How Canada’s Smart Cities Can Reach Their Full Potential

by Andrea Wahbe | Technology

Big data analysis and disruptive technologies are some of the keys to shaping how urban city dwellers will interact with each other and with their cities on a daily basis.

At the 2014 Mesh Conference held earlier this week in Toronto, a panel session led by Gigaom writer Mathew Ingram discussed how opportunities like data-driven city planning tools, machine-to-machine technologies and equal internet connectivity for all can help to build and enhance smart cities in Canada.

Dr. Ed Manley from the UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis-CASA, Nicolas Dinh, Vice President of Mobile Payments at MasterCard Canada and Kristina Verner, Waterfront Toronto’s Director of Intelligent Communities shared their insights on what is possible and how to make it happen.

Verner explained how the Waterfront Toronto project is a “living lab” for the city and for other cities around the world to learn and share ideas about smart city revitalization strategies.

She warns that “the more advanced we become, the more likely we are to marginalize others.” Therefore, Toronto 2.0 needs to be “a healthy and sustainable city where we must provide equal digital connectivity for all.”

According to Dinh, connectivity for all would mean resolving scarce resource issues via machine-to-machine technologies and the Internet of things. He used the example of self-driving cars which, once they are widely used in the future, could drop you off at work downtown and then seek out a parking spot for the day. Since parking spots are becoming harder to find in cities like Toronto, Dinh suggests that condo owners could rent out their digitally connected parking spot while they are out at work. The smart parking spot would then interact with the self-driving cars which could bid, via a real-time marketplace, for the closest spot.

Dr. Manley then spoke about how the city of London, England is able to look at open data about peoples’ behavioural patterns when taking the subway. The data that they are able to collect helps to better understand peoples’ dependencies on specific routes. “We can look at data before unexpected disruptions occur and determine which stations would be the most heavily impacted and then develop solutions,” he says.

Verner added that smart cities used to be infrastructure-driven. But she says that “while it’s important to look at the data, people are the most important indicator.” She says that “we need to look at what to do with open data beyond apps competitions. In other words, how do we make everything integrated? We can’t just stop at tech and data.”

During the Q&A session, a member of the audience (Karen Shulman Dupuis, Business Development Manager at MaRS) asked Verner about a recent Indigogo campaign for a green tech company called Solar Roadways. This startup creates modular solar panels that you can drive, park and walk on and can melt snow. She challenged Verner to explain what it would take for the City of Toronto to implement a project for smart roadways using these panels.

Verner responded by saying that “often the real transformations happen faster in smaller communities, like Stratford, Ontario – where Shulman Dupuis is from.”

All of the panelists agreed that smart city transformations require the right political systems in place to foster change.

“MasterCard can help make the transit payment process a lot faster by providing contactless technologies to pay, rather than people lining up to pay by cash,” says Dinh. “This method has already been commercialized in London, England and in Chicago. For it to happen in Canadian cities requires a political willingness to do so.”

Verner says that “it’s not the technology that’s the challenge, it’s the policies and license restrictions that need to evolve.” She suggests that cities “keep an eye on the people as the guiding principle and design around their experience.” Likewise, she says that change will come when we can enable more coordination around assets and facilitate conversations among all of the stakeholders for the common greater good.

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Andrea Wahbe

Andrea Wahbe

Andrea Wahbe is a freelance B2B marketing strategist and corporate storyteller who has contributed to the growth of online media businesses in Canada, such as AOL and Google. By day, Andrea writes about digital media and marketing trends and tips for Canadian startups and SMEs. By night, she’s an analog book reader, master swimmer and experimental chef.  more

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