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Smart Cities Challenge: An opportunity to grow spatial data infrastructures

The Government of Canada recently announced the winners of the first-ever Smart Cities Challenge competition. All the winning projects have some geographic data component and thus will be developing applications and technologies for sharing geospatial data, which is the cornerstone of a Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI). Read this blog to see who the Challenge winners are and how they will be sharing geospatial data within their community to improve people’s lives.

Canada’s Minister of Infrastructure and Communities recently announced the four winners of Canada’s first-ever Smart Cities Challenge, a pan-Canadian competition encouraging communities of all sizes to submit proposals to connect technology and data to improve the lives of Canadians.

The four winning communities who will receive funding to implement their visions are

 1) Town of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia

 2) Nunavut Communities, Nunavut

 3) City of Guelph and Wellington County, Ontario

 4) City of Montréal, Québec

The Smart Cities Challenge had four key goals: to realize outcomes for residents, empower communities to innovate, forge new partnerships and networks, and then spread the benefit to all Canadians.

I was particularly impressed with the project submitted by the City of Montréal. Its project will take action to modernize systemic urban issues, including mobility of people and access to food for those in need. The project will develop technology to offer Montréalers more efficient and sustainable transportation alternatives to reduce automobile dependency and improve access to local services, most notably improved access to sources of food.

The City of Montréal developed a very informative video for their proposal to the Smart Cities Challenge. The video explains very well the need for collecting, integrating and sharing geospatial data for making proper decisions.

Of special significance is the City of Montréal's short video, which is very informative, clear and concise and submitted as part of their proposal. In particular, I really liked how the City expressed in this video, the need for data collection and sharing in order to improve the residents’ and stakeholders’ decision-making process.

The video states: “Data is a powerful tool to make better-informed decisions. However, current data tends to be fragmented … This is why our proposal includes the development of two data hubs, where relevant data sources will be put together, made accessible and ready for analysis ... As we increasingly rely on data to make better decisions ...”

The statement above is a microcosm of broader comments that I often hear from government policy and decision-makers. For example, “we made the decision based on our instincts because we just didn’t have access to the right data”; or, “we had the data for the decision, but it was not in an accessible form, so we ended up making a decision based on subjective information.”

This is precisely why a Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) is such an important component of the technical infrastructure of any level or size of government. An SDI makes data for decisions easily available and accessible. Also an SDI facilitates the creation, exchange and use of geospatial data and related information resources across an information-sharing community. It requires institutional arrangements, policies and technical standards. Operationally, it needs to facilitate the capture, management, maintenance, integration, distribution and use of spatial information.

SDIs can be developed, operated and managed by any level of government. The key is to use common interoperability standards and practices to allow seamless data sharing across all SDIs. In Canada, the CGDI defines the high-level standards, protocols and policies.

As can be seen from the above diagram, every SDI in each information sharing group should be able to share their geospatial information with all the other information sharing groups at any level. For example, the City of Montréal needs to be able to share its geospatial data with neighbouring municipalities, Hydro Québec and the Québec provincial government. Each province needs to be able to share their data with the federal government, so adherence to national  Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (CGDI) policies and standards are critical to the smooth implementation of the SDI, which can be implemented easily and quickly using Esri Canada technology.

The concept is that if a government or data sharing community uses the defined Canadian SDI standards to share data with another government or data sharing community, by default, they will be able to share their data with other agencies as well. This interoperability creates enormous efficiencies and benefits for both the data providers and the data users.

So, congratulations to the City of Montreal for being the big winner of the first Smart Cities Challenge, and we look forward to seeing the results of the project. To other organizations: even if you did not win a Smart Cities Challenge prize, now is the time for every government and data sharing community in Canada to begin developing or improving their existing SDI to allow seamless sharing of maps and applications with their residents and stakeholders.

About the Author

Gordon Plunkett is the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) Director at Esri Canada. He has more than 30 years of experience in GIS and Remote Sensing in both the public and private sectors. He currently sits as a member of the Community Map of Canada Steering Committee, GeoAlliance Canada Interim Board of Directors, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Technical Committee, the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Committee on Geomatics, the University of Laval Convergence Network Advisory Committee and the Advisory Board to the Carleton University Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre. During his career, Gordon has worked on projects in more than 20 countries and has contributed to numerous scientific conferences and publications. At Esri Canada, he is responsible for developing and supporting the company’s SDI vision, initiatives and outreach, including producing content for the SDI blog.

Profile Photo of Gordon Plunkett