Founded in 1861 by Father Albert Lacome, the city of St. Albert is a striking blend of culture, history and community. St. Albert began as a small town around the Father Lacombe Chapel—which stills stands today on Mission Hill—in the Sturgeon River valley northwest of Edmonton and grew into the second-largest city in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. In addition to the Father Lacombe Chapel, the city is home to the St. Albert Grain Elevator Park, which houses two historic grain elevators. But for a city rich in historical sites, St. Albert is most defined by its community of residents constantly striving to improve life and embrace new innovation. St. Albert Place, located at the heart of the city, is a classic example of this attitude. It was designed by a world-renowned architect as a “people place” from the start and currently houses the St. Albert Public Library where residents can gather to learn about new technologies and opportunities in the modern world. This gathering of residents from local government positions, local businesses, academia and the general public has produced St. Albert’s Smart City Master Plan.
Access for All
A core component of St. Albert’s Smart City Master Plan is providing high-speed Internet access throughout the community. St. Albert has created its own municipal fiber optic network, which now connects half of the city’s municipal buildings, intersections and assets. The city plans to expand this coverage to all assets in the near future. St. Albert is also using this network to offer licensed wholesale access to community groups, including the Chamber of Commerce and local school districts, as well as to industry.
In addition to fiber, the city is expanding its cellular service infrastructure, including building new towers, new fiber backhaul, and new microcell installations to allow citizens to use their wireless cell service everywhere. St. Albert is working with service providers as part of this initiative to offer free Wi-Fi service in public places throughout the community with most free Wi-Fi locations now up and running.
Training the Workforce of the Future
St. Albert has developed several programs to help train its younger citizens for future careers and to assist young entrepreneurs in the more difficult phases of starting up. The city operates the Collective facility where local youth can access a series of Marketplace programs. The programs include skill-building workshops—such as Ready to Rent, a course that provides education and resources for finding and maintaining housing—counselling and outreach, entrepreneurship training with highly qualified mentors available and the Building Assets and Memories (BAM) program. The BAM program has attracted dozens of youth members who have organized retreats, a youth-issues conference, foreign missions and many popular community events. In addition to these programs, the Collective provides meeting spaces for youth to gather and exchange ideas and for entrepreneurs to get started on their companies.
Fostering an Innovation Ecosystem
To attract innovators to the city as well as provide an ideal environment for local entrepreneurs, St. Albert has partnered with residents and academic and industry leaders to establish itself as a “living lab.” Entrepreneurs and innovators can test their products, ideas, and commercialization plans in the city, making it an attractive place to build new businesses. Since becoming a living lab, St. Albert has seen resident entrepreneurs form an Innovation Council. Working together with the local chamber of commerce, business incubator and university, the Innovation Council launched the St. Albert Innovation Forum in 2017, an event open to the whole community where residents can share new ideas and debate policies for future competitiveness in the city. The Innovation Council has also created a Capital Partnership Program, a new platform to help innovators attract investors.
Digital Literacy at the Public Library
With Internet service rapidly approaching 100% availability in St. Albert, the city has turned to its library to train residents to use all the new technologies available to them. The St. Albert Public Library offers a wide array of digital literacy programs, including classes on using email, mobile devices, social media, Google apps and Microsoft Office products, as well as introductory programming, coding and game design courses. In addition to attending classes at the library, residents can also make use of the library’s Outreach Literacy Van, a mobile classroom staffed by a Community Outreach Librarian. The Literacy Van visits schools, clubs, churches and other community centers and provides a total of 60 different technology literacy programs with more being added each year. The library is currently planning a drop-in Makerspace program focusing on virtual reality, robotics and other emerging technologies to be launched sometime in 2018.
In addition to classes, the St. Albert Public Library has expanded its technological services, providing 45 public workstations with free Wi-Fi access for patrons. In 2017, these workstations saw more than 34,000 Internet work sessions. People have always been St. Albert’s greatest resource, and the city continues to nurture that resource, helping residents achieve their greatest potential and improve life for all.
Centered around a city of just 14,000, the Alexandria Lakes Area is a tourism hot spot known for its over forty lakes and many resorts. The region is home to a wide variety of cultural events that draw large numbers of tourists and locals each year, including Art in Park in July, the Douglas County Fair in August, the Carlos Creek Winery’s Grape Stomp in September and an Apple Fest in October. The city of Alexandria, heart of the Lakes Area, features a number of public schools, the Alexandria Technical & Community College and its own museum that houses the Kensington Runestone, a 200-pound greywacke stone covered in runes that was discovered in central Minnesota in 1898. Alexandria also hosts the annual Vikingland Band Festival parade marching championship. It is often too easy for a region focused on drawing outsiders in for tourism revenue to ignore those who live and work in the area year-round, but that is not the story of the Alexandria Lakes Area. The region has focused heavily over the past twenty years on connecting and improving the lives of the nearly 40,000 people who call its beautiful lakes and shores home.
Connecting the Unconnected
The Alexandria Lakes Area has developed multiple major connectivity projects since the early 2000s, all with the goal of bringing greater adoption and connectivity options to the region’s sprawling rural communities. The CMETS (Central Minnesota Education Telecommunication Systems) deployment was created to share IT solutions between the area’s eight rural school districts, including providing broadband Internet, voice, video and teleconference options. Rural telecommunications providers collaborated to engineer a 10 Gigabit private ethernet network to connect the eight school districts. These providers maintain the network and lease it to the CMETS consortium, which provides distance learning resources through the network, allowing students to access college-level courses taught within and outside their school districts.
