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.
Townsville enjoys a seaside location with more than 300 days of sunshine per year and is often considered the capital of Northern Queensland, Australia. But it is no stranger to crisis, from the loss of key industries to natural disaster. It is pushing back with a relentless focus on innovation. The city has been and still is an industrial center, as it is home to one of the world’s largest zinc refineries, a major nickel refinery and other industries. Townsville is currently expanding its port as part of a $30 million operation to allow for passage of larger cargo and passenger ships. The city also contains a number of natural attractions, including “The Strand,” a long beach and garden strip, the Riverway parkland on the banks of the Ross River, a large tropical aquarium and museum, among others. Townsville aims to build on these strengths with further innovation and engagement with its own people and many visitors.
Northern Australia’s physical distance from major markets has made access to affordable, high-speed internet access historically difficult. This has led to newer businesses, particularly in digital services, lagging substantially behind traditional industries in the region. The city aims to change that with the Townsville Connect program. The program will bring together multiple commercial partners in the region to establish a 10G network between major productive precincts of the city, such as the Health and Knowledge Precinct, as well as tertiary providers, key stakeholders and much of the small-to-medium business community. This first step will dramatically improve connectivity for key areas of the city, attracting new businesses to the region and providing a successful model to further expand broadband access in the future. As of 2020, the Townsville Connect program is midway through the EOI process for commercial partners.
Supporting the Community through Smart Precinct North Queensland
Beginning in 2019, Townsville has partnered with a variety of regional stakeholders, including James Cook University, Burdekin, Hinchinbrook, the Charters Towers and Palm Island Councils, Cubic, Safety Culture, TAFE and local entrepreneurs, to create Smart Precinct North Queensland (SPNQ). SPNQ has established itself as an innovation hub, the center of an innovation ecosystem made up of high-growth companies in North Queensland. Bringing together these stakeholders in one ecosystem will provide much-needed support for local start-ups and established businesses, as they work together to attract investments and build new technologies. Since its launch in 2019, SPNQ has deployed a new incubator program for the region, run eight community events, provided direct support to 25 local businesses and launched a hardware accelerator with a smart manufacturing initiative now in the works.
Building for the Future with the Townsville City Deal
The Townsville City Deal is a 15-year commitment between the national government of Australia, the state government of Queensland and the Townsville City Council. The City Deal lays out a plan for investment in Townsville through which government works with the private sector to improve infrastructure, attract investment, create new jobs and foster growth throughout the community. Thus far, the City Deal has led to a revitalization of the Waterfront Priority Development Area, growth of the Townsville Port and many new investments in the State Development Area. These infrastructure improvements have led to greater export and freight efficiency, facilitating business and service industry developments and making it easier to connect people and places throughout the region.
As of June 2020, the City Deal has led to the creation of the Townsville Smart City Strategy, the new North Queensland Country Bank Stadium and the Haughton Pipeline Duplication Project. It has also attracted significant investments for projects to develop Townsville’s global education and training programs with support from the Queensland Education and Training Partnership Fund.
Creating Water Sensitive Townsville
Beginning in 2015, the Townsville City Council worked with the Cooperative Research Center for Water Sensitive Cities (CRCWSC) to develop a Water Sensitive Vision and Transition Strategy for the city. As a dry tropical city, Townsville requires complex water management to maintain a healthy ecosystem and handle its dramatic natural water cycles. The project has thus far seen more than 7,000 smart water meters installed across the community, with each meter delivering data to a publicly accessible web portal. This allows the government, community members and businesses to identify leaks and other sources of high usage, providing ways to easily reduce water use.
Townsville’s focus on innovation, conservation and engagement with the community on both fronts has the city poised to lead North Queensland into a brighter and more connected future.
Photo by Leonhard Fortier
Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto, is a business and technology center in its own right. The city grew into Canada’s sixth-most-populous municipality in the second half of the 20th century as it attracted a large multicultural population around its thriving central business district. Mississauga is home to Canada’s busiest airport as well as many of the nation’s major corporations. Outside the business district, the city also has an impressive arts community and is home to many major festivals, including Carassauga, the second-largest culture festival in Canada. Many of these festivals take place in Mississauga’s Celebration Square, the city’s recently restructured and vibrant Civic Square. Mississauga began as a collection of many hamlets and villages, each with their own distinct cultural offerings, that have led to the city’s rich and diverse heritage and cultural offerings today.
