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.
Profile coming soon.
Photo by Leonhard Fortier
Profile coming soon.
Photo by Juraj Tatár
Profile coming soon.
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.