Canadian cities are getting smarter

While city services become more connected, citizens may not know how the integrated civic systems are helping them.

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Would you be willing to share real-time information and data if it led to improved city services? You already are. Since the Canadian government launched its Smart Cities Challenge in 2017, more than 225 municipalities across the country have integrated some or most smart technologies into their urban planning to elevate the living standards of its residents.

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Our cities are getting smarter in ways many of us haven’t even noticed, but what does this mean? What is a smart city? The City of Edmonton describes it as a system where sensors, cameras and analytical software are all connected to a network with the objective of exchanging data to “create improved civic services and enhanced quality of life for citizens.”

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If you are just learning this now, you are not alone. Smart city awareness is low, but it is growing. New research conducted from Capterra Canada, in its online Smart Cities Survey of 2023, seeks to understand how the technology is being used and perceived by residents shows a lack of understanding as to what it is and what are the benefits. Despite widespread adoption of smart city services, when asked, only 20 per cent of Canadians knew of the concept.

“The early visionaries depicted smart cities of the future as fully connected urban communities,” says Rabiya Abbasi, a mechanical engineering PhD graduate from the University of Edmonton. “Connecting technologies like wireless networks and artificial intelligence enables a city to use this infrastructure to be more efficient.”

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The City of Calgary built its own wireless network, and it connects as many of Calgary’s assets as possible, including buildings, streetlights, fleet vehicles, cameras and traffic controllers. Data collection and analysis is used to identify areas of continuous improvement.

Capterra’s research shows that Canadians would be willing to share real-time information to keep others informed about road incidents, for example. Calgary is already doing this. Working with the third party app Waze, users can upload data on road conditions as they are experienced. To see traffic cameras, obtain estimated travel times and warning of road closures, visit www.calgary.ca/roads/conditions/.

While Canadians may be willing to share data, they are most concerned with data privacy. Of those surveyed, 65 per cent were moderately or extremely concerned about unauthorized surveillance and monitoring. And 70 per cent were either moderately or extremely concerned about cyberattacks and data breaches.

A whopping 74 per cent of Canadians said they would be very interested in having a single app with different types of useful information about their city, even though many cities are already doing this.

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“General awareness and usage of smart city services may be low, but enthusiasm for the development of digital services is high,” says Tessa Anaya, content analyst at Capterra. “Offering educational information on how to access services or providing smartphone apps that are easy to access are two ways cities could boost digital service use.”

The City of Edmonton no longer uses the term smart city when it comes to promoting its digital services.

“In our conversations with Edmontonians, they look to us to improve and enhance service by whatever innovation means are at our disposal,” says Nisreen Hussain, director of technology project management at the City of Edmonton.

An example of this is environmental sustainability. A little more than a third of the survey respondents, 35 per cent, believe it is the most important aspect of a smart city but fully understanding the concept isn’t needed to recognize that technologies focused on reducing waste or improving energy efficiency are a good thing.

For Canadians facing high inflation and higher interest rates, using technology to create efficiencies and lower costs isn’t just smart, it is a necessity.

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SMART SERVICES

How smart are Canadian cities and how do Canadians use the services? Capterra’s Smart Cities Survey reveals these facts about usage.

· Smart energy services: 39 per cent of Canadians have access to smart meters for water, electricity, and renewable energy services.

· Smart payment and finances: 65 per cent have digital payment options with their city.

· Smart mobility: 65 per cent of Canadians have recharging stations for electric cars, public transport and rentable bikes or motorbikes.

· Online education: 50 per cent of respondents have access to smart learning solutions.

· Digital security services: video monitoring services were noted by 46 per cent of city residents.

Use of services is low:

· 29 per cent of Canadians are using smart mobility services despite availability.

· 23 per cent reported using smart energy services.

What Canadians want:

· 36 per cent of Canadians want housing and urban planning to be a priority for smart city development.

· Other priorities include security for citizens (35 per cent), transport (34 per cent), and energy management (30 per cent).

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· 5 per cent saw no advantage in the development of smart cities.

Concerns:

· 63 per cent believe that data sharing with private companies should be limited to protect citizens’ sensitive data.

· 56 per cent of respondents expressed a desire for increased investment in cybersecurity cited by, particularly if smart city governments choose to partner with private entities.

· 55 per cent want municipalities to collect the minimum amount of data possible.

Survey methodology: Capterra conducted the Smart Cities Survey online in August 2023 and published in September. In Canada, it surveyed 1,046 respondents. Criteria survey eligibility: resident in a medium or large Canadian city with a population of 100,000-plus residents and at least 18 years old.

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