Ensuring Access Across Mississauga
Mississauga’s impressive business district has made it an attractive market for ISPs. The city encourages continued expansion with a streamlined online system for the trenching and installation permits that ISPs need. Each step in the application process is automated, with the appropriate agencies notified whenever their approval is needed and the ISPs kept in the loop at each step. Mississauga has processed more than 17,000 applications in the past four years. This streamlined process keeps competition strong among ISPs in the area, driving down prices and improving connectivity offerings for the city as a whole.
Leveraging Connectivity to Promote Open Government
Mississauga has leveraged its competitive connectivity to help citizens, from a cloud-based system that makes connecting with government easy to a Digital Main Street program that helps small businesses go online. Established in 2015, Mississauga’s Open Data Policy requires the city to publish much of its collected digital data in an open data portal for easy citizen access. This allows citizens to be better informed about how their government functions and what projects are being given the most attention and funding. To ensure that citizens and businesses make the best use of this data, which now includes 230 total datasets with many more planned, the city provides training in the use of its data portal as well.
In October 2020, Mississauga’s annual hackathon took the form of a Smart City Open Data Challenge. The month-long virtual event saw 9 teams of high-school-aged students – assisted by industry presentations and other guidance from 11 event partners – analyze and develop new strategies for the city’s social and economic resilience, particularly during COVID-19. All insights and strategies were based on open data provided by the city with each student team submission collected and displayed in a Smart City Open Data Showcase available to the whole community. The Smart City Open Data Challenge also provided an opportunity for student participants to build their resumes and network with peers in the larger community.
Closing the Digital Divide
To help citizens take better advantage of improved connectivity, Mississauga instituted a Laptop Lending Program through its public library beginning in 2017. The program includes 100 wireless hotspots, more than 30 Chromebooks and over 100 laptops to be provided to community members without easy computer access for work and school. Patrons with a valid library card can check out the wireless hotspots as needed. Chromebooks are currently only available for use in-library, but the city plans to allow external lending beginning in 2021. The collection of 100 laptops was provided to local school boards to be lent out to children who don’t have access to computers at home for their school work. Laptop lending in schools is currently part of a pilot project with further expansions planned in the future.
Through these and other efforts, Mississauga aims to maintain its strong position in a high-tech future.
Photo by WOMeos
Maple Ridge is one of British Columbia’s oldest cities, having been incorporated in 1874. The city has a largely rural and agrarian history with forestry still serving as Maple Ridge’s largest private-sector employer. Maple Ridge’s beautiful forests, as well as Ridge Film Studios in the city’s downtown, have served to make it a popular location for feature films and television series as well. The city has focused on its cultural beauty as its population swells, hosting a wide variety of annual festivals and parades, and one of the largest Remembrance Day celebrations on the Lower Mainland. In the 21st century, Maple Ridge is looking ever more toward the future, planning redevelopments, commercial and industrial expansions and more with its people to guide it every step of the way.
Connecting a Widely Spread and Growing Population
To connect its growing population, the city has built a municipally owned data center to meet its own needs and provide a meet-me point to attract internet providers. Maple Ridge is also working with its partners on the project to create a revenue sharing model for scalable services to further facilitate internet providers sharing space in the facility. The city is simultaneously following a “dig once” strategy by building out conduit in areas under development or repair to encourage more private-sector investment. As of 2020, the city has connected 36% of its facilities to its fiber network with more to come.
Training the Future Workforce
To ensure the best possible education for its students, the city has persuaded the BC Institute of Technology (BCIT) to open satellite campuses at its high schools. Through this program, students gain technical skills and real-world experiences, as BCIT leverages its network of alumni and partners to learn more about which skills are most valued by local employers. Rapid growth has resulted in shortages of many of these skills, so BCIT is also working with two of Maple Ridge’s high schools to run trade skills development courses for 11th and 12th grade students. This program provides the students with apprenticeship opportunities, allowing them to transition into highly skilled jobs upon graduation.
The city also persuaded BCIT to launch a maritime technology program at the Justice Institute in Maple Ridge. Beyond the high school level, BCIT offers practical career credentials for post-secondary students based on input from government and local industries. These collaborations with BCIT have already produced at 300% increase in job creation since 2019.
Improving Quality of Life Through Community Engagement
Quality of life is a major focus for the City of Maple Ridge. To ensure that it pursues improvements that will mean the most to its people, the city has sought feedback and ideas from local businesses and other key stakeholders as well as the community at large through a series of programs.