Outside the school system, rural providers are in the process of deploying fiber-optic broadband throughout the Lakes Area. One of those local providers, the Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association, targets unserved and underserved residential areas, and has laid an average of fifty miles of fiber-optic cable per year. Gardonville’s infrastructure supports up to 10 Gigabit per second speeds for homes and businesses in the region. The company has also applied for and secured grants from Minnesota’s Border-to-Border organization to fund further fiber-optic deployment at greater rates.
Pitch Your Plan
To foster interest in local businesses and help new ones get off the ground, the Alexandria Lakes Area came up with the Pitch Your Plan business competition in 2018. The competition was made possible by collaboration among a large group of partners, including several investment, insurance and real estate companies, multiple consulting companies and the City of Alexandria and Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. Other local companies also contributed to the project alongside these partners to put together a $38,000 prize package, including goods, services and financial support for the competition’s winner. Pitch Your Plan attracted 33 business applicants with 10 semifinalists chosen to move on to a business plan bootcamp to fine-tune their plans. The competition featured a large number of semifinalist positions in order to provide the bootcamp’s training to many businesses other than the eventual winner in the hope that such training would help them succeed as well. This effort was successful as a few of those businesses that did not move on to the finals still established themselves and are growing today.
Pitch Your Plan opened its doors to the community at large once the competition narrowed down to 3 finalists with a luncheon at a local downtown theater, during which the 3 presented their final pitches to the judges. The winner was able to massively expand its fledgling business with the prize package and the other 2 finalists also went on to grow their businesses afterward, utilizing the lessons they had learned in the competition and the relationships they had built with their competitors and other local businesses. The Alexandria Lakes Area plans to host the next Pitch Your Plan competition in 2021.
Preparing the Next Generation for College and Beyond
Beginning in 2014, the Lakes Area established the Academies of Alexandria High School. The academies serve as mini-schools within the district’s public school, focusing on specific career training to help high school students better prepare for college and entering the workforce. All 9th graders in the academies go through the Freshman Exploration Academy. In the following years, students select 1 of 3 academies depending on their interests and career plans: the Engineering, Manufacturing Technologies and Natural Resources Academy, the Health Sciences and Human Services Academy or the Business, Communication and Entrepreneurship Academy. Each academy teaches core classes in math, English, social studies and science alongside more focused classes based on the academy’s career theme. The school district partners with local businesses and civic leaders to provide students with real-world examples and answer practical questions they may have about their career futures. These partnerships also provide access to internships and mentors within the community. Over 75% of seniors in the first graduating class from the Academies of Alexandria went on to college or career opportunities with more expected to benefit each year as the program is refined.
The City of Alexandria Comprehensive Plan Revision
Originally adopted in 1995, the City of Alexandria’s Comprehensive Plan has undergone multiple revisions and updates to better meet the needs of a growing and changing community. The Plan provides the citizens of Alexandria with an outline for future development, including chapters on land use, transportation, wastewater, water supply, storm water management, housing and parks and recreation. In 2018, the City released a Request for Proposals for planning services to start the process of updating its Plan, which had not been revised since 2007.
To make the Plan available and comprehensible to as many Alexandrians as possible, the City has made all of it available on its website, where it is fully searchable and downloadable. Citizens can access components and chapters of the Plan 24/7 via Dropbox and can provide ideas and public feedback via email and Social Pinpoint at any time. To reach even more members of the community, Alexandria’s local government set up “pop-up” booths at local events, including Art in the Park, Community Night Out and the Douglas County Fair to ask for input on changes to the plan and what areas of concern mattered most to local attendees. The City also set up one-on-one and small group interactions on the street in downtown Alexandria, as well as visioning and goals sessions at City Hall and a range of speaking engagements. These efforts bore fruit when the City received over 1,500 written and emailed comments, suggestions and concerns from event attendees. To address as many of these concerns as possible, the City allocated $52,400 for the Comprehensive Plan formal revision from the city’s annual budget for Plans and Studies. The public hearing process for the new Plan was completed in October 2019.
With the natural beauty of Alexandria’s lakes come the expected challenges of reaching remote citizens and providing opportunities for all. The Alexandria Lakes Area has met these challenges head-on and expects to grow into an ever more connected community as its programs reach fruition and beyond.
Photo by Omar David Sandoval Sida. Used under Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
The Big Apple is the wrong name for New York this summer.
No one knows what will come to New York this autumn and beyond. It will not be the World Series, Tracy Letts’ new play or a fraction of our 65.2 million annual visitors. New York will not be as fine as apple pie by Columbus Day or Thanksgiving. These two holidays might not even be around by Christmas! Without its theaters, restaurants, museums and the everyday energy of vendors and street life, New York is a harsher, more hollow place, and no place for epicureans hungry for its unique slice of American culture.Read more
There is battle underway in New York. With the virus surging toward its peak I am starting to feel like I am living through something akin to what I know of “The Blitz” in the early 1940’s in England, during World War II. A terrifying reign of terror, coming relentlessly at me with no conscience, is what I am feeling. I watch as brave people hold the line and others try to contribute as best they can. People are emerging to whom we owe much. Doctors for sure. Also the delivery guys, most of them Mexican, on their padded bicycles; the cashiers at Citarella and Food Emporium markets. My doormen Javier, Willie, Larry and Tom. Yeah, I am under siege, and the only weapons are a healthcare system renowned for the quality of its research and advances in the most exciting areas of science. But we also have a community hospital system and its challenges, as the world is seeing, are profound. We are also armed now with extreme civic cooperation and access to the rest of the world online. These are useful, but they are inadequate for the real job ahead.
