Yellowknife, NT: Spotlight on Light

Four of CityInclusive’s team members come from abroad. As any self-respecting visitor in Canada, we too are keen to see the Northern Lights. That said, this is no easy a feat due to increasing light pollution from Canadian cities.

Public lighting is often not energy-efficient either. Yet they are necessary to render safe public space. Especially in northern communities, which get as little as 3.5 hours of sunlight during the shortest day of the year. How to strike a balance between public safety and sustainability?

The City of Yellowknife is tackling this problem head on as part of their Smart Cities Challenge application in the $5 million category. Their proposed solution revolves around the idea of a smart lamppost, or a mesh of them, which would be a “beacon of sustainability,” as stated in their application.

In late April we connected with Yellowknife city officials Denis Kefalas, Director of Public Works and Engineering and Michael Auge, Manager of Sustainability and Solid Waste Management. ‘Spotlighted’  in their application development were collaborations and reach on successes of smart lamp posts from around the world.

Community Engagement and Inclusion

Reliance on partners, such as Ecology North, formed the crux of Yellowknife’s application. This helped the City narrow down the aspect of the Challenge they wanted to tackle. They also considered canvassing ideas from the public early on in the application development process. But, ultimately, they weighed against it.

Working with community partners informed their community engagement strategy. They utilized PlaceSpeak, a location-based community consultation platform to that aim. In addition, they engaged a local radio station, Cabin Radio, and broadcasted open house sessions through Facebook Live.

Yellowknife is a small community with a population of less than 20,000. They capitalized on their size to spread the word about their smart project quickly. They had prototypes of street lights with smart sensors at their Open House events to make these meetings more attractive to the public.

Kefalas and Augue acknowledge that much more engagement could have happened if they started earlier. While they didn’t intentionally target specific marginalized communities, Kefalas and Auge noted that the aim of their process was to reach as many people as possible.

Going Forward

But the Challenge for them is only a starting point. They recognized that “$5 million gets people’s attention” and they hope to leverage that to their advantage to conduct more community outreach. They are also planning to continue with more inclusive strategies for marginalized/disadvantaged communities, such as Yellowknife Dene First Nation and homeless people.