In 2019, Maple Ridge held its first Town Centre Business Walk based on collaboration between the Business Improvement Association (BIA) and the City and Chamber of Commerce. Business Walks are annual events designed to measure the economic climate of a community by walking around business neighborhoods and gathering data through surveys of 5-10 questions. The Maple Ridge Economic Development Department will use the data gathered to revise and update its retention and expansion plans accordingly. The 2019 Town Centre Business Walk was a rousing success with local businesses seeing their needs met and voices heard. Maple Ridge plans to continue the practice going forward, with some expected adaptations needed for the 2020 Business Walk, due to the pandemic.
To make Maple Ridge a great place to both live and age in, the city has undertaken a mapping program to help seniors navigate more easily. The program mapped walking, transit and driving routes across the entire city, noting details like accessible parking and amenity locations and roughly how long it will take to walk to a destination. The Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Katzie Seniors Network designed the program and sought input from hundreds of seniors throughout the community as to what would be most valuable for their daily lives. To ensure that the program sees as much use as possible, the city library and the Seniors Activity Centre provide training in its use. Maple Ridge hopes to expand the program beyond just the city in the future by working with other interested communities.
Maple Ridge has even bigger plans in store as well. As its population rapidly grows, the city aims to redevelop its Town Centre as a business and cultural core, focusing on its historic points of interest and unique character. To ensure this redevelopment aligns with the public’s needs, Maple Ridge established the Town Centre Area Plan (TCAP) to guide the project. The city aims to explore how the Town Centre can better support businesses, provide an inclusive environment for all citizens and grow as an attractive destination for visitors. Maple Ridge city has held a number of engagement events for the TCAP, including an urban design visioning event, “A Scoop for Your Scoop” event in Memorial Peace Park that included free ice cream in exchange for passing visitors’ input and a Walkshop, in which participants wander the Town Centre documenting their impressions and ideas. In 2020 alone, more than 750 people have provided input and ideas for the TCAP.
Population is just one of many growth areas in Maple Ridge today as the city builds new infrastructure and new connections between its government, businesses and people.
Photo by Juraj Tatár
The Township of Langley has a long and storied history that includes millennia of occupation by the Katzie and Kwantlen First Nations before European settlers built Fort Langley – often called “the birthplace of British Columbia” – in the early 1800s. The rural township was incorporated in 1873 and continued to grow and flourish as transportation expanded in Canada, from the British Columbia Electric Railway to the Fraser Highway. Langley experienced its greatest yet economic boom post World War II when the Trans-Canada Highway brought convenience and new vigor to its suburbs. In the modern era, the township has put its energies into engaging all sectors of the community in progress, having developed a heritage center to open dialogue with the First Nations while also looking to the community at large for guidance on policy decisions and more.
Increasing Broadband Access through Competition
In 2016, the Township of Langley established a Municipal Access Agreement (MAA) to allow uniform, equal and simplified access for third-party ISPs to the town’s infrastructure. The agreement is designed to promote competition between telcos by removing barriers to entry to ensure lower prices and the best possible service in the area. Standardizing the application process also allows ISPs to focus on adopting recent technologies and exploring new methods for delivery and service improvement, rather than constantly struggling with red tape. The MAA has already shown results, with Shaw Communications announcing the availability of its Fiber+ offering in Langley and Telus incrementally deploying its PureFibre offering as well. All providers in the area are also working to deploy 5G cellular infrastructure across the municipality.
Supporting the Current and Future Workforce
Working closely with the provincial and federal Canadian governments, the Township of Langley has established a WorkBC Centre within the community to assist people seeking employment. WorkBC provides up to 35 hours of training through local public and private colleges free of charge. It also offers services to employers in the form of online job postings and promotion of them via social media, applicant pre-screenings, tailored mini-hiring fairs and multi-employer job fairs, internship opportunities and employee training grants. To ensure that WorkBC Langley is meeting both job seekers’ and employers’ needs in the community, the Langley School District regularly meets with WorkBC representatives to share information on programs and collaborate on initiatives. The Township has also provided data to WorkBC from its job posting data analysis software to allow WorkBC to better understand local trends and skill needs. In 2019 alone, WorkBC Langley helped more than 1,500 people.
