Envisioning smart cities that work at Elevate

PwC Canada
Sep 20, 2018 · 4 min read

By: Chris Dulny, Chief Innovation Officer, PwC Canada

Most of us have heard the term “smart city” used in different ways, in different contexts — by political leaders, businesspeople, and activists — but what does it really mean?

In theory, a smart city could be a technological utopia: a place where intelligent sensors watch for congested intersections and traffic patterns, or track resource use, so that urban planners and policymakers can address problems with responsive, innovative solutions. But in practice, there are risks involved that could appear decidedly bleak in a worst-case scenario: a city where big data and “Big Brother” start to merge as we supply data in real-time to opaque authorities.

That’s why we need to emphasize human-centred design as we start to build these new, technologically-enabled urban environments. We’re experiencing the highest levels of urbanization since WWI. As cities adapt and innovate, we have an unprecedented opportunity to create urban spaces that use technology and data to not only serve, but also improve society. That’s why we are excited to be creators of the Smart Cities track — alongside Rogers, General Motors and Design Exchange — at Elevate, Canada’s largest tech and innovation festival. As tomorrow’s cities are conceptualized, it’s imperative that both public and private sector leaders bring a critical lens to the table.

To build smart cities, we need smart vision

Major metropolises all over the world are investigating — and investing in — smart city models, but one of the most ambitious projects is taking place in our own backyard. Sidewalk Labs has teamed up with Waterfront Toronto to turn our underused Eastern Waterfront district into a testbed for what a smart, connected community could look like when designed with a truly human-centric approach. I look forward to hearing from Kristina Verner, Vice President of Innovation, Sustainability and Prosperity at Waterfront Toronto and Jesse Shapins, Director of Public Realm and Culture at Sidewalk Labs, at the Smart Cities track at Elevate.

The smart cities that are built in the coming years will be precedent-setting, and it’s going to take a lot of work to get them right. There’s much to consider: How can smart cities bridge the “digital divide” that separates those who have access to technology and those who do not? How can these municipalities be built without alienating the surrounding neighbourhoods and suburbs? Our keynote, Zahra Ebrahim, will be exploring these concerns. Having consulted on public sector and civic innovation with stakeholders in a range of industries, Ebrahim is familiar with the many factors that must be recognized when designing smart urban developments, such as how to include marginalized communities and welcome diverse voices and viewpoints to the table. Having perspectives like hers at the drawing board will allow us to reimagine the smart city, placing inclusion, human interaction and compassion at the forefront of our designs.

Smart cities must first gain our trust

As smart cities become a reality, one of the biggest recurring concerns is privacy. We’ve heard a similar narrative with AI technologies: people tend to anticipate their arrival with equal parts excitement and apprehension. For starters, there are still plenty of uncertainties around how these cities will collect, use, share, and secure our personal information. As a citizen, you’d be right to wonder whether you could opt-in or opt-out of sharing your data. You might also question how such a large and multifaceted network could possibly protect its information — and yours — from malicious hackers.

My colleagues Jordan Prokopy, Director of Cybersecurity and Privacy, and Marin Ivezic, a leading expert on cyber-kinetic threats, will explore these issues in more detail and propose workable solutions. Remember, smart cities require all of us to participate; this session will demonstrate how civic participation is the core tenet that will facilitate better, smarter, and safer environments for everyone.

Of course, government bodies and private sector companies have an equal amount of responsibility: they must work to earn the public’s trust. We’ll discuss how these stakeholders can best educate citizens around how their data will be used, while demonstrating that they are proactively managing and mitigating cybersecurity risks.

We all have a stake in the smart city

At PwC, we’re always proud to see Canadian tech collaborating with both business and policymakers to find new ways to improve people’s lives, from Calgary’s Civic Innovation YYC program to Vancouver’s push for free WiFi city-wide. The federal government’s challenge to Canadian municipalities to start adopting more smart city initiatives was an effective way to foster awareness and start moving these initiatives forward — but of course, equipping an entire city with smart technology is easier said than done.

We know that there are significant challenges involved when implementing large-scale digital transformation including balancing innovation with security, and weighing big ideas against major data regulations and compliance orders. We’ll hear from various tech founders and innovators about the obstacles and opportunities that organizations have to face when driving forward with a digital innovation agenda — especially in areas like connected health, smart buildings, autonomous vehicles and solar energy.

But smart cities are about much more than digital innovation, and this will also be covered in depth. I look forward to welcoming Dr. Sara Diamond, President of OCAD, and Mary Rowe, Urbanist and Community Animator, as they discuss how this concept goes far beyond conventional notions of technology, data, and management, and raises questions of civic engagement, social responsibility, environmental stewardship, and quality of life.

You have a stake in the smart city — the time to join the conversation is now. Join us on September 26th at Elevate Smart Cities, as we engage in conversations with these remarkable leaders and come together to reimagine the future of our urban spaces — so that together we can ensure tomorrow’s cities work for everyone.