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.
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.
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.
In the heart of Vietnam’s southeastern Binh Duong Province is a brand new city in development. Binh Duong Smart City is being created by the Smart City Office, Becamex, the state agency overseeing the project, the academic and entrepreneurial sector and the Standing and the Peoples’ Committees of the government all working in concert to design a modern, environmentally friendly city that will someday be home to one million Vietnamese. The new city already includes Eastern International University, a world-class academic institution, as well as six industrial parks and the region’s first accelerator. Binh Duong Smart City has worked tirelessly, assisted by ideas such as the “triple helix” collaboration method from ICF alumnus Eindhoven, the 2011 Intelligent Community of the Year, to transform a traditionally agrarian, low-population area into a core of Vietnam’s Southern Key Economic Zone.
WiFi for All
The Binh Duong region has historically limited fixed-line infrastructure when it comes to broadband access, and investment costs for expanding it are high. The city has met this challenge by focusing instead on free, public WiFi networks. All government buildings in Binh Duong Smart City, as well as most public and private university buildings, colleges and high schools provide open wireless networks for their staff, students and visitors. Citizens living in more remote areas with limited access can make use of these public hubs as well.
In addition to providing WiFi networks in government and educational buildings, Binh Duong Smart City also has free public WiFi on all buses of the Becamex Tokyu system, which provides transport in and around the central province. The service is widely used already, with upwards of 50 passengers per bus connected to WiFi via their smartphones on a standard trip. Public spaces in the city have also begun providing free WiFi, including supermarkets, restaurants and coffee bars.
Building an Innovation Ecosystem
As in many developing countries, Binh Duong Smart City faced difficulties attracting industry outside of cost-driven manufacturing as well as backlogs in technical equipment within schools and new businesses struggle with technology. To combat these troubles, Binh Duong Province and Becamex Industrial Development Company (IDC) reached out to Brainport, Eindhoven for advice. Thus began the Binh Duong Smart region project, aimed at accelerating Binh Duong’s economic growth in a sustainable way by implementing the triple helix model of collaboration between industry, government and universities.
Binh Duong Smart City is home to a growing number of Techlabs and Fablabs located in schools, universities and vocational colleges around the region. These labs collaborate closely with industrial partners and Binh Duong’s Department of Science and Technology. Techlabs are locations for practical education in the latest technology, including up-to-date equipment provided by industry partners. They also provide a space for joint research projects between universities and schools and local industry employers. Binh Duong’s Techlabs include a lighting lab at Eastern International University, a mechanical electrical lab at Vietnam-Singapore Vocational College and an ICT lab at Thu Dau Mot University, with a robotics and intelligent systems lab, a power electronics system lab and a data analysis and artificial intelligence lab in the works.
Fablabs are small-scale workshops that offer access to digital fabrication technologies and equipment. They are open to everyone in the community, including students, adults, small businesses and organizations. These spaces provide an environment for clients to test new ideas and prototypes with access to all the needed equipment. Eastern International University in Binh Duong Smart City is currently home to the Becamex Fablab, a collaboration between the university and Becamex IDC, which boasts working spaces and equipment for 3D printing, 3D scanning, laser cutting, laser engraving, CNC and a variety of other hardware, mechanical equipment and tools. Other Fablabs are planned at schools and community centers throughout the region.
Binh Duong also hosts the region’s first mature business incubator at Eastern International University. The incubator began operations in early 2018, providing workspaces, training and support programs and networking facilities for entrepreneurs and new small business startups. The incubator works closely with the Becamex Fablab to grant access to facilities for testing products as well.
Information Technology Training to Improve Rural Life
The Binh Duong province has historically been agrarian with many farmers scattered throughout remote areas. To reduce poverty and improve quality of life in these areas, Binh Duong began a project in 2011 to set up information access points in communes, wards and townships to supply scientific and technological training for local farmers and other citizens. The project team worked closely with the Farmers Association Tan Binh, Farmer Association of Lai Thieu Townlet, Farmers Association of Tan Hiep Commune, Farmer Association of Lai Hung Commune, Farmers Association of Minh Hoa and Farmers Association of Chanh My Commune to set up 87 access points throughout the province.
