Can Mississauga Become a 'Smart City'?

The term "Smart City" has been tossed around for a couple of years now, but people might not know exactly what it means.

"Smart Cities" is a way to describe how cities around the world are using data, technology and innovation to transform and modernize their services. By working with community partners, businesses and industry, Smart Cities can help build vital connections to foster open government, make data more accessible, and enable more research-based decision making.

In Mississauga, there are already a few examples of utilizing data under 'Smart City' principles to provide services in this manner, such as better traffic signal coordination and an online resource that can access worldwide information for UTM students. In a recent interview, Mississauga's Chief Information Officer, Shawn Slack, outlined other examples of using Smart City principles for services such as expanded Wifi, LED streetlight networks and better stormwater mitigation methods.

Last year, Mississauga entered the federal government's Smart Cities Initiative, which offers a cash price of up to $50 million for a city of Mississauga's size, with the final submissions being due on April 24. As part of the effort to win the contest, city staff are hosting a series of public meetings to gauge and solicit ideas for Mississauga's Smart City pitch to Ottawa.

Besides the submission for the Smart Cities Challenge, Slack outlined the long term goal of developing a Smart Cities Master Plan with the public's ideas, which means even if Mississauga is unsuccessful in the bid, the Smart City concept is here to stay.

There are six areas of focus under the Challenge, but applicants can only pick two:

  • Economic Opportunity - ensure the city residents and youth have a thriving local economy including broad employment opportunities and high quality jobs.

  • Empowerment and Inclusion - make everyone, including newcomers, youth and seniors feel valued, heard and engaged; promote easy access to local government, encourage participation in community life; provide access to affordable housing.

  • Environment - create a healthy environment by addressing extreme weather and the effects of climate change; reduce greenhouse gases and pollution; provide information to help residents make informed decisions.

  • Mobility - move residents around the community more easily by providing access to all forms of transportation (public transit, car, cycling, walking, ride-sharing and taxis).

  • Safety - ensure residents feel secure in neighbourhoods with low crime rates; provide safe environment for those at risk.

During the breakout sessions, there were a number of ideas that were thrown around all the tables. While the consensus was that the city should go with Mobility and Economic Opportunities as the two areas for their pitch to the federal government for the Smart Cities Initiative bid, there were other interesting ideas thrown out for the other focus areas as well.

Here are some examples of Smart City ideas from those discussions:

  • A mobile app that can integrate ride sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, with the MiWay system to provide better transit service coordination, as well as possibly the ability to use ride sharing services between different cities.

  • Bike lanes and roads having data analytics technology to monitor serious accidents and if those measures have reduced the amount of said accidents.

  • Red light camera hot spots to monitor speeding at busy intersections, and warning signals to detect vehicle speeding several blocks away in order to have time to catch them before they continue speeding.

  • The idea of integrating the concepts of gamification to provide insensitives for the public to utilize public services, such as doing 30 squats for a free transit pass.

  • A 'welcome package' for newcomers with information about municipal government, services, in some digital format, and a public and social audit on an annual basis to monitor how well the government is performing for residents.

  • Open data for monitoring environmental conditions in Mississauga such as air quality (which a city staff member confirmed they were doing with some 35 sensors spread out across the city).

  • Sensors on roads or underneath them to time traffic lights in correspondence with traffic in real time by using open API (Application Programming Interface). A related idea came out of a suggestion of what they do in Germany, where there are roads that speed limits can change based on weather conditions.

  • Improved signage and digital signs, perhaps some kind of wayfinding mechanism.

  • Prohibiting certain turns during times of the day on major intersections with LED lighting.

  • Convert the MiWay orange buses that operate on residential streets into autonomous vehicles so that they can be programmed to pick riders up closer or right at their door.

  • Implementing smart city technology to monitor snow removal on roads. There are snowplows in Alaska that, when it reaches outside someone's home, puts down an additional piece to prevent snow windrows from forming on a person's driveway.

  • Enhancing local sustainability by having the city grow its own food, such as rooftop gardens at the Hershey Centre (soon to be the Paramount Centre).

At the end of the discussion, there was also an agreement that data and policy have to be more synchronized between all the levels of government if they wanted to implement smart city principles correctly. In Mississauga, you have GO transit being run by Metrolinx but the Milton GO tracks are owned by CP Rail, and if the city wants to implement some technology to better improve transit services, they're going to need the proper information from the province as well as their own data in order to make sure they have the facts straight.

Not everyone during the discussion was fully sold on the future with smart cities. There were some people who, while wanting to see some changes and tangible improvements, were pessimistic about the eventual outcomes . "If this thing is a mess already, you're just improving the mess," said a gentleman named Keith, reflecting that old adage that 'if it ain't broke, then don't fix it.'

One final thought was that this initiative may have been limited to participating cities and towns, but was there a possibility of extending it to residents and citizens. From what people were proposing at the workshop, it seems that individuals have their own ideas about what a Smart City could be as well in Mississauga.

Do you have any ideas on what Smart City principles mean for Mississauga?

Cover photo courtesy of @gualdjouma

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