The Township also provides many services to students through the Langley School District’s Career Education Department. The department offers career exploration workshops and tours throughout the school year for secondary and middle schools, allowing students to meet professionals working various fields and ask questions about their experiences. The Career Education Department has developed the WAVE Program, which places students in grades 10-12 in volunteer positions to earn future job experience. A large number of local employers participate in the program, including Fraser Health, Langley City Fire Department, Langley Memorial Hospital, Langley Township Fire Department and Langley School District Summer Maintenance. The department also offers Youth TRAIN in Trades programs, in which students participate in technical trades apprenticeships in exchange for credits towards graduation and post-secondary credits.
Engaging the Community in Policy through Open Data
Langley is one of very few municipalities in British Columbia to offer all of its online services through a single personalized login, leading to much greater accessibility for citizens. The Township continuously adds new functionality to its online tools to help the population interact with government in meaningful ways, including allowing citizens to submit tickets to fix potholes and other infrastructure issues and to track progress on those tickets. The Township government also offers an Open Data Portal to make as much information available as possible to community members. Users can login to view data on development activity, property crimes, business licenses, roads and truck routes, parks and trails and more. The Township has recently acquired additional data visualization tools through LocalIntell, enabling businesses to analyze demographics and other economic indicators to improve decision making.
In addition to facilitating eGovernment engagement, the Township of Langley has also focused on social engagement through a Public Engagement Charter, established in 2016. The Charter provides a high-level policy framework for the Township to follow to involve citizens in community planning and development. Following guidance from the Charter, Langley launched the Brookswood-Fernridge Community Plan to update the one previously set out in 1987. Through multiple stages of community consultation, workshops, dialogue sessions, open houses and public hearings, residents and stakeholders gathered to shape the new Plan based on their collective understanding of community needs.
In 2018, Canada’s federal Cannabis Act and Cannabis Regulations came into effect, legalizing recreational cannabis. Before allowing retail sales in Langley, the Township Council held a series of open houses to present the public with information on storefront cannabis retail, government roles and responsibilities and an opportunity to ask direct questions and clarify information. Through this engagement strategy, the Township was able to develop its Cannabis Retail Sales Policy with a focus on both responsibility and profitability for the community as a whole.
Adopting a Sustainability Charter
In 2008, the Township of Langley adopted a Sustainability Charter to shape initiatives for a greener future. Since the Charter’s adoption, the Township has created a number of successful programs, including the Green Building Rebates program, which provides financial incentives for builders and homeowners to implement green design principles and appliances. The Empower Me program is an award-winning energy conservation and behavior change program offered in many languages that helps community members to better understand their energy bills and the choices available to them, allowing them to save money and energy while increasing comfort. Langley has also established tree-planting requirements for all public areas and a bylaw that requires private developments to plant roughly 30 trees per acre.
In tandem with these programs, the Township has implemented green policies for municipal assets and infrastructure. Langley’s Main Hall has received an international mark of excellence for being the first municipal hall in Canada to be certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) CI Silver. The Township has built a public-transit fleet of multiple electric vehicles as well as many hybrids with GPS tracking systems to support route planning and fuel management. Many of the Township’s facilities have been upgraded from standard gas boilers to 98% efficiency-condensing boilers, and its Municipal Hall boiler system also incorporates solar panels.
Through these programs and more, the Township of Langley has engaged its people from all walks of life in creating a stronger, more prosperous future together.
Photo by Colin Stepney
Fairlawn is a small city in northeastern Ohio, covering fewer than 5 square miles. Unlike most cities its size, however, it serves as a major business and consumer destination during daylight hours, sometimes hosting nearly 40,000 people—5 times its population of 7,460—across its major mall and large areas of prime office space. And yet, in spite of its obvious attraction, Fairlawn has historically had trouble recruiting businesses and even residents due to the same poor Internet service offerings that plagues most of Ohio. The city decided to take matters into its own hands in 2015 by establishing its own fiber network as critical infrastructure for a growing 21st century economy.
Connecting the City with FairlawnGig
After running market research and investigating its options from the private sector, the city of Fairlawn established its own fiber-to-everywhere network in 2015, dubbing it FairlawnGig. The network was funded by $10.1 million from the Fairlawn General Fund, requiring zero taxpayer investment, and now provides access to up to 10 Gigabit service for all residences and up to 100 Gigabit services for businesses across the whole city. The network also provides complimentary wireless access in public areas of the city, including all parks and Fairlawn’s busy main street corridor, allowing visitors quick access to tourist and other online information.