The access points provide a website portal for accessing local scientific and technological information, technology markets and equipment via the Internet and both local and international information sources. This portal allows farmers to easily locate the information most relevant to their land and situation. The access point staff also provide training courses for local farmers with a focus on accessing and exploiting websites related to prices and commodities, consumption markets, models for raising livestock and plants and other useful resources. Forty-five of these training courses have been completed to date with 900 farmers participating throughout the region.
Binh Duong Smart City Summit
While developing infrastructure and training programs, Binh Duong Smart City has also focused on its most important resource: its people. The city promotes information about its Smart City projects to the whole region via local and regional newspapers, websites and national television channels. Beginning in 2016, Binh Duong has organized and hosted the Binh Duong Smart City Summit, an international event aimed at raising awareness of the Smart City concept among authorities, businessmen, students and citizens of the region while demonstrating Binh Duong’s economic and social value to the region on the world stage. The 2016 and 2017 summits featured keynote speeches by thought leaders in Binh Duong and international industry and educational leaders, a live exhibition and a 24-hour hackathon with 50 student teams participating.
The 2018 Binh Duong Smart City Summit has expanded and will be co-organized by the Korean City of Daejon and the World Technopolis Association, as Korea is one of the major investors in Binh Duong’s industrial development and Korean companies are some of Binh Duong’s largest employers. The yearly hackathon will become a “Creative Ideas for Smart Cities” contest, inviting student teams to present ideas that promote innovation and social improvement. Ninety-six teams have already registered to enter as of late 2018.
As the Binh Duong Smart City continues to grow and develop, its people and many newcomers do so right alongside it, making their way toward a bright future for the region and beyond.
Abbotsford is the largest city, outside Vancouver, in the province of British Columbia and is among the most diverse in Canada. More than a quarter of its population of 150,000 hails from south Asia, mostly from the Indian state of Punjab. The city borders the United States to the south and is part of the Vancouver metroplex, which has gifted it with both an independent economy and participation in the economic sphere of western Canada’s gateway city.
Eighty percent of city lands are protected for agricultural use, and its farmers make good use of that land, earning the highest income per acre of any place in Canada. Other important industries are transportation, manufacturing and retail. The city is home to the University of the Fraser Valley and an international airport. The Abbotsford Regional Hospital is its largest employer. Given these assets, the challenge that Abbotsford has set itself is to leverage them for growth in a global economy that is dominated by digital while preserving an enviable quality of life and a culture whose roots date back to 1858.
Guiding the journey is Plan 200K, which envisions what the city will be like when its population grows to 200,000 residents. Plan 200K began with an intensely interactive work of advocacy, which drew on 8,000 interactions with residents over two years. From these conversations, Abbotsford established four cornerstones for the future: a vibrant economy, a complete community, fiscal discipline and alignment of all parts of local government in carrying out the vision.
Following community engagement, city government updated all of the master plans governing transportation, utilities, parks, the historic downtown and agricultural lands. Sustainability was an important issue because the projected growth in population will be concentrated in just 20% of the city’s land area. Sustainability goals are baked into Plan 200K, and projects have already achieved reduction in energy consumption by 320,000 kWh per year, diversion of nearly 16,000 tonnes of waste through recycling and composting, and expansion of water metering throughout the city.
Food is Not Just for Export
The planning exercise also uncovered a disconnect in the city’s economy and culture. Agriculture is a vital industry, yet the community exports nearly everything it grows and lacks a local food culture. Access to local food is limited and local businesses have little incentive to support local food producers.
To change the culture, the city partnered with a local brewer, the Chamber of Commerce, Regional District and a community market to create the Valley Field and Farm Collective. This nonprofit organization brings together a cross-section of people from the community to integrate food production into community life and boost local commerce in food. Not by coincidence, its founder also chairs Abbotsford’s Community Innovation Partnership, started by the Economic Development Department to foster an innovation ecosystem throughout the community.
Funded by private investors, government grants and community banking partners, the Collective launched a summer farmers market in 2018, where local growers sold directly to the public and local businesses. Later in the same year, the Collective began executing a more ambitious plan to create a central kitchen and food innovation hub, communal brewhouse, local food café, music venue and community rental space.
On its base of traditional industries, Abbotsford is also laying the foundations of an innovation ecosystem for the city. It decided to focus on youth. In 2010, Vancouver established a program called CityStudio and in 2018, Abbotsford imported the program in partnership with University of Fraser Valley (UFV) and a secondary school. CityStudio is an innovation hub where students, city staff and community volunteers co-create experimental projects – online services and prototype products – that aim to make the city more sustainable, livable and joyful.