Most of the sirens in my neighborhood tonight carry gasping COVID-19 patients to overcrowded, understaffed ERs at New York Presbyterian and Lenox Hill hospitals. There are medical tents rising in Central Park, although I have not seen them. My brief walk along the avenue revealed only the pink blossoms of the trees celebrating the arrival of Spring. Both hospitals are within walking distance of my apartment (located next door to Trump Palace). We learned a few nights ago that the head of the NY Police Department’s Anti-Terror Department is in Lenox Hill with the disease. And this morning we learned that Harlem-based Detective Cedric Dixon (48 years old) passed away as had one of my favorite playwrights, Terrence McNally.Read more
Markham is a metro area of 212 sq km approximately 30km northeast of Toronto. It has a population of over 350,000, making it one of the largest municipalities in Canada. Markham has a bustling tech sector, home to hundreds of corporate head offices and over 1,000 high tech and life science companies. Markham is a leader in digital initiatives, from community support and digital training, to partnerships with high tech industry to next-generation upgrades to municipal services. Markham's role as a digital pioneer has had great results for their community and Markham has shared wisdom gained from these steps with other Canadian municipalities at several national municipal conferences and forums.
Digital Markham Strategy
Markham is home to leading and innovative technology companies in all phases of maturity – from startup to global presence. The city’s population has access to the latest technology and uses it actively, boasting more than 80% PC and device penetration. Markham’s initial digital offerings (including portal, social media and mobile apps) are widely accepted and used. The city is moving forward to become a more digitally enabled and connected city.
The City of Markham Digital Strategy lays out a digital roadmap with explicit steps for the city to follow moving forward, based on collaboration and input from city staff and councilors, residents, businesses, service groups, academics, industry thought leaders and technology experts. Using ideas and feedback from the community, the Strategy identified 4 key areas of focus, each containing a number of significant digital initiatives designed to achieve the vision for Markham’s digital future.
The first key goal in the Digital Markham Strategy is: Engaging and Serving the Community. To meet this goal, the city has developed initiatives to expand and enhance online and mobile service offerings, promote collaboration through digital tools, build centers of excellence for digital literacy and further develop digital democracy. The second goal is: Being the Digital Differentiator for Business, which has led to initiatives that facilitate digital innovation, agility and economic development as well as engaging strategic partners in achieving the Digital Markham vision. The third goal is: Establishing a Digital Workplace. To meet this goal, the city developed initiatives to establish a digital culture and digital operating model at the City, enable business process integration across business units and create the capacity to leverage data as an asset for decision making. With this goal, Markham also aims to create a local climate that will attract and retain young talent. The final goal: Enabling the City as a Platform for Innovation, consists of initiatives to create “living labs” and innovation hubs to demonstrate and facilitate Markham’s new digital character, to implement an open data platform and governance model and to communicate and promote Markham’s identity as a digital destination.
Markham’s capacity for engagement with community members has grown significantly through the recent launch of Your Voice Markham, the city’s online engagement site that seeks ideas and feedback on important city matters. The goal is to empower residents, partners and businesses to be more active in shaping the community and Markham’s future.
Markham Municipal Election - Online Voting Initiative
Markham has exceptional broadband availability and more than 95% adoption of broadband. This allows Markham to be a trailblazer in digital democracy initiatives. A major portion of the city's municipal government services are available online, but the most notable project to take advantage of Markham's broadband availability is Markham's Municipal Election - Online Voting initiative.
The City’s innovative 2018 election model was shaped by Markham’s digital strategy, academic research, rigorous testing and extensive post-vote feedback from voters in previous elections which indicated that accessibility, lack of convenience and time constraints were major reasons people did not vote in the past. The online voting initiative provided increased accessibility and convenience to voters with more hours to vote than ever before. By leveraging broadband access, voters in Markham were able to cast their ballot online anywhere, anytime during the entire voting period using a desktop, tablet or mobile device.
More than 60% of Markham’s diverse population speaks a first language other than English. The online voting initiative allowed key voter information to be provided in the top 6 languages spoken in Markham, effectively reaching eligible voters regardless of their ethnicity. The online voting initiative also provided a fully accessible voting channel to allow persons with disabilities the opportunity to cast a ballot independently online. The Markham Public Library (MPL) conducted lunch and learn sessions for seniors and digital literacy seminars about online voting. The online voting initiative served to promote the extended use of broadband for the significant and important purpose of executing the right to vote and it provided the encouragement and opportunity for more people than ever before to exercise their right to vote at the municipal level and play their part in shaping Markham’s future.
Markham Public Library Digital Inclusion Program
The Markham Public Library (MPL) Digital Inclusion Strategy seeks to provide access to broadband connectivity, digital equipment and tools, as well as learning opportunities necessary to allow citizens to fully use and benefit from digital technologies. All Markham Library branches currently provide public Wi-Fi access that is freely available to visitors. As well, the majority of branches provide multiple public access computers (PACs) that can be reserved for use by all patrons at no charge. This extends the availability and benefits of digital tools to those residents who might not otherwise have access to them. Digital media labs in each branch of the MPL also provide further access to technology. Markham implemented the first digital media lab and makerspace under this strategy at the Aaniin Library, which includes four industry-standard computers set up for graphic design, sound and vision editing, animation and other digital media services. The makerspace features a textile lab, 3D printers and scanners and a commercial-grade laser cutter. Staff provides assistance to patrons in learning this technology, group instruction on premise and in partnership with local schools, and through workshops designed to focus on digital literacy development.
