Prioritize local, community-driven and financially feasible projects, and financially incentivize risk-averse mid-sized municipalities.
As the deadline for the Canadian Smart Cities Challenge approaches, discussions about smart cities have proliferated across Canada. Some cities are forging alliances and partnerships with each other, while others strive for massive, large-scale ideas to leverage technology for future cities. Canadian metropolitan cities such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver are taking lead in this process. These are exciting times for Canadian cities.
But what about mid-sized cities? We know that Infrastructure Canada, host of the challenge, encourages small and mid-sized communities to take part in this competition. Their inclusion is crucial for a variety of reasons. First, mid-sized cities are home to more than a third of the country’s population. Demographic projections suggest the share of the population living in mid-sized cities will only continue to increase.
Second, some smart city ideas are being envisioned on a massive and exaggerated scale. But not all ideas need to result in centralized, mega-smart city projects that require a considerable volume of financial resources. In lieu, it is possible to prioritize local, community-driven, and financially feasible projects. These projects can serve as platforms for testing different methods that promote social inclusion of at-risk communities. The return on investment from these small-scale projects can then be scaled and applied in other contexts. To that end, mid-sized cities provide a fertile ground to assess feasibility and scalability of some smart city ideas.
While possibilities lie on the horizon, there are some barriers to this approach. First, mid-sized municipalities are usually risk-averse and lack the infrastructural capacity to apply smart city solutions. Financial incentive, such as what’s being offered by Smart Cities Challenge, can be a necessary driver for mid-sized cities to imagine and implement smart city projects. NGOs and the private sector can play an important role as well.
Code for Canada and Evergreen have recently published a report on smart and mid-sized cities in Ontario that addresses these challenges and opportunities; a must-read for those of you interested in the role of smaller municipalities in building inclusive smart cities!
Photo Credit: Code for Canada