For secondary and university students, Abbotsford’s CityStudio provides practical learning about real-world challenges, career training, exposure to local business and the chance to gain valuable skills. For city government, the dialogue with students and experimental projects are shifting the culture of City Hall from perpetuating the past to innovating for the future. In its first year, CityStudio held 18 classes for students and city staff and launched 11 experimental projects, of which one on reducing littering in city parks won an award from UFV and was featured in a TedX event in Abbotsford.
Fiber to the Premise
Abbotsford represents an attractive market for communication carriers, because so much of its population is concentrated in a small share of its land. As a result, the incumbent phone company Telus has invested more than C$80 million to connect over 90% of homes and businesses to its fiber optic network at no cost to taxpayers. Completed in 2017, the fiber-to-the-premise network provides upload and download speeds of 300 Mbps with the potential to increase to 1 Gbps. Another fiber network has been deployed by Zayo to serve the high-capacity needs of data centers and technology companies. And as a result of a partnership with ICF Canada, Shaw approached the city with an offer to expand its public Wi-Fi capacity, so that by the middle of 2018, the company had 1,000 hotspots acrss the city including in all city-owned facilities.
With this kind of capacity, the city’s digital equality efforts have focused less on access and more on programs to help citizens use the connectivity to improve their lives. The library system offers an online learning collection featuring thousands of video courses, including language education. E-books and audiobooks are available online, as is a database of magazines, a car repair database and free music library. About half of Abbotsford residents are regular users of these services, each developing skills and experience with digital platforms that will pay dividends in the future.
Abbotsford’s Intelligent Community project is in the early stages of implementation, but it is grounded in careful plans developed in close collaboration with the community. The culture of that community draws on the best of farming tradition: hard and steady work toward the goal, staying steadfast in the face of setbacks, and caring for the land. In the plans and early results, it is possible to see the vision of an Abbotsford of 200,000 people ready to prosper in the decades ahead.
York is a very unusual municipality. It is actually an amalgamation of nine cities, towns and townships that was founded in 1971, as well as a reserve where the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation reside. It covers more than 1,760 square kilometers (680 square miles) from the northern border of Canada’s biggest city, Toronto, to rural area on the shores of Lake Simcoe, in what the Canadians like to call “cottage country.” It is about as diverse – geographically, economically, socially and politically – as a community can rightly be.
Diversity has strengths. The municipality is Canada's third largest business hub, home to 600,000 jobs and 51,000 businesses. Most are concentrated in the affluent southern cities of Markham and Vaughan and the town of Richmond Hill, which also serve as bedroom communities for Toronto. Companies with headquarters and other major facilities in York Region include IBM, Lucent, Honeywell, Apple, Genesis Microchip, Compugen, Huawei, Compuware, Lexmark and Rogers Communications. The farther north you go, however, the more that technology gives way to historic downtowns, farmlands, wetlands and forest. A road network laid out in the 1790s connect north and south, east and west, and an effective transit system, including bus rapid transit, helps unite the municipality into a whole.
Geographic size and diversity also bring challenges. The southern cities and towns are well-served by private-sector broadband carriers but as in any other urban-rural community, less-populated areas are not. To overcome the digital divide, York launched a Regional Broadband Strategy in 2014 to identify connectivity strengths, gaps and opportunities. A Broadband Strategy Advisory Task Force comprised of local Mayors and Regional Councillors was formed in 2015 to guide the execution of the Broadband Strategy. This included the formation of YorkNet - a corporation created to manage and oversee the expansion of York Region’s open access dark fibre network to support the operational requirements of York and its local municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals. Private carriers are also able to leverage this network to enable the delivery of services to businesses, institutions and residents.
Among its prouder achievements was the 2015 installation of an Ontario Research & Innovation Optical Network (ORION) point-of-presence at Southlake Regional Health Centre in the Town of Newmarket and the completion of a fibre connection to the York University Campus in the City of Toronto. ORION is a high-speed fiber network dedicated to research and education, which connects more than 2 million users including advanced computing centers across the Province of Ontario. The ORION Point-of-Presence at Southlake makes the network more accessible to York’s municipal governments, schools, local incubators and healthcare facilities; allowing the same connectivity and computing assets as the most advanced R&D institutions in Ontario.
