Saint John’s Big Data Project a Good Foundation For $10 Million Smart City Challenge

(Image: Denis Tangney Jr./iStock photos)

SAINT JOHN– The City of Saint John and its partners say the community data project it already has underway helps put the city in the running for a $10 million prize from the Smart Cities Challenge.

Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge is a national competition open to municipalities, regional governments and Indigenous communities. The Challenge encourages communities to adopt a smart cities approach to improve the lives of their residents through innovation, data and connected technology.

Communities submit a proposal by April and winners will be chosen next winter. The winners receive a cash prize to implement their proposal. There are several tiers of financial prizes based on population, Saint John qualifies for the $10 million prize tier. Fredericton and Moncton are also competing for that tier.

Janet Scott, director of business and community development at Enterprise Saint John, says the city’s Smart and Connected Community Data Project provides a solid foundation for the city’s proposal.

The Smart And Connected Community Data Strategy features the creation of a Community Data Repository, which will be able to house both public and private data and will enable businesses, start-ups, community organizations and governments to solve problems and work to develop new products and services.

“It’s really a foundational element. If you look at the advisory board that was brought together for that project, it has [Ernst and Young], it has the City of Saint John, it has T4G, it has UNB, it has Bell Aliant … It’s a really good base of organizations and companies that really want to see how we leverage data and connected technologies to be a more modern community, to drive new innovation within our companies and to grow the region economically,” says Scott. “Having that group come together as a base is really important.”

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This month, the cloud-based platform is expected to be up and running.

“In terms of the work that’s being done in that project, within the next week or so we will have this community data platform in place where we’ll be able to bring in large data sets and mix data sets to be able to answer questions and solve challenges with data all in one place,” says Scott.

“It’s a really good foundation for being able to apply smart city technology to solve challenges with the tools and the data ecosystem that we’ve created specifically to support the success of this.”

Like both Moncton and Fredericton, Saint John is currently reaching out to stakeholders and groups to get ideas and insight on what area its proposal should focus on.

So far the city has narrowed it down to six focus areas: economic opportunity; empowerment and inclusion; environmental quality; healthy living and recreation; mobility and safety and security. Last week they also launched a survey for the public to fill out to get more additional ideas. The survey received nearly 150 responses in just a few days after launching.

“One of the things that’s really got me excited here is the level of interest in what we’re doing,” says Neil Jacobson, Saint John’s deputy city manager. “We had a stakeholders session, we had different folks from a number parts and sectors in the community and we had some great input at that session. Then we wanted to go out and get some broader public input and I know we’re getting a strong response already to the survey.”

The surveys need to be completed by Friday, March 9.

Though winning the Smart Cities Challenge would be great, Jacobson says the process of putting a proposal together itself is significant. He says the challenge is serving as a catalyst for the city to explore different ideas and projects, whether Saint John wins the grant or not.

“One of the things that have emerged to-date is we have a series of themes that have come out from the initial round of consultation … But as you look at those themes there seem to be different champions or different folks in the community that are merging around some of those,” says Jacobson.

“I think some of those will already have a life on their own or will build a life on their own … I really think the level of engagement and the feedback we receive today will support the Smart and Connected Communities Data Project and there may be some smaller projects that emerge through that. I think some of them will build a life of their own.”

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