Game over for London in the national Smart Cities Competition

London was axed from the Smart Cities short list, but was it all a waste?
Game over for London in the national Smart Cities Competition

Despite losing out on a chance of winning millions of pounds in a contest which would have been used to harness technologies to build better communities, city officials say entering the race wasn’t a complete waste.

Still in the Smart Cities competition running are smaller cities such as Guelph, Saskatoon and Victoria; all of which are in with a very good chance of benefitting from a hefty $10 million prize. Though axed, city hall says it will use the ideas gathered through the submission as part of future projects; so not all was lost.

“It’s created a really great conversation about the smart cities approach in our city. How do you take data and connect it to tech and have a big impact in our community? We’re excited to build on the momentum that this has created,” says Rosanna Wilcox, the city’s director of community and economic innovation.

It seems that the concept of ‘you have to be in it to win it’ applies here – and it also appears that the efforts weren’t for nothing. In the spirit of ‘every grey cloud has a silver lining’ officials recognise that the contest application can still be put to good use; using initial ideas as a building block to help craft London’s smart cities strategy. Notably, this is part of a larger effort that is expected to come to council next month.

I guess time will tell, but it has been assured that the ideas won’t become a “laundry list” of technological projects.

Ultimately, the goal is to create an environment where private companies and ambitious Londoners can use technology in unique ways to solve problems. London’s tech community is advocating for the tools to “build a technology-enabled city,” Titus Ferguson, executive director of UnLondon, says.

This of course will require setting the groundwork with open data and digital city service amongst other tech-focused changes.

As we already know here at NCN, Smart city projects are already well underway in London. City planner John Fleming highlights, the plan for self-driving cars and innovative options for street lights.

London applied to the Smart Cities Challenge in April, in which municipalities were asked to address a particular challenge in their submission, and the city’s final statement was nothing short of elaborate and ambitious:

“London will be the most connected, empowered and democratic city in Canada. All residents will have a strong sense of civic belonging and the ability to shape community decision-making, supported by the use of technology, data and culture of innovation.”

By contrast, Guelph, honed in on a specific area — food security and waste. 10 communities were chosen to refine their applications for the $10-million prize. Another five cities — including Waterloo — made the short list for a $50-million grand prize.

City planner John Fleming acknowledged that actually winning the cash was always a long shot.

“We knew the odds would be long to win the challenge — just look at the number of applicants”.

More than 200 communities applied for three different pots of prize money. The contest finalists were announced at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting in Halifax, which ended Sunday

Ferguson recognises that coming up short in the Smart Cities Challenge doesn’t exclude London from benefiting through the contest.

“It’s disappointing, obviously. You want to know that we’re part of the national conversation. But we’re lucky here in London to be connected into those communities (still in the contest),” he said.

“Their smart city strategies are going to be open and shared. While we might not be shortlisted for the money, we’re going to benefit from the work in those other cities. I know they’re going to be sharing.”

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