Leveraging the existing strengths of the region, York has partnered with the Province of Ontario and the Town of Newmarket to develop NewMakeIt, a digital innovation hub and makerspace for members of the local community. It provides entrepreneurs and creative professionals with co-working space, high-speed broadband, tools and technologies to turn ideas into commercial products and services. In its first two years of operation, NewMakeIt fostered the creation of 12 new businesses and helped 17 existing ones expand their operations, with an estimated economic impact of C$3.9 million. But it is not just about business starts. NewMakeIt also offers a Repair Café, where the public can learn how to fix household items, robotics enthusiasts gather to build, and workshops train members in everything from woodworking to 3D printing.
Diversity can also mean inequality of opportunity. The Regional Municipality has launched digital equality programs in partnership with its many cities and towns. They include free Wi-Fi access at administrative facilities, libraries, transit terminals, recreational centers, hospitals and long-term care facilities. Libraries in rural communities offer the ability to check out high-speed wireless modems with a library card, and in-person and online skills training from basic computer skills to continuing adult education.
York is also investing in modernizing its transportation network to better serve residents in rural and urban areas. Mobile transit payment solutions are reducing waste and speeding processing. Expanded video monitoring along roadways and improved control of signal systems are easing congestion and delays. The C$20 million initiative uses Bluetooth device tracking and a data sharing partnership with Waze to develop a rich and real-time portrait in data of transportation patterns, so that the municipality can develop solutions that serve the entire region.
A Regional Municipality like York is an unusual thing. It enables its individual cities and towns to do much more than they could alone, and to pursue collective solutions to individual problems. It also challenges them to see past their traditional boundaries – to realize that the success of one community in winning inward investment or new jobs is not a loss for its neighbors but a multiplier that makes them all more successful. While leaving local governance to its cities and towns, the Regional Municipality is coordinating and attracting investment in the technology foundations of balanced, inclusive growth for the greater community.
Few communities can boast of having a globally recognized scenic wonder on their border. The city of Niagara Falls can. The Niagara River divides Canada and the US and, at the Falls, more than 168,000 cubic meters (6 million cubic feet) of it plunge 60 meters (190 ft) down into the Lower Niagara.
Such a massive source of hydroelectric power attracted electro-chemical and electro-metallurgical industries in the first half of the 20th Century. But the rise of global competition in the Seventies and Eighties eroded their competitiveness, and tourism became the city’s most important business. The Canadian side of the Falls offers superb views, but promoting tourism was not left to nature. The province of Ontario has a legal drinking age of 19 compared to 21 in the US, which tends to draw young consumers across the border. The province also legalized gambling in the mid-1990s, and by 2004, Niagara Falls boasted two major casinos and numerous luxury hotels.
Building the Foundation
Even with a spectacular waterfall thundering nearby, tourism can be a slender threat on which to hang a community’s economy. The leadership of Niagara Falls has committed itself to laying the foundation of an economy that can prosper in the digital age, create high-quality employment, and equip its people with the skills to make the most of it.
When it became clear that communications carriers would not invest significantly in the region, the city helped found the Niagara Regional Broadband Network (NRBN) in 2004. Its original goal was to meet the high-speed connectivity needs of municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals in the region. Once the network was operational, it expanded service to business customers. Today, it consists of 700 km of optical fiber with eight points of presence serving 680 sites in the region. NRBN also leases telecom carrier hotel facilities in Toronto and Buffalo to provide high-quality global connections. It has proved instrumental in retaining employers by allowing them to optimize operations.
If technology is one foundation, people are another. Niagara Falls currently has the educational demographics typical of a tourist destination. Fourteen percent of the population has an undergraduate degree or higher, while 42% have a community college certificate or “some college” in their background. The city is investing at the ground floor in the long process of changing those demographics.
