The local Smart Cities Challenge stakeholders group participated in a facilitated discussion at Selkirk College early in March. (Submitted)

West Kootenay cities and areas collaborate on Smart Cities Challenge

The cities of Castlegar, Rossland, Trail and Nelson, and surrounding areas are working together.

West Kootenay municipalities and regional district areas have partnered to enter Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge.

The cities of Castlegar, Rossland, Trail and Nelson, and surrounding regional district areas are working together on the Smart Kootenays Initiative to submit an application to the challenge, which is open to all municipalities, local or regional governments and Indigenous communities across the country.

The challenge asks applicants to adopt a smart cities approach that will improve the lives of their residents through data, connected technology and innovation. Winners of the challenge receive one of four prizes: one prize of up to $50 million open to all communities, regardless of population; two prizes of up to $10 million open to communities with populations under 500,000; and one prize of up to $5 million open to communities with populations under 30,000.

The first step is to apply by submitting a challenge statement by April 24 and the stakeholders for the project — including members and staff of municipal government, local business owners and heads of local organizations — have already been hard at work trying to nail down the challenge statement for the four communities.

Darin Recchi from Thoughtexchange is one of the individuals involved with the project and he said that an initial step, following meetings between stakeholders that began in December, was to engage community members in a Thoughtexchange — an online process where people contribute ideas and then review and rate ideas submitted by their fellow participants.

The question that Thoughtexchange asked was, “What are some ways data and connected technology could be used in the West Kootenays to address local challenges facing residents?”

“A lot of the feedback that came back… what ranked was reliable air access, and this led us to a theme of transportation in general,” said Recchi.

Transportation challenges that people brought up were not limited to air travel.

“One stakeholder brought up the fact that for a family it’s very difficult not having two vehicles living in these communities. And I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s actually true. We’ve tried to go down to one vehicle and it’s difficult with kids.’ So is there a way that connected technology can help transportation?” said Recchi. “Everything from the challenges we have with air transportation to knowing road conditions better to having some sort of Chariot system like Ford is piloting in San Francisco.”

Chariot allows commuters to schedule a ride with one of its drivers, who are employed by Chariot, and get picked up from any location and dropped off at any location. The service is currently available in the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Austin-San Antonio, New York City, Columbus and London, England.

Other themes that emerged were increased access to remote medical services, opportunities for remote work and environmental and infrastructure concerns.

There were 137 community members who participated in that first Thoughtexchange, with 116 thoughts that were rated over 2,000 times.

The stakeholders’ group then took the results from that process and through a facilitated discussion at Selkirk College, boiled it down to what Recchi referred to as “three buckets.”

From there they narrowed it down to a single bucket and came up with the question for a second Thoughtexchange: “Specific to moving around safely and reliably and staying connected with each other, what would successful implementation of the Smart Cities Challenge look like in your life and communities?”

That Thoughtexchange process is open now, and you can participate by visiting my.thoughtexchange.com/#974574534.

Finalists for the Smart Cities Challenge will be selected based on their challenge statements and announced sometime over the summer.

“They’re going to shortlist communities across Canada, who will get $250,000 … to then put a project plan underneath that challenge statement,” said Recchi.

If the Smart Kootenays Initiative is successful then the stakeholders will have to submit a final proposal sometime in the winter and then winners will be announced sometime in 2019.

Regardless of whether or not the Smart Kootenays Initiative wins the challenge, Recchi believes the partnership could continue.

“The whole group agreed that it’s fantastic even just to have this group of people together talking about things,” he said. “So we’re looking [at] what is the type of entity we can continue on an ongoing basis if we don’t get shortlisted.”

Recchi believes that there could be further funding offered by federal and provincial governments and that having the group organized and ready to bid could put them in a strong position to secure some of that funding.

To learn more about the Smart Kootenays Initiative, visit smartkootenays.cbrdi.ca.

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