Greater Victoria, BC: Smart Investments in Innovation

The City of Victoria is a 4.5 hour flight away from Montreal, our CityInclusive homebase. However, an opportunity to run an interactive workshop at UWC-Pearson, took our team out West in late March.

Being on Vancouver Island afforded us an opportunity to meet the team preparing Greater Victoria’s Smart Cities Challenge application. Specifically, Dallas Gislason, Director of Economic Development, and Adrian Myszka,  Development Officer, with the South Island Prosperity Project (SIPP).

At the time, we didn’t discuss their Challenge idea to “showcase how mobility can be done right.” Instead, they shared with us their experiences of building alliances for smart city initiatives, and how inclusion has played a role in the process.

SIPP is a local member-run non-profit organization that took charge of coordinating the development of the region’s Challenge application. It has 42 member organizations, of which 10 are Municipal Governments and two are First Nations. It acts as an economic development agency with an aim to foster partnerships and alliances among its members and the larger community.

SIPP’s unique position afforded it the driver’s seat in developing the Challenge application. They were a conduit for smart city solutions in the region before the Canadian government announced the Challenge, through their Smart South Island (SSI) project. Gislason considers this to be the region’s “secret sauce” for the Challenge.

Community Engagement and Inclusion

SSI ran a series of symposiums with urban thought leaders starting around the same time as the Challenge launch; they have consulted widely with local stakeholders to inform their Vision 2040 document; and they organized a challenge of their own called the Smart South Island Open Innovation Challenge (a smart, accessible overdose kit was one of three ideas that won the competition).

In addition to local challenges, community input was channeled through Victoria’s Vital Signs (VVS) community report. Compiled by a local foundation, the VVS is an annual check-up on the pulse of the city, identifying concerns and supporting action on issues essential to the wellbeing of the region’s residents.

Despite the VVS, Gislason and the SSI team are still challenged to ensure a diversity of voices are heard in their community engagement processes. They make every attempt to ensure consultation events are accessible - they’re highly publicized, held in hours and venues that are accessible, and video recorded - but these measures can’t grantee effective community engagement. Those with special needs, new arrivals and migrants, and those from lower socio-economic classes were highlighted as still being at risk of exclusion.

Also at risk of exclusion are members of local Indigenous communities. Being well aware of this, SIPP launched its inaugural IndigenousConnect forum in March 2018, which aims to “engage more First Nations communities in economic development and entrepreneurial endeavours” with potential to feed into future smart city initiatives.

Going Forward

Gislason and Myszka concluded that the Greater Victoria region is keen to keep up the momentum despite the application’s outcome. They are after the $10 million prize, with a desire to unlock an additional $100 million in innovations.

Photo Credit: A night view of the harbour in downtown Victoria, British Columbia. The Guardian/123rf