Based on the success of this strategy to date, additional digital media labs are being expanded at MPL’s Angus Glen and Thornhill Community Centre branches. The next phase of this project includes expanding 3D printer access to all branches in the system. In 2020, the city plans to expand the digital literacy strategy further by creating two new labs at the Markham Village and Cornell libraries with specialized technologies, including a sound recording studio to compliment the library's musical instrument lending library and a KidsMakerSpace, featuring toys and tools to teach STEAM principles to preschool children.
STEAM Digital Skills Program
The Markham Public Library offers many STEAM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Arts & Math) programs to local schools. Teachers book an appointment with the library to have a digital literacy or outreach specialist visit their classroom to lead educational activities while allowing students to use new and exciting technologies. As part of the program, students explore STEAM concepts including engineering, circuit building and coding in order to create a small town with stable structures, functional lighting, moving bridges and purposeful roadways. Through these activities, students develop collaborative and community-building abilities in addition to technical and academic skills. 95% of students who have taken a STEAM workshop with MPL report having more knowledge of the topic, and 88% report feeling more confident. In addition, 90% of students report applying what they learned outside the courses. Similar programs are also available in Library branches for adults and seniors.
In addition to STEAM workshops conducted in conjunction with schools, MPL offers the CoderDojo program. CoderDojo is a global network of free, volunteer-led, independent, community-based programming clubs for young people. During a club meeting, all in attendance learn how to code, develop websites, apps, programs and games and to explore technology. The program targets children ages 8-13 who are interested in growing their digital literacy skills. It seeks to prepare children for a digital future, where coding and programming are part of their careers.
Hardware Catalyst Initiative
The Hardware Catalyst Initiative (HCI) is Canada’s first incubator to focus on hardware and silicon solutions, targeting small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in key sectors including digital media & ICT, advanced manufacturing, health and environment. Announced in June 2019, the HCI includes a $5 million investment over five years through FedDev Ontario’s Regional Innovation Ecosystem funding stream. This initiative is designed to help shorten development cycles and close gaps faced by SMEs. The HCI is driven by ventureLAB, the regional innovation center and technology incubator hub located in Markham and supported by the City. ventureLAB supports technology entrepreneurs through programs focused on capital, talent, technology and customers to advance Canada’s economy on a local, national and global scale.
Beginning in 2017, ventureLAB, together with industry and not-for-profit partners, explored the need and feasibility of a Hardware Catalyst Initiative in Ontario. A common challenge discovered was the lack of access to expensive tools, resources, and clean rooms for SMEs building hardware and silicon technologies in Canada, as well as a significant mentorship and talent gap. In late 2018, they began working on a proposal to establish the Hardware Catalyst Initiative, and in early 2019 submitted a proposal to the Government of Canada’s FedDev Ontario program under the Regional Innovation Ecosystem funding stream. The proposal was accepted and the commitment of a $5 million investment over 5 year for the HCI was announced in June of 2019. As well, ventureLAB is in the process of finalizing collaboration agreements with industry partners for additional funding.
Access to expensive tools, equipment and resources is the top challenge hardware companies face in growing and scaling in Canada. On average, a design license for a small startup team ranges from $50K to $75K per seat, per year, and is available through only two companies, one of whom is a partner in the HCI. The HCI would give SMEs building and leveraging hardware and silicon solutions access to the necessary equipment and industry expertise to accelerate time to market. This will significantly reduce costs, enabling them to become globally competitive Canadian businesses and redeploy valuable capital to hire local talent in Canada, creating a sustainable pipeline of technical and business talent.
Over the next five years, HCI is anticipated to support over 40 small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), create or license more than 30 new intellectual properties (IP), commercialize at least 15 new products or services, and create over 200 new jobs. It will bring focus to this important sector in Southern Ontario and will be a key driver in amplifying the regional economy, and serve as an attraction mechanism for retaining talent, new job creation, attracting R&D dollars, and creating homegrown intellectual property that can be scaled globally. This initiative and many others have positioned Markham as a city with the resources, community and training availability to meet the challenges of the modern world and only grow stronger in the process.
Smart21 2020 | 2021
Leeds is the eighth-largest city in the United Kingdom by population, but it proudly claims the third-largest number of jobs, due to fast employment growth in the past decade. That growth is the product of a highly diverse economy, to which finance and business services contribute 38% of total output while 1,800 manufacturing firms employ nearly 40,000 people. Retail, tourism, construction, the creative industries and the public sector make up the rest. The city is home to no less than five universities and the country’s fourth largest student population, and is the vital center of a £56 billion regional economy
Though no longer dominant, manufacturing is in the city’s DNA. Two centuries ago, it was an important center for the wool trade and a major mill town producing wool, flax, iron, printed materials and engineered products. That history also explains the focus of the city’s Intelligent Community programs, many of which target the 24% of the population that live in what national government identifies as districts suffering from multiple forms of deprivation. For all its economic vitality, Leeds ranks 33rd out of more than 300 local authorities in the UK in the proportion of districts in the most deprived 10% nationally. It is a story familiar in cities across the industrialized world, where deprived districts are home to generations of families economically stranded by the decline of low-skilled manufacturing jobs and whose educational qualifications are an increasingly poor fit for the opportunities of the digital age.
The Digital Life
Research suggests that Leeds is home to about 90,000 adults who lack basic digital skills. A program called 100% Digital Leeds, launched in 2016, is a lending program for tablets, those touch-screen devices that provide new users an easy-to-understand online experience. The city works with three organizations across Leeds that target different groups of users. The Refugee Education and Training Advice Service offers classes to immigrant groups studying English as a second language. The Older People’s Action group helps older, often socially isolated people use tablets to book appointments, research health topics and keep in touch with family and friends. A Children’s Services organization works with young people who are aging out of the care system and introduces them to the use of tablets to apply for jobs and prepare for further education.