FairlawnGig was completed in 2017 and is now in the process of expanding beyond city limits to deliver service to surrounding communities, including Akron, of which Fairlawn is a suburb. Since its completion, the city has seen 15 new businesses moving into the area, 250 new jobs opening up and an increase in home sales as residents can now access modern educational opportunities, healthcare options and other essential services. FairlawnGig has also reduced costs dramatically for both residents and the city government itself, as customers now pay roughly 1% of the previous price for Internet services and the city saves more than $100,000 per year in operational expenses due to better infrastructure.
Providing the Tools to Use New Internet Services in Education
With FairlawnGig established, the Copley-Fairlawn City School District began looking for the best way to make use of its new services. The district established One to One in 2019 as a pilot program that would provide every student with a Google Chromebook for educational purposes. Under the program, all students in grades 3 through 12 receive a Chromebook, charger and protective case, as well as instruction on digital citizenship, Internet safety and responsible use and proper care for their devices. Younger students are provided access to a classroom set of Chromebooks instead and do not take them home each night, unlike the older students.
Chromebook distribution allows Fairlawn students to explore the wealth of educational opportunities online and develop further interests in learning outside the classroom. After the pilot program proved successful in 2019, One to One is being rolled out throughout the entire school system in 2020.
Engaging Citizens on the Benefits of FairlawnGig
While FairlawnGig is the United States’ first broadband municipal utility, it is an Internet-only service that does not include video. This means that customers will need to give up cable TV access to sign up. To prepare residents for this change, the city has held numerous events to teach potential adopters about streaming services and how to get access to the content they want via FairlawnGig, in addition to completely new opportunities they may not have even considered. FairlawnGig has also established a regular eNewsletter to the community, through which it provides updates, tips, answers to questions and suggestions for better broadband utilization, as well as local business success stories. The network’s partners promote FairlawnGig as well through a variety of media, including Youtube.
With so much to teach, FairlawnGig has also focused on training its technicians to educate customers in using their new services. Each installation is considered a training, with teams explaining application and streaming options to customers directly while completing the technical aspects onsite. For local businesses, installation teams also provide advice and solutions for networking, cabling, colocation, cloud storage, internal WiFi networks and many other topics. Thanks to these efforts, FairlawnGig has reached a 49% adoption rate in only 3 years, nearly half of the city’s intended 100% target.
With the broadband barrier overcome, the future looks bright in Fairlawn, as visitors and businesses see new opportunities and residents access new services for a better life.
Photo by Mark Turnauckas
The Regional Municipality of Durham, known informally as the Durham Region includes eight cities, townships and municipalities in Southern Ontario. Established in 1974, the region has focused on the strengths of each member community working together to build a safer, stronger and more comfortable place to live for all residents. The Durham Region’s blend of suburban and rural areas results in a diverse portfolio of economic strengths, as it features an impressive agricultural sector while also being a major center of the Canadian automotive industry. The region is also the Clean Energy Capital of Canada as the home of both Ontario Power Generation and Ontario Tech University’s Clean Energy Research Lab.
Bringing the Regional Broadband Network to the Underserved
The Durham Region’s sprawling mix of suburbs and large rural areas has left gaps in connectivity for those in its remoter regions due to the high cost of installation. To address this issue, the Durham Regional Council adopted the Regional Broadband Strategy in 2019. After surveying the community and local service providers to learn more about costs and areas most in need of upgrades, the Council developed the Regional Broadband Network, an ambitious project that aims to build 700 km of fiber optic cable with off-ramps into each community. With the government handling the costs of the backbone itself, local internet service providers would be able to focus on delivering faster, more reliable solutions. The Durham Region has currently directed $2.8 million in funding to develop the first 35 km of the backbone fiber trunk through particularly underserved rural areas and has submitted applications to the provincial and federal governments for more funding to bring the full project to life.
Providing Access to Residents of All Ages and Incomes
To ensure that all residents can access the best available learning tools and environments, the Durham Region has developed a program to help eligible families obtain the Canada Learning Bond. The Canada Learning Bond provides low-income families with financial assistance to access post-secondary education options for their children. The Region recognized that families face a variety of barriers in signing up for the bond, as the process is complicated and requires working with a financial institution, meaning that only about 40% of eligible children currently receive the bond. To help local families overcome these barriers, the Durham Region formed a partnership between the municipal, provincial and federal governments, local school boards, community partners, financial institutions and SmartSaver.org—a national charitable organization that connects low-income families with information about the Canada Learning Bond. These partners came together to host sign up events and offer eligible families everything they need to get the bond, which resulted in over 300 additional families with 500 eligible children receiving the Canada Learning Bond in 2019. The Durham Region transitioned to a virtual event in 2020 and plans to continue expanding the program until every eligible family has the help it needs.
