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What is a smart community?

We all live in a community somewhere and we all know that there are important issues that need to be tackled to improve our community’s operation and security for both today and into the future. In order to make community living more enjoyable and appealing, many have adopted a smart community plan. So, what is a smart community and why plan for it? Read this blog.

Many cities and communities in Canada have embarked on some form of “smart” initiative. Large communities including Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg have already institutionalized a “smart city” plan. Smaller communities such as Lambton County, Lethbridge and Oshawa have also initiated similar plans. But what does “smart” really mean?

According to the Smart Cities Council, smart cities embody three core values: livability, workability and sustainability. Esri describes smart communities as safe, livable, prosperous, healthy and well-run. Also, smart communities create hubs of innovation that connect people with information and tools to make better decisions that improve quality of life.

More specifically, the Toronto Region Board of Trade defines smart city as “an urban region that uses information and communication technologies (ICT) and digital connectivity to enhance the quality and performance of city services, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens.”

In a smart community, people can quickly find the location of resources and services via mobile apps.

So, what does it take to become a smart community?

Like most projects, three ingredients are needed: people, technology and data.

Every smart community begins with a core group of government executive leaders who work tirelessly to align community resources and efforts to drive change and build their smart community.

Modern technology is, of course, necessary, but it’s important to distinguish between smart technology and smart communities. Smart technology allows users to accomplish amazing tasks, while smart community initiatives need to leverage this smart technology to achieve a particular outcome for their community.

A public mobile map showing the current location of transit buses relative to the user’s location is an example of smart technology for a smart community. Another example is using Survey123 for collecting spatial data within the community.

Apps that provide the location of available parking spots is an example of a smart community application.

Data, particularly spatial data, is an essential component of a smart community initiative. Generally, in a smart community, the data is made available as open data and thus, it can be used by either the government or private sector for apps that improve community living. In most cases, a lot of geospatial data has already been collected, but it needs to be maintained and upgraded as the community grows and changes.

Often, smart communities are starting to use sensors for collecting data. The Internet of Things (IoT) allows in-situ collection of location-based data. These devices generally have a low cost of procurement, installation and collection, plus they have very high data currency (real-time data). For many smart community applications, the collection, analysis and display of some type of sensor data is a necessity. Applications such as weather, lighting, public transit, security, parking, traffic, waste management, snow removal, heating, power utilization and a host of other smart community applications can be improved with the use of IoT technology.

A good example of a Canadian municipality on its way to becoming a smart city is St. Albert in Alberta. It is a community that fosters innovation and collaboration, applies new technologies and data, generates municipal efficiencies, improves service delivery and supports economic growth. The City has launched numerous initiatives to create a more efficient and sustainable community for people to live, work and play in.

The City of St. Albert has published a Story Map Tour that allows users to explore projects and learn more about how St. Albert is becoming a smart city.

Where is all this smart technology and real-time data going to take us?

That’s not clear at the moment, because our smart communities journey is just beginning. However, it’s clear that within the next decade, community life is expected to improve with the development and implementation of smart community plans. And it’s up to you, the GIS practitioner, to make these location-based smart applications function and maintain them once implemented.

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.

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