Leeds Pathways brings this focus on inclusion to young people seeking information about employment and apprenticeships. It is a local government website that sets out career paths open to young people through videos, fact sheets and information on the important and growing employment sectors in the city, from creative and digital to health, professional services and construction. Most important for students without undergraduate or graduate degrees, it provides a route into apprenticeships in these sectors with participating companies.
A Smarter Energy Plan
In 2013, Leeds launched the first phase of a city-wide district heating network: a system of underground pipes that deliver heat via hot water to buildings on the network. It represented a multi-pronged approach to a future for the city that is sustainable in environmental, financial and inclusion terms. The project began with construction of a recycling and energy recovery facility to generate the heat for the network, which was completed in 2016. By early 2019, the city finished installing pipes and had begun installation work in buildings.
The completed network is expected to reduce the city’s total carbon emissions by 22,000 tons per year, which will contribute to city-wide target of 40% CO2 reduction from 2005 to 2020. At the same time, it will reduce annual heating fuel bills by up to £250 per household, benefitting all residents and in particular low-income households struggling with fuel poverty. The project has also become a showcase with local educational impact: students from the local Co-operative Academy study the project as part of climate change studies and even developed its local brand of “Leeds PIPES.”
Innovating in Connectivity and Business
With its vibrant economy, Leeds is well-served for broadband connectivity, but coverage is uneven because the large municipal footprint includes suburban and rural areas. The city, together with West Yorkshire and the European Union, have funded deployment of “superfast broadband” offering download speeds of up to 80 Mbps. Phase one of the project, beginning in 2013, made service available to more than 64,000 homes and businesses. Phase two, launched in 2015, extended the network to an additional 33,000 homes and businesses.
Connectivity is at the heart of ODI Leads, a project inspired by the founding of the Open Data Institute (ODI) in London by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Sir Nigel Shadbolt. A partnership of ODI, city councils, West Yorkshire, a university and private companies, ODI Leeds hosts events to bring together a community of innovators, produces open data projects and promotes understanding of open data in the region. Its projects have included a UK Tech Innovation Index, apps to help travel and emergency services in the region, and energy education for schools.
The city’s mix of social policy, technology and entrepreneurship is summed up in the Leeds Inclusive Growth Strategy (www.leedsgrowthstrategy.co.uk). It sets out how city council, the private sector, universities, colleges, schools and social enterprises will work together to grow an economy ensuring that everyone in the city contributes to and benefits from growth.
The strategy updates a plan published in 2010 and sets out 12 “big ideas” – an action plan for 2018-2023 to encourage inclusive growth in the city by supporting people, places and productivity. They range from doubling the size of the city center to developing Leeds as a digital city and backing innovators and entrepreneurs building the next generation of successful businesses. Though the word does not appear in any of its discussions, the Strategy envisions an Intelligent Community rising in the British Midlands that not only creates prosperity but ensures it is shared widely among its people.
Westerville is a northeastern suburb of Columbus, capital of the state of Ohio, and home to nearly 40,000 people. It takes its name from the Dutch family that founded it in the 1800s. It was a small place that eventually became known as the “Dry Capital of the World,” based on an 1859 law that forbid the sale of alcohol in the city and the decision of the Anti-Saloon League – which played a leading role in Prohibition – to move its national headquarters there in 1909. It was only in the 1990s, when Westerville annexed land that included alcohol-selling businesses, that local prohibition began to change.
In the more than two decades since, Westerville has made a career of embracing change. In 2007, the city began planning expansion of an existing government fiber network to support smart-grid applications. (Like many smaller US cities, it owns its own electric utility.) The planning process revealed a lack of affordable choices for broadband and data center services. That ultimately led City Council to found WeConnect: an underground fiber network connected to a community-owned data center and delivering 100 Gbps connectivity to municipal service providers, businesses, schools, the local university and research institutes.
The network and carrier-neutral community data center began operations in 2012. By 2018, more than 40 miles of the fiber network had been lit. After an investment of more than US$6 million, WeConnect has been profitable three out of the first six years of operation – and its impact has been much greater than mere speed or capacity. The city spent more than 85% of funds with businesses within a two-mile radius of City Hall, creating jobs and profits that benefited the community. The network and data center have saved customers more than $2 million since 2014, with one customer crediting the network with helping avoid a $1 million capital expense for its own data center. WeConnect has also become an important attractor to business that, when bundled into incentive packages, has helped persuade site selectors to give the community a closer look.
Benefits of the Smart Grid
The municipal utility, Westerville Electric Division, got smart-grid applications that sparked the network’s construction. The utility’s operations date back to 1898, but since WeConnect went live, it has rolled out services including advanced metering and an online portal, which let customers monitor electric and water usage by the hour, and a Rush Hour Rewards Program, that offers rebates to customer who let the utility adjust their air-conditioning to better manage peak loads. Realizing that most energy-saving programs target large corporations, it introduced a Small BusinessWISE program that provides energy-efficiency consultants to audit small businesses and recommend changes that will save money.
New Pathways to a Career
In 2014, Westerville was one of 14 central Ohio school districts that shared funding for initiatives called Career Pathways, which aim to create new post-secondary education options for students while closing workforce gaps. All are member of the Central Ohio Compact, an agreement among educational institutions to improve access to educational achievement for the next generation. The Health Career Pathways is a collaboration among nine school districts, Columbus State Community College (CSCC) and healthcare providers including Westville’s Mount Carmel Health System. Beginning as early as their first year in high school, students can enroll in the program, which combines high school and college coursework with shadowing of medical professionals. They earn dual credit and have the potential to finish high school with a credential as a clinical lab assistant. The program was piloted in the spring of 2018 with student rotations in two hospital departments; it proved so successful that the rotations have expanded to 16 different spots.
