to representatives from the provincial governments as well as civic governments. We at OpenNorth are excited to share more about preliminary findings and expectations for the project at the 2017 GO Open Data Summit in London, Ontario next month.

For more information about Open North’s Open Smart Cities in Canada project funded by NRCAN’s GeoConnections program, please contact Rachel Bloom at rachel@opennorth.ca

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