Even with proper internet access, the modern world of online services can prove difficult or even impossible to navigate, particularly for the Durham Region’s large older population. To assist its older residents in making use of essential web services, the Oshawa Senior Citizens Centres created a Digital Inclusion Program in 2017. The Senior Citizens Centres provide low-cost beginner computer and technology classes, making use of free internet available in all such facilities as well as computer labs and cyber cafés for senior citizens. Training programs focus on basic digital literacy, including the Brain Gym program, which uses iPads to assist seniors with dementia. More than 3,000 seniors have participated in the Digital Inclusion Program since its founding.
Developing Clean and Efficient Energy and Transportation for the Region
To serve as a first-mile/last-mile transit solution for residents, the Town of Whitby, where the Durham Region’s government is headquartered, created a partnership in 2019 with Durham Region Transit, Smart Cone Technologies, Pacific Western Transportation, Ontario Centres of Excellence and Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network. The partnership will deliver a one-year in-service automated shuttle pilot to connect south Whitby to Whitby GO Station. The shuttle route will include a series of sensors that collect data and deliver key information to the shuttle and operations control center, enhancing safety and efficiency. Prior to launch, the project partners will deliver a communication engagement and education campaign to make residents aware of the new service. The pilot project will be the longest route deployed in all-season weather and in mixed traffic conditions to date, and the data collected from the project will help advance deployment of on-road autonomous vehicles across the country. As of 2020, all funding has been secured and all preliminary test, permitting and contracts have been completed for the pilot project. It is set to deploy in April of 2021.
Due to rising flooding, high heat days and other impacts of climate change, the Regional Council declared a climate emergency in 2018 and began development o the Durham Community Energy Plan (DCEP). The plan seeks to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy in the region while providing additional economic and social benefits at the same time. The DCEP outlines a path to electrifying transportation and retrofitting building stock to address Durham’s largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, with work beginning on the first community-scale projects in 2020. On the residential side, the Durham Home Energy Savings Program was created to stimulate homeowner demand for energy-efficiency-related home renovations, including various energy retrofits. The program aims to eventually retrofit most of the region’s over 200,000 existing single-family homes by 2050, providing 40-50% energy savings per home. The Durham Home Energy Savings Program will launch in mid-2021 with an initial four-year implementation plan.
Balancing and addressing the needs of eight different cities, townships and municipalities has provided the Durham Regional government with valuable experience since its founding. The region has built on this experience to strengthen its large and diverse community through improved connectivity, access, education and energy planning that promise to deliver a better future for all.
Photo by Chris Harte
Coquitlam is one of the largest cities in British Columbia, situated at the meeting of the Coquitlam and Fraser Rivers. The city draws its name from the Coastal Salish people who first inhabited the area 9,000 years ago. In the modern era, Coquitlam has focused on this long and deep cultural history by establishing the Evergreen Cultural Centre as a venue for displaying arts and hosting local community events. Evergreen is home to the Pacific Symphonic Wind Ensemble, the Coastal Sound Music Academy, the Coquitlam Youth Orchestra and the Stage 43 Theatrical Society. The city also features Place des Arts, a non-profit teaching arts center that presents concerts and exhibitions for the public. As its population continues to grow, Coquitlam has kept its focus on the people and their history and culture that serve as its strength and as an example for all those who might wish to one day call the city home.
Connecting the City with QNet
To ensure as many citizens as possible have access to fast, affordable broadband service, the city established the Coquitlam Optical Network Corporation (QNet) in 2008. QNet leases unused capacity in the city’s carrier-grade fiber optic network to local business and telecommunications companies, allowing them to offer high-speed internet, phone, TV, video and cellular services at some of the best rates in the country. Services are available to city business, schools and residential highrises, providing more choice in telecom service providers that encourages competition and keeping prices low. The network has gigabit-plus capacity, allowing for high-bandwidth activity such as telecommuting, HD video conferencing and virtual classrooms. As of 2020, QNet’s 60-km network is connected to 112 buildings in the city and has leased fiber to four service providers.