The Business Logistics Pathway – also a collaboration of CSCC and industry partners – leads to certification as a logistics associate and technician. This earned credit puts students on track to complete a two-year associates degree in supply chain management with only one year of additional coursework, and the opportunity to apply this education to completion of a four-year degree. The Engineering Pathways prepares students for careers in computer-assisted manufacturing, a sector that represents more than 86,000 jobs in central Ohio and is projected to continue growing. Ten school districts, Sinclair Community College and industry partners collaborate to build skills in advanced manufacturing, robotics, design and fabrication. In the most recent year, enrollment grew by 17% for Business Logistics and 100% for Health. Twenty-seven students earned a clinical laboratory assistant certificate in the program’s first two years.
Otterbein University in Westerville dates back to 1847 and was the first coeducational college in the United States to admit women to study alongside men in the same classes. In 2016, in another advance, it opened The Point, a new science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) innovation center that ties academics to the business and manufacturing needs of the community. The Point provides office space and support for startups, lab space and prototyping services for small-to-midsize manufacturers, a makerspace for the community and dedicated education spaces for school students. It does not claim ownership of the innovations developed there, a policy it shares with the University of Waterloo in Canada, which is renowned for its ability to generate new companies. The feasibility study for the center projected that it would create 200 new jobs in five years totaling US$16 million in payroll and $3.6 million in state and local taxes.
Welcoming the Stranger
Digital equality is the province of the Westerville Public Library. In 1994, it became the first library in the state to offer patrons full access to the internet. It now offers computer labs and training targeted at patrons from job seekers to senior citizens, as well as a Kid’s Center, Teen Center and Gaming Room. Anyone baffled by a technology program can get personalized help through the “Borrow a Librarian” program, while the “Borrow the Internet” program lets patrons without internet access at home borrow a Wi-Fi mobile hotspot.
In recent years, the library has targeted the immigrant population of the region. Central Ohio is home to the second largest Somali population in the US and the largest Bhutanese Nepali population outside Bhutan. In 2015-16, the library won a grant to host Somali language and culture classes, and in 2018, a grant that made it possible to launch technology classes in Somali and Nepali, taught by local Somali and Nepali teachers. Demand has been strong from immigrants eager to make a home in the community.
Rising to Challenge
In February 2018, two Westerville police officers were slain as they responded to a domestic violence call – the first deaths of active-duty officers in the city’s 160-year history. Over the next two weeks, the city’s handling of communications and logistics – largely enabled by technology – would prove critical in forging community unity around the tragedy.
As local and national media picked up the story, the city’s Community Affairs department used Google Drive to disseminate news and respond to media inquiries. City officials were assigned to social media listening to allow the city to respond to misinformation and share the facts. With the establishment of the #WestervilleStrong hashtag, people in the community gained a way to stay updated, express their grief and connect with others through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It also helped city officials monitor the social media conversation and set an appropriate tone.
Total social media reach during the period topped 2.5 million. The WestervilleStrong Facebook group grew to more than 6,000 followers and, seven months later, was still growing. But the daily number of attempted cyberattacks and phishing emails also doubled during the two weeks that followed the shootings. The city’s established cyber-monitoring systems and user protocols thwarted all attempts to hack the government’s network.
Westerville has benefited from its proximity to another Intelligent Community – Dublin, home of an ICF Global Institute. It was through the work of that Institute that first came to see its efforts as part of a comprehensive approach to economic and social development in the digital age, and to begin identifying ways to fill gaps and accelerate its progress. Proud of its heritage, Westerville is targeting a future in which suburban and even rural cities have the same opportunities as big cities to make the tech revolution pay off for its people.
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Surat is nicknamed the Diamond City of India for its famous diamond cutting and polishing industry, founded in the late 1950s. With its location on the Tapi River, Surat has been a major port city at several points in Indian history, including serving as the nation’s emporium for gold and cloth exports, as well as shipbuilding and textile manufacturing in the late 1600s and early 1700s. The early 19th century saw a sharp decline in the city’s prosperity with a stagnant economy and population dropping to around 80,000 inhabitants. India’s railways opening changed all that, reviving Surat as a hub for textile and mineral production and refinement. And over the past twenty years, the city has taken steps to ensure continued prosperity in the modern world as an Intelligent Community.
The SURAT Ideas & Innovation LAB
With its economy so traditionally dependent on land and river shipping lanes, Surat aims to expand its local business portfolio by helping entrepreneurs get off the ground. To meet this goal, the SuratSmartcity corporation created a not-for-profit company called SURATi iLAB, which stands for SURAT ideas & innovation LAB. The lab aims to provide a place for aspiring entrepreneurs in Surat and the surrounding region to connect to peers, build partnerships, obtain necessary training and foster a culture of innovation and research. As of 2018, SURATi iLAB has begun building an incubator with space for up to 120 entrepreneurs to work and meet. While construction is underway, the company has formed partnerships with leading regional organizations, including academic, trade and industry associations, R&D training institutes, startup accelerators, angel investor groups and philanthropic foundations to provide necessary services to nurture a budding startup ecosystem. SURATi iLAB has also gathered a large and growing group of experts to serve as mentors for entrepreneurs in the incubator upon its completion.
