Smart Communities Take Flight In New Brunswick

Image: A CivicTech Fredericton meeting at The Ville Cooperative. Facebook page.

More than 120 people took part in The Cities of New Brunswick Association first Smart Communities Symposium March 28 in Fredericton.

People from New Brunswick municipalities, and private sector and provincial officials listened to several speakers, as well as 20 two-minute pitches by smart businesses from Atlantic Canada and Alberta.

Three primary takeaways from the event are the sense of cooperation pride and cooperation we have in this province, the value of quality Internet access in rural areas, and the great potential for public and private partnerships.

Private companies and citizens who care about their communities are playing a lead role in developing smart applications and technologies to help address social, environmental and economic challenges. Several examples of this dynamic are present in Fredericton.

CivicTech Fredericton is a community-based initiative that facilitates knowledge sharing and collaboration between citizens, organizations, government innovators and the tech community. Every Tuesday night people meet at The Ville in Fredericton to share and discuss local issues that can be solved with technology.

Since November, the group has created three applications that provide value to Fredericton citizens:

  • A river watch application that monitors water level and current forecast
  • A caring calendar that links donors to causes that matter, and
  • A meal planning tool that will include healthy recipes created by the Greener Village chef.

CivicTech Fredericton is part of national network of CivicTech and open data groups that includes cities like Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. To date, Fredericton is the only Atlantic Canada based group, we all hope that changes over time.

The importance of having quality Internet access in rural areas was stressed at the symposium by Barb Scully, Intelligent Community Coordinator at Parkland County, Alberta, and a board member of Intelligent Community Forum.

Urban dwellers generally take fast and reliable Internet access for granted, however, that is not the case in smaller rural communities.

Benefits for rural and small community residents can include growing home-based businesses, distance learning, workforce training and virtual farmer’s markets. In addition to commercial opportunities, quality rural internet services can help improve social inclusion such as helping seniors and young students access technology.

An important lesson from these kinds of initiatives is that many solutions are better designed and built at a small, local scale versus a large scale by multi-national companies – it is easier to scale up than down. This dynamic offers two substantial benefits for New Brunswick municipalities and businesses:

  1. Developing applications and technologies by local businesses for local communities will help develop regional expertise in the field that can be scaled up and out to meet market demands in similar size markets like Bangor, Maine Burlington, Vermont and Brandon, Manitoba. Not necessarily Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
  2. By paying local vendors for these technologies, municipalities help keep more money in our local economy versus exporting the dollars to places like Silicon Valley and Toronto.

By working with New Brunswick based businesses like Hot Spot, ReadyPass, ThermaRay and SimpTek, municipalities help grow the local economy and provide a foundation for export potential, ultimately creating more jobs in our province.

The market potential for these local businesses is substantial as recently discussed in this recent Huddle contribution.

Smart communities are taking flight now in New Brunswick from Edmundston to Dieppe and Bathurst to Saint Andrews, and all points in between.

We can play a role in defining and developing how technology can help improve our social, economic and environmental fabric, not just in our own backyard, but also around the planet.

We will be much better off if we export these technologies than importing them – if we don’t do it, someone else will.

Peter Corbyn is managing the Cities of New Brunswick Association Smart Communities Project, an initiative open to all municipalities and regions in our province. Corbyn has focused on various aspects of sustainability and technology for more than 25 years. He lives in Hanwell, New Brunswick.

This is the third and final piece in a series about the Smart Communities Symposium.

Part 1How Smart Cities and Communities Could Be As Revolutionary as the Smart Phone
Part 2These N.B. Businesses Could Prosper in a High Growth Smart City Economy