Multiple programs focus on teaching elementary and high school teachers how to use technology and incorporate it into their work. The Blended Learning Institute trains math and science teachers to effectively combine digital and online content with traditional teacher-led instruction. A computer science track teaches them programming and web design, as well as how to make these topics accessible to all learners. This is complemented by a provincial program called IT4Learning, where online content connects with in-class teaching and gives students more control over the pace at which they learn. Participating students can access coursework anytime, anywhere, and teachers can interact with students and fellow teachers in a secure online environment. The highest expression of this educational innovation is Teach One, a program that provides mastery-based learning. Students are assigned groups based on skill level and learning style rather than age. They participate in skill-building activities alone, in groups and with teachers. They are assessed daily to determine their mastery, and this assessment guides the next day’s lessons. Teach One equips teachers with unprecedented real-time data on how their students are doing, and ensures that students master one foundational principle or skill before moving to the next.
Behind much of this innovation is a government-university project called ihub Niagara. It is an incubator with portfolio companies that focus on educational technology for kindergarten through university. Like any incubator, it provides technical assistance and professional services to help start-ups develop products and services and bring their first customers on board. It is distinct in its partnership with the city’s schools and nearby community college and university. It hosts quarterly Dragon’s Den-style events that bring together educators and edtech startups to review emerging tech solutions against real challenges in school communities. It provides a safe space for educators to critically evaluate new products and offer early-stage feedback that helps develop better products to serve their needs.
Enriching the Ecosystem
The ihub Niagara incubator is only one part of an emerging innovation ecosystem in a 12-muncipality region. It includes a business development district in Niagara Falls, the Spark Niagara Accelerator, the nonprofit Innovate Niagara, the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Center at Niagara College and the Biolinc incubator at Brook University focusing in biotechnology. This set of partnerships is overseen by the Niagara CIO Consortium, which unites the technology leadership of the city, a regional chamber of commerce, the school board and participating colleges and universities.
The drive to prosper in the digital economy focuses not only on the future. To address lack of digital skills in today’s population, the library system offers computer access and technology training programs, and is building a makerspace. This is part of a broader Digital Inclusion Framework that has served more than 12,000 participants ages 12 to 65 and offered 7,500 hours of training to end-users and another 3,800 to the volunteers who provide the training. Volunteerism is central to the program: 99% of the people who staff it are volunteers working with such charities as the Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club and United Way. The digital training they provide has immediate relevance to its recipients, because it focuses on health and wellness, education, employment and engagement in the community.
Beyond the Falls
In 2012, the city launched the Connect Conference as showcase for its educational technology cluster and a driver of continued innovation. Every year, it attracts 2,000 education leaders, CIOs, directors of education, IT experts, business managers and government officials, and its program covers the complete educational cycle from kindergarten to higher education, libraries and workplace learning.
The roaring Falls will never stop being a vital contributor to the economy and culture of the city on its Canadian side. Niagara Falls aspires, however, to be much more than a place to gamble, party and admire the view. It is on the path to becoming a place where digital technology drives innovation, creates new jobs and new industries, and providing a rewarding quality of life for coming generations.
Photo from Flickr Creative Commons, Kai Lehmann Niagara Falls, commercial use allowed
Kinmen County is an archipelago of islands separated from mainland China by a mile or so of water. But it is part of Taiwan, whose main island lies 100 miles (161 km) to the east. That geographical oddity has done much to determine the county’s past – and also hold the keys to its future.
Kinmen became part of Taiwan in 1912 and was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War. Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on the mainland, the PRC laid claim to Kinmen, which triggered its transformation into a military base that was home to more than 100,000 soldiers. The base withstood heavy artillery fire during two Taiwan Strait crises in the 1950s. It would be nearly 40 years until the military control of Kinmen County was lifted. That milestone in cross-Strait relations, however caused annual economic growth in the county to plummet from 10.5% to under 1% in the following ten years.
By 2014, only 3,000 soldiers were still stationed in the county. But in that same year, Kinmen received 1.2 million tourists and other visitors from mainland China, the rest of Taiwan and the Chinese populations of Singapore, Malaysia and other nations. An economy built on conflict had found a new focus and the leaders of Kinmen County were determined to continue its growth and create a diverse economy capable of retaining young talent and connecting its citizens to the world.
The epicenter of the tourist economy is the Kinmen National Park, which preserves the vast military infrastructure of what is known locally as the Battlefield. One out of every three visitors tours the military camps and enjoys digital, interactive and real-life simulation games that recreate the tensions of the 1950s. These include interactive touchscreens and a 3D tour map accessible both onsite and through a mobile app, while a Facebook page and YouTube channel provide external marketing. In 2009, the county launched the world’s only Tunnel Music Festival, which takes place in one of the vast tunnels constructed to protect military supplies. It now attracts thousands of tourists from around the world each year.