Citizen Central Mobile App
In August of 2013, the Surat Municipal Corporation launched its Citizen Central Mobile App. The app offers information and services for citizens, including the ability to pay taxes and utility bills online, obtain birth and death certificates, learn more about elected officials and administrative offices and register grievances with the proper offices. The Citizen Central Mobile App has seen 3 million downloads since its creation with over 20% of total grievance reports and 10% of total financial government transactions now taking place through the app.
One of the major services offered as part of the Citizen Central Mobile App is the Comprehensive Complaint Management System. With a city of over 4 million people to serve, the government needs a robust system to ensure that infrastructure services are functioning properly and citizens can access the services they need to live their lives. The Complaint Management System allows citizens to report issues with local services through the Mobile App and organizes those grievances so that they reach the right offices quickly to be resolved.
In 2015, the city of Surat began setting up publicly available Wifi at various high-traffic locations across the city, including government offices, libraries, colleges, hospitals, gardens and museums. Internet access at these hubs is free for the first 30 minutes, and access to all government websites is free throughout browsing sessions. This Wifi service allows citizens to access the Mobile App and other sites even in locations where cellular service is spotty at best.
Ensuring Power and Water Supplies
Beginning in 2016, Surat has created a rooftop solar power plant in the city through local approved vendors. Citizens can purchase and install solar panels on their rooftops at home, after which the electric company installs a net meter. All solar power generated by the panels is subtracted from the customers’ energy bills at the end of each payment period, making power more affordable for those citizens and providing a greener energy source for some of the electric company’s needs. As of 2018, citizens have installed 5,000 solar rooftop panels with 25 MW capacity, generating a total of 35 GWH per year.
Ground water in the Surat region has high salt concentration, making it unfit for both drinking and canal irrigation without pre-processing. To meet the city’s high demand for residential potable water, Surat constructed a Tertiary Treatment plant designed to use ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis technology on effluent water from nearby sewage treatment plants. The treatment brings the water up to potable levels, at which point it is supplied to water-intensive industries in the region, leaving more potable water from other sources available to residents. The plant has experienced major success since its construction in 2014, leading the city to begin construction on two additional plants to triple production capacity.
With the combined strength of its growing entrepreneurial culture, citizen engagement and dedication to improving quality of life with new technologies, the Diamond City of India is well on its way to as bright a future as its nickname suggests.
Photo credit: Rahul Bhadane, used under Wikimedia Creative Commons license
The Greater Victoria region includes 13 cities and towns at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, as well as many of the surrounding smaller islands. The region boasts a wide variety of cultural fairs and festivals celebrating regionally popular and electronic music and sailing life and history, among other topics. Greater Victoria also boasts the Victoria Symphony, which performs over 100 concerts per year, including an annual free concert called the Symphony Splash in the Inner Harbour. With its mild coastal climate, large number of colleges, universities and scientific research facilities and convenient port locations, the region has historically attracted visitors with ease. Now the Greater Victoria government, citizens and local businesses aim to make it a place where visitors and residents will want to stay and grow.
Public WiFi for All
In 2012 the City of Victoria signed an agreement with Shaw Communications to create a public wireless network for the region. The deal included setting up 52 public wireless hotspots in city parks, public buildings such as city hall and community and recreation centers to provide more consistent internet access for citizens and visitors. The success of the project encouraged Telus to expand its network in the region as well with an additional 160 hotspots spread throughout Greater Victoria. With easy access to WiFi, tourists are now able to share their experiences of Victoria in real time online, increasing interest in the region among their followers and friends. And citizens can now count on wireless access, and the wealth of information and services it has to offer, no matter where they go in daily life.
Helping People Find Employment
GT Hiring Solutions Victoria is a local privately-owned company established in 2005. Since 2012, it has partnered with Greater Victoria government, industries and community service providers to help citizens find employment by providing job training and placement programs. These include the British Columbia Employment Program, Jobs Placement Program, Training for Jobs Program, Empowered to Work Project, Aboriginal Careers in Tourism, Tourism Careers for Youth and Older Worker Program. GT Hiring Solutions also provides self-serve resource rooms and community job fairs. As of 2018, GT Hiring Solutions has supported over 8,000 clients in finding employment in the region, including more than 2,000 who completed certification and skills training in first aid, computer basics and a variety of other areas.
The South Island Prosperity Project
In 2016 Greater Victoria formed the South Island Prosperity Project (SIPP) economic development organization. Its forty-five members include ten local governments, five First Nations, three post-secondary educational institutions, seven industry associations and non-profits and twenty major employers all working together to promote economic prosperity in the Greater Victoria region. The SIPP quickly developed the Smart South Island Vision 2040, a long-term vision for regional prosperity focusing on smart transportation, affordable housing, human and environmental health and economic resiliency. To engage the community in the plan and attract outside investors, the organization has held two public symposiums on Vision 2040 with more than 500 residents attending.
Since its founding, the SIPP has launched a number of successful programs and events and was one of the top ten contestants in the Canada-wide Smart Cities Challenge competition and its $10 million federal investment prize. SIPP events include the Open Innovation Challenge, a four-month public competition to find the best and brightest local innovators and IndigenousConnect, a monthly peer forum to promote entrepreneurship and leadership development. The organization also hosted the 2017 Prosperity Summit, an international investment attraction forum, in partnership with GLOBE Vancouver. In addition to launching a variety of events, SIPP has created the 2017 Prosperity Index, an economic indicators publication to provide key information for investors and entrepreneurs.
The Smart South Island Vision 2040 is a grand one but well within Greater Victoria’s power to realize as community engagement grows along with the region’s dreams.
