The City of St. Albert has a reputation; a reputation they are aware of and ready to flaunt. They are proud to be “one of Canada’s first and most respected Smart Cities” as noted in their Challenge application. Months before CityInclusive was launched, our team knew of St. Albert and their ambitious guiding vision: a Smart Cities Master Plan.
To understand a bit more about St. Albert and their smart agenda, we spoke to Travis Peter, St. Albert’s Manager of Smart City and Innovation. His title and enthusiastic commitment to Smart City initiatives speak to the aforementioned reputation.
St. Albert’s preparation for the Challenge started early and their final application focused on applying artificial intelligence, adaptive technologies and remote sensors to decrease traffic fatalities and serious injuries, and increase local travel efficiency. They hope to win $10 million to implement the idea.
Community Engagement and Inclusion
As it is often the case with small and mid-sized communities in Canada, the majority of work related to smart cities initiatives in St. Albert is done by a small, passionate team. Think Peter and a few contract students. Resources, human and financial, are scarce in small municipalities and “we have to be creative” observed Peter. But due to the size, they can be “nimble,” he added.
The Smart Cities Master Plan informed the Challenge application, but “so did extensive community engagement and consultations,” said Peter. His team engaged over 2000 residents, businesses, community leaders, academics and students. The City also formed a committee, which identified all stakeholders and champions in the community, to ensure there was cross-sectoral engagement in the process.
Peter recognized that coming to City Hall is not high on many residents’ priority list. Therefore, a “multi-channel approach” was used to engage and meet people where they were at. Online engagement was leveraged through a central website, social media, and interactive surveys, with an option for citizens to submit online feedback; in person engagement through connecting with people in public venues and putting on public events; and visual engagement though published advertisements and billboards.
While people with specific identities weren’t singularly targeted in the outreach campaigns, awareness of the city’s changing demographics featured prominently on Peter’s mind. Especially in light of greater immigration to the city, growing number of young families, and deep connections with the Indigenous and Métis communities.
Building partnerships played a large role in St.Albert’s process. While they don’t necessarily come easily, Peter believes that working together is a real opportunity to make cities smarter.
Peter acknowledged that partnership development was possible due to supportive senior leadership and a council that endorsed the Smart City agenda. He hopes this would be the case for other communities, especially as they work to develop regional smart projects. “As our world moves into the future, borders - especially municipal - mean very little,” he said.
Regional collaboration is the way of the future in Peter’s mind. Why? It makes communities collaborate rather than compete. Second, large-scale projects would better tackle connectedness and mobility issues. “That’s how we win!” quipped Peter. Federal Government, take heed!