Montreal mayoral candidate Denis Coderre has unveiled his vision for the metropolis’s future as a “smart city”, a challenge if ever there was one given Montreal’s history of fraternal swill bucket politics, crumbling infrastructure and bureaucratic lassitude.
With an election coming up on November 3, you can feel Montrealers sense of skepticism towards the political process, tinged with relief that there might be other issues to talk about than simple graft and moral decay. Could technology provide the glimmer of hope that the people of Montreal have so long ago given up even trying to imagine? This is the place, after all, that once housed a beacon of futurism in the form of Expo ’67.
It’s not as if the other mayoral candidates aren’t insightful about the relationship between tech and public life, but Coderre has been especially forceful in emphasizing the need to use technology to make transportation more efficient, to make the municipal political process more transparent and to increase access for citizens to provide feedback to city hall.
Improving water usage, promoting clean energy, increasing access to services and moving towards open standards are all essential components of moving the future from a vague cloud of campaign promises into the reality of here and now.
While his platform is long on promises and short on specifics (like most political platforms in advance of an election), Coderre’s website does point to a banquet of real-world examples demonstrating how tech currently enhances life in other cities, such as the real-time road condition app Waze and Lyon-based cycling navigator Onlymoov’.
Questions of technological improvement aren’t exclusive to large cities either. With smaller municipalities such as Olds, Alberta and cities around the UK taking matters into their own hands regarding high-speed internet service, the relationship between a smoothly functioning administration and ubiquitous fast Wi-Fi is becoming clearer. Cloud-based mobile internet service is increasingly coming to be regarded as just as essential to people’s lives as running water.
Vancouver’s Vision Critical has been running almost twin campaigns involving both private and public means of consulting with consumers on the one hand and citizens on the other, with various focuses on its City Speaks projects being rolled out in municipalities like Surrey and the “My voice” project initiated in collaboration with Montreal’s transit corporation, the STM.
Waterloo-based uber-startup Miovision has also been posing the question “What is a Smart City?” of late. Observing that “the average driver in Paris spends 4 years over their lifetime looking for parking space,” Miovision’s Spectrum technology promises to return at least part of those missing years, quality time in which they could be eating cheese and drinking wine, to people’s lives through shaving a little time off the fruitless and primitive eyeball-based parking search.
“Using novel video detection software and our powerful global optimization algorithm we control traffic signals ensuring that each and every driver spends less time waiting at red lights and more time at their destination,” says Miovision. “We’re working with regions across Canada and the US, including our home the Region of Waterloo, to provide your home towns and cities with this technology.”
Technology has always been used to promote a brighter future. But the future has always seemed about 10 to 15 years away. With the expansion of Big Data, the advent of the “Internet of things”, ubiquitous cloud computing and new ways of consulting the citizenry, is it possible that the future of cities is about to actually arrive?
What’s clear is that technology has to be about much more than simply moving traffic and people more efficiently. Improving water usage, promoting clean energy, increasing access to services and moving towards open standards are all essential components of moving the future from a vague cloud of campaign promises into the reality of here and now.
The race to become Canada’s most tech savvy city, however, should not be confused with global mastery; a recent survey of the world’s 10 most high-tech cities didn’t produce a single Canadian locale, and ranked places like Seoul, Tokyo and Singapore highly.