Chicago, on the shores of Lake Michigan, is a global city of 2.7 million. It is the center of America’s third largest metro economy, which produces more than US$690 billion in gross regional product. Almost one-quarter of households had earnings exceeding US$100,000 in 2016, according to the US Census. Chicago companies employ over four million people, many of them at the more than 400 major corporations that have their headquarters there. In March 2018, its unemployment rate was an enviable 5.3 percent, nearly the lowest since the government started tracking it.
The distribution of those riches, however, is far from equal. A long and often bitter history has made Chicago the most racially segregated city in America. The unemployment rate for African-Americans was 16.2 percent in 2018, compared with 4.7 percent for whites, due partly to that segregation and partly to the disappearance of industrial jobs in factories and logistics companies. From 2000 to 2010, 181,000 black residents moved out of Chicago, mostly middle-class people who could afford to move, leaving behind their poorer neighbors. About 40 percent of black 20-to-24-year-olds were out of school and work in 2018, compared with 7 percent of whites of the same age.
Rising to the Challenge
All big cities have big challenges. What distinguishes the successful ones is how they rise to those challenges. To build a better tomorrow for all its citizens, Chicago is focused on enlisting technology, education, engagement and demand for a better quality of life to open the doors of opportunity.
Chicago’s economic might makes it a prime market for broadband providers. Nearly 20 companies, including America’s biggest names in telecommunications, operate there. A gigabit broadband price war broke out in 2016, when the incumbent AT&T began to face competition from Comcast and RCN to deliver gig services for only US$70 per month, and promises to spread higher levels of service at lower prices across the well-to-do neighborhoods of Chicago.
While the private sector competes for existing residential and business customers, however, the city has targeted the 28% of households with no Internet subscription, predominantly in poor neighborhoods, with two programs.
Connections in the Community and To Go
Connect Chicago is a donor-advised fund managed by the City Tech Collaborative in partnership with city government. Launched in 2012, it is a network of over 250 locations where residents can access the internet and receive digital training. Each year, it delivers more than 8.6 million hours of training per year at libraries, senior centers, community service centers and workforce and youth centers. In recent years, it has opened 49 new centers, upgraded broadband at existing ones and deployed 3,000 new computers. In 2018, City Tech Collaborative launched the Connect Chicago Innovation Program. Funded by companies including Microsoft, Comcast, Sprint, the Lenovo Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, the program solicits applications from nonprofits for new ways to provide technology access, skills and engagement, and offers grants of up to US$50,000 to support pilots of selected projects.
The Chicago Public Library is making its own contribution to expanded access with the Internet to Go program. It lets patrons check out portable Wi-Fi hotspots for three-week periods to use at home, at work or on the go. The library system makes available nearly 1,000 of the portable hotspots at branches in communities with the lowest rates of broadband usage in the city.
Talent and Innovation Laboratory
Higher education has become the gateway to personal prosperity in the digital age. But low-income students face many barriers to completing education beyond high school, from finances to lack of understanding and support from families and friends who have no experience with higher education. To help lower these barriers, city government formed partnerships with colleges and universities in which the institutions committed to dedicating some of their scholarship funding to a program called Star.
Beginning in 2015, the Star Scholarship Program began offering graduates of the Chicago Public Schools a chance to attend the city’s colleges and universities at low or no cost. Students qualify by graduating from high school with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher (the third highest of four grading levels) and going through an application process. The scholarships cover all tuition, books and class material costs for up to three years or until the student receives an associate degree. As of February 2018, there were nearly three thousand Star Scholars enrolled at city colleges. More than half of the first 2015 cohort had either graduated or were enrolled with enough credits to be on track to complete their degrees in three years. That compares with a 22 percent average for community colleges in the United States and suggests that the city-college partnership is meeting a challenging goal: to give students who are the first in their families to attend college the support they need to succeed.
If Chicago is a laboratory for the cultivation of talent among those usually left behind, it is also setting itself up as a test-bed for innovation in the Internet of Things. In May 2018, Chicago installed its 100th node in what it calls the Array of Things. This is an urban sensing project made up of a network of interactive, modular sensor boxes that collect real-time, location-based data on the city’s environment, infrastructure and activity.
Data generated by the Array of Things is open, with the first batch released in May 2018. The goal is to give researchers, policymakers, developers and residents high-value information to make the city operate better and improve quality of life for citizens. Chicago is publishing data on its sensor nodes and data collection tools on an open-source basis, so that other cities can replicate them. Seattle is expected to be the second Array of Things city, and cities in Mexico, the Netherlands, the UK and across Asia have expressed interest.
Sustainable and Responsive
The city introduced a Sustainable Chicago Action Agenda in 2012 to offer a vision for urban sustainability and a roadmap for residents and businesses to contribute to its achievement. Actions include rebuilding neighborhood playgrounds and parks, expanding access to recycling, improving non-automobile travel options from transit to biking, and encouraging sustainability-focused industries. The Greencorps Chicago Youth Program has provided summer jobs to over 2,000 high school students in such industries, and the first green manufacturing facility was approved for construction in 2018. Over 200 playgrounds have been rebuilt and nearly 20 community gardens have opened.
With each change at the neighborhood level, quality of life improves for residents. Another improvement comes with the city’s project to modernize its 311 non-emergency communication system. Before launching the project, Chicago convened community focus groups to learn what residents most wanted from a revamped 312 platform. From nearly 200 individuals, it learned that residents want transparency and accountability on service requests, timely response, clear and understandable language instead of “City-speak,” and choices of how they connect with 311. Implementation of the resulting design for Open311 began in 2018 with a goal of completion in early 2019.
Problems created over the generations take generations to resolve. Chicago has accepted the challenge, and is using technology, guided by a clear understanding of what its least-regarded citizens need most, to build a future of greater promise for all.