Providing a Space for Learning and Community Building
The Coquitlam Public Library provides a wide variety of services as well as a comfortable gathering space for residents of all ages seeking to learn, study and grow in the modern world. The library features two branches and one mobile library called Library Link. The Coquitlam Public Library offers access to large digital and print collections, as well as streaming services for music, audiobooks and movies and a Family Technology collection. Wifi is available free throughout the library, usable at its many computer stations as well as lendable laptops that may also be used outside the facility. The library also offers Playaway Launchpads, preloaded tablets with educational games for younger patrons, as well as Sphero and Ozbots, programmable robots for children. Printing, faxing and scanning services, including 3D printing and scanning, are also available to patrons, in addition to high-end creative and office software and digitization conversion equipment.
To help citizens make use of the many services at the Coquitlam Public Library, the staff offers a variety of programs to teach literacy and technology use for all age groups. Library staff provide technology, research and reference help in-person as well as online and via telephone to ensure all patrons have as much access to help as possible. The library branches also have several meeting rooms, study rooms and computer labs available for group work and community gatherings. As of 2018, over 41,000 people have attended programs at the library with more than 870,000 visits in total.
Planning for the Future with Everyone’s Help
Coquitlam began work on a Technology Roadmap in 2016 to serve as a guide for high level strategic development. The Technology Roadmap, presented to the City Council in 2018, helps the city to navigate the rapidly changing world of technology and choose the most effective solutions for improving business functions, operational efficiency and services to the community. The plan focuses on six strategic areas: improving citizen services and customer experiences, developing smart transportation solutions, maintaining public safety and security, improving operational efficiency and productivity, empowering staff to be better at what they do and migrating toward a “mart city” that collects and uses electronic data to improve operations. Based on the Technology Roadmap, the city has creating a mobile app to help citizens access important location information, expanded free Wifi access in city parks, created an interactive, digital wayfinding kiosk and interactive meeting room displays at City Hall and has implemented new project management software for the city.
Having seen improvements based on the Technology Roadmap, Coquitlam set out to gather more citizen input on other city issues and areas for growth. The city created the Viewpoint Online Engagement Panel in 2017, survey software that is available through any web-enabled computer or other device. Residents can participate in an average of two surveys per month, providing their opinions on city issues, plans and services, and can choose to respond to all topics or only those that most interest them. Opinions collected through Viewpoint allow the city to tailor its decisions and plans to citizens’ needs.
Promoting a Green City Through the Climate Action Program
Coquitlam signed the provincial Climate Action Charter in 2007 and took swift action to implement greener policies in a wide variety of areas. Annual project plans and budgets all include greenhouse gas emissions reduction, energy conservation and waste reduction concerns. Since 2012, the city has installed two energy-sharing systems, LED street lighting, lighting upgrades and controls throughout civic facilities, programmable thermostats, waste heat recovery systems, fleet right-sizing and electric fleet vehicles. Coquitlam also switched to compressed-natural-gas-powered automated collection trucks for waste management in 2014 and implemented a bi-weekly garbage collection schedule for single-family dwellings. Thus far, the city has seen a 23% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 15% increase in single-family dwelling waste diversion based on these policies. Coquitlam has plans to implement complete and compact neighborhood planning and design and a wide variety of sustainable transport initiatives in the near future.
In addition to focusing on climate change, Coquitlam focuses on improving community life through greenspace and forest management plans designed to protect the city’s over 2,000 acres of greenspace, including 80 municipal parks. The city has also developed extensive solid waste education and outreach plans, water-use restrictions, public access to electric vehicle charging infrastructure and environmental bylaws to protect Coquitlam’s natural resources. The local government works closely with residents, developers and businesses to ensure that guidelines are followed and that measures serve their intended purposes.
Coquitlam’s population boom began in the late 1940s, and the city is still growing rapidly today. The city has made impressive efforts to ensure all citizens live in a green, accessible and connected community and stands ready to meet the needs of an ever-growing population headed toward a prosperous future.
Photo by Greg Salter
The capital of Northern Ireland since its establishment in 1921 and also its largest city, Belfast stands on the banks of the River Lagan on the nation’s eastern coast. Beginning in the 1800s, the city served as a major port and hub of the Industrial Revolution in Ireland. Belfast was briefly the largest linen producer in the world during this time, earning the nickname “Linenopolis.” The city also hosted the world’s largest shipyard, which built the Titanic, among many other notable vessels. Though its status as a major global industrial center ended shortly after World War II, Belfast has made impressive efforts at expansion and regeneration in the last few decades. The city developed a major aerospace and missiles industry in addition to its still formidable shipyards and is undergoing urban renewal and acceleration with the aid of a £350 million investment by the UK Government.
