Voices

Anthea Foyer

Position

Project Lead, Smart Cities, City of Mississauga

Location

Mississauga, Canada

Share

What was the problem or need that a smart city was able to address, when Mississauga joined the Smart City Challenge?

Anthea Foyer: Three key areas quickly emerged when we engaged the community for the Smart City Challenge:  inclusion, the economy and – most importantly to this suburban city – mobility. As with many North American cities primarily designed for cars, traffic and parking are an ongoing issue, and with growing concern over climate change, transit and active transportation are also finding their way into conversations about how the public would like to get around their city. We quickly realized that with the $50 million dollar prize new technologies could help us shave maybe two minutes off someone’s commute. That didn’t seem like a particularly good use of this money so we flipped the question around. Instead of asking how we could have a shorter commute we instead asked what if there was NO commute?  This was a turning point for us. When we started to dive into this idea we realized that this was the answer to all three of the areas that the public was focused on, as well as many more issues that ensure a high quality of life for the people of Mississauga.

A community focused smart city is one where people would live work and play closer to home. It would reduce car traffic; increase opportunities for active and accessible transportation; it would enable families to be closer to childcare, schools, elder care and shopping; it would reduce greenhouse gases; create stronger communities through daily interactions; would promote a healthier lifestyle and less loneliness; provide customers for local businesses and great communities to attract employees for large businesses. Flipping this question opened up all kinds of beautiful possibilities and serves as a guide to making smart city decisions as we move forward.

Do you have experiences with  struggling to implement projects at the City of Mississauga?

Anthea Foyer: As with any new ideas or technologies there will always be a mixture of excitement and resistance. A lot of work has gone into creating cultural and social change internally and externally for Smart City projects. In particular, the idea of not just informing but really collaborating with the public on developing models for data or technology is a huge shift and will time to become an institutional standard.

In terms of acceptance of new technologies, there have been huge strides in the last couple of years from a place of resistance to a mix of curiosity and acceptance that digital will touch almost all projects in the city in some way. Brining in new technologies using more of a startup and innovation model is a little bit different than the bureaucratic, slow model that governments traditionally have. Many city departments are quite interested in this change as it helps them to deliver their projects to the public sooner, with more agility and using tools that are easier for the public to use. 

 The struggles that smart city technologies bring are important in transforming the way cities work and the way the public engage and interact with their governments beyond the technologies themselves. They provide an opportunity for cities and citizens to find new ways of working, new ways of connecting.

The City of Mississauga’s SMRTCTY Master Plan is informed by benchmarking and best practices. How did you choose which cities to benchmark against? What information was beneficial for this process?

Anthea Foyer: We worked with the Canadian Urban Institute on developing the background research and benchmarking for the Smart City Master Plan. They created a comprehensive study of a variety of smart cities around the world. Through this search a few themes emerged that informed our approach. We looked at cities that were similar to Mississauga in geographic size, age and demographics such as Milton Keynes, UK; we looked at Columbus Ohio as the winning city for the US smart city competition; we looked at Barcelona who has a strong citizen centered approach; we looked at Beijing and Singapore as smart cities that are very integrated with government policy; we looked at Estonia with its revolutionary approach to a digital government and citizenry.  And many more cities beyond this list.

One of the things that is particularly interesting to me are the stages of smart city growth. Quite a few cities initially put out what they thought were fantastic shiny technology plans. They assumed that they would get an excited response from the public but instead had huge push back. In all of their excitement many of these cities forgot to include public engagement in their plans. Once they involved the public their plans have become so much stronger and are continuing to evolve in interesting ways everyone works together on developing the best tools for their city.

Understanding these kinds of pushes and pulls to create a smart city plan was really important for me when we were looking at best practices to implement in Mississauga’s Smart City Master Plan. It has been important to understand that a smart city doesn’t just happen. It is quite a slow process to get right. It was important to look at the reasons why governments were implementing technology and how these technologies, tools and processes reflect the values of the people in these cities and to create a framework that was flexible and inclusive to ensure that this is a living processes that will adapt to both emerging technologies as well as cultural context of the city.

As smart city technologies evolve, and best practices continue to emerge in this field, it would be very useful to have a framework that reflects measurements and goals as they pertain to the complex, multi-disciplinary requirements of smart city initiatives so that we are including measures that were not traditionally included in technology projects but reflect the values and concerns of the public today.

Anthea Foyer, Project Lead, Smart Cities, City of Mississauga