The county has also poured investment into restoring hundreds of historic buildings that showcase traditional architecture. An interest-free loan program encourages young adults to launch tourism-related businesses such as guesthouses there. Two major real estate developments are also driving tourism as well as creating local employment. The Wind Lion Plaza provides duty-free international boutiques focusing on regional culture and green technologies. The Golden Lake Hotel attracts both tourists and business people from China and Taiwan. They take advantage of Kinmen’s new role as a weekend tourist destination for Taiwanese and Chinese mainlanders, and the relocation of businesspeople to the island for easier access to the vast markets of the mainland.
Seeding a Knowledge Economy
Kinmen County leaders are not content, however, with attracting visitors and their spending. County government has invested millions of New Taiwan Dollars (NTD) in education. The Taiwan Academic Network provides gigabit connectivity to primary and secondary schools as well as universities and cultural and research centers, with a submarine cable link to the network center in Taoyuan (a Top7 Intelligent Community, most recently in 2017). Schools run robotics summer camps and Digital Opportunity Centers provide training courses and enrichment activities for students ranging from age three to seventy-eight, regardless of income level. The county operates five senior learning centers for its elderly population offering courses in life safety, healthcare, advocacy and, of course, digital skills, which have reached tens of thousands of residents.
Kinmen County is also home to multiple institutions of higher learning, including National Quemoy, Ming Chuan, Nanhua and National Tsing Hua Universities. In addition to general courses, many offer education on R&D, technology, business, innovation and food processing.
These support parts of the economy having little to do with tourism. The Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor distillery, established by the county in 1953, has substantially upgraded its operations, distribution and marketing. Its Kaoliang fortified wine has a 75% market share across Taiwan. Because the long military occupation of Kinmen left so much of the land undeveloped, the county also has a large livestock industry, which generates half of the value of the county’s agricultural economy. Beginning in 2006, with the encouragement of county government, the distillery worked with the Livestock Research Institute on re-purposing as cattle feed the large volume of rice, malt and grain residue left from brewing. The livestock industry, with support from a national government ministry, is also moving up the value chain. A NTD 100 million investment has created the county’s first meat processing plant, and innovative companies are developing businesses that turn by-products, such as excess fat, into skin care products and bath supplies instead of burying them in landfills.
Between 10 and 15% of university graduates choose to remain in Kinmen County and seek employment each year. The universities, along with the Industrial Development and Investment Committee of Kinmen, hosts career fairs and has re-purposed an abandoned military base as the home for start-up companies. County government has spurred innovation in its small-to-midsize business sector with millions of NTD for research, which has produced nearly double that level of private-sector investment and additional revenues of nearly 130 million NTD as of the end of 2017.
Conservation and sustainability are important values in Kinmen County. Investments in solar power systems, wind turbines and microgrid energy storage are meeting one-fifth of total demand for electricity. The Low Carbon Island program, launched in 2013, led government to install 5,000 kW of solar systems on public buildings, schools and universities, leading to a reduction of 1.24 million kilograms of carbon dioxide through May 2017.
The foundation for these positive changes lies in the network. In keeping with the national i-Taiwan program, Kinmen County has installed hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspots across its offices, libraries, tourist attractions and public transport and facilities. In the five years ending in 2017, the wireless network supported more than 43,000 sessions with traffic of 3,900 Gbits. So successful has unwired broadband been that the usage rate of fixed broadband actually decreased slightly from 2012 to 2017, when mobile broadband adoption reached 93%.
Yet the past is never far away in Kinmen County. One of its unique products is the Kinmen Knife. It was developed by local artisans from the remains of the artillery shells fired by China into the county in the Fifties, and the high-quality knives are sought after by chefs and connoisseurs. In sharp contrast to those times, Kinmen County imports more goods from the mainland than from Taiwan due to the lower costs. The county’s future will continue to depend on combining the best of both worlds for the benefit of its people.
Photo by Seasurfer, Wikimedia Commons. Used under the Free GNU Documentation License.
For additional images of Kinmen County, see “Taiwan’s Kinmen Islands, Only a Few Miles From Mainland China”, The Atlantic, October 18, 2015.