Connecting and Educating the Future Workforce
Beginning in 2017, Belfast developed the Urban Digital Futures program to provide digital knowledge training and workshops for primary and post-primary school students. The program provided over 900 educators with resources and training across 20 post-primary and 16 primary schools. In addition to digital skills and content creation training, the program also connected involved schools with local businesses, particularly in growth sectors, to provide work experience for students and further valuable resources.
In 2020, the national government launched Project Stratum with the goal of bringing at least 30Mbs broadband coverage to all households in Northern Ireland. The £165 million project connected the first premises in 2021 with complete rollout expected by 2024. It builds on Project Kelvin, which saw the transatlantic submarine cable looped around Northern Ireland to provide connectivity to even the most remote regions. Belfast seized on the opportunity created by Project Stratum to begin educating its youth in the use of digital technologies that will soon be available to all in the region through this expanded connectivity. The city expanded its Urban Digital Futures program to include a new Digital Futures program aimed at supporting graduates of post-primary education. The newest project has secured £1 million funding and is expected to begin serving graduates shortly.
The Belfast Digital Partnership to Create an Innovation District
To encourage innovation and urban regeneration in Belfast, the City Council formed a partnership with Queen’s University, Ulster University, Belfast Harbour, Invest NI and Catalyst Inc. in 2019. The Belfast Digital Partnership aims to establish an innovation district covering 400 acres from the city center around the new Ulster University campus to the Catalyst in Queen’s Island. The district will foster a place-based approach to cluster growth in fintech, healthtech and Greentech by providing an optimal, supportive neighborhood for technologists and researchers, particularly in the life and health sciences sector. The innovation district will include pervasive wireless connectivity, funded by the Belfast City Deal Infrastructure Enabling Fund and a citizen-focused engagement program. The project also aims to address transportation issues, such as over-reliance on private car travel in the smart district, connectivity issues to Queen’s island and the challenges expected in developing a post-Covid city center. With so many entrepreneurs in one place, the district will also provide both Queen’s University and Ulster University with opportunities to enhance their research programs, allowing them to support business developers and innovators in the area.
As part of the Belfast Digital Partnership, Belfast Harbour has also launched the Smart Port project. Through significant investments in 5G connectivity and open architecture data, the Smart Port plans to deploy a number of IoT, mobility and Community Platform solutions to enhance safety, sustainability and efficiency within the harbor and throughout Northern Ireland’s sea freight logistics chain. As of 2020, the Belfast Digital Partnership has submitted an outline business case for a £350 million investment from the central government to get the ambitious project up and running.
Growing the Economy and Improving Quality of Life Through the Belfast Region City Deal
The Belfast Region City Deal, launched in 2019, is a public-private partnership between the city government, the national government of Northern Ireland and local business partners. The City Deal seeks to improve connectivity and engagement throughout the city and to provide financial and other support to citizens to grow the economy and improve all aspects of modern life. The UK Government has committed to providing £350 million for the project with the NI Executive matching that contribution as well as an additional £150 million from Belfast Region City Deal partners. This massive investment will be put toward a wide variety of infrastructure, economic and health improvements.
Planned building improvements under the City Deal include over 3,000 new hotel bed spaces to attract and accommodate tourism, 830,000 new square feet of office space to accommodate new jobs in the city and 854 new social homes spread throughout the city. The Belfast City Council, Housing Executive, Department for Communities and other stakeholders are looking into further ways to improve housing supply in the Belfast City Center as well.
On the health front, the City Deal will invest millions in social innovation programs and initiatives, health improvement initiatives and suicide and self-harm prevention services. The Health and Social Care Board, with the support of a wide range of partners, has already begun a research and engagement program to reduce the number of winter deaths in the city each year due to cold weather. The program will improve support for those most at risk by removing barriers to accessing help and establishing a campaign to raise awareness of the availability of flu vaccinations.
Where Belfast was once a global center of industry, the city aims to improve on that vision in the modern world by creating a global center of health, innovation and growth available to all its current and future citizens.
Photo by Rodrigo Silva
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.