What innovative, data-based technology solutions would you implement to improve the lives of your fellow residents for a chance to win a $50 million federal grant for your city? That is the question the Canadian government posed in November 2017 when Infrastructure Canada initiated the Smart Cities Challenge, a competition for all cities and communities across the country to propose ideas for a chance to win four grants valued at a combined total of $75 million. Infrastructure Canada aims to promote best practices in data-driven networked technologies and methods because they help cities offer enhanced services for residents. That makes cities more vibrant, full of rich experiences and enhanced quality of life.

What is the Smart Cities Challenge, and why should your community participate? What are some self-assessment questions to start the conversation and get the application process started? The competition deadline is April 24, and even for those communities that haven’t yet started, there is still time to assemble ideas to make cities smarter.

Why Do Cities Need Data-Driven Solutions?

Canada is a large country with a small population and rich resources scattered throughout its vast land mass. Since its founding, our brave spirit, innovative thinking and early adoption of technologies have been catalysts for our agriculture, natural resources, energy exports and strong industrial base. Whether it was the hydroelectric dams and rural electrification efforts, extraction of resources, railroads, the TransCanada highway or the telephone network, our communities prospered through access to modern infrastructure and services regardless of location.

We would be wise to continue this strategy as we explore the future of computing and automation. As networks and computers have become faster and technologies measuring and collecting data are now more advanced, connected-technology solutions can help our cities and communities work smarter and bring faster, cleaner and more affordable services to residents. Those that adopt smart technology have the potential to be more efficient and keep tax rates in check while creating vibrant, safe and interconnected communities. Smart cities will attract top talent, which will start innovative businesses and keep the next generation engaged and at home.

Helping Communities of All Sizes Benefit

Infrastructure Canada initiated the challenge with an investment of $300 million over the next 11 years toward grants for the best projects that demonstrate proven concepts using data and interconnected technology. The Canadian government will use a new outcome-based funding model that promises to deliver meaningful results by shifting the traditional emphasis on process and output toward one in which payments are tied to the achievement of measurable economic, environmental and/or social outcomes. The first of the awards includes four grants:

  • 1 prize of up to $50 million
    Open to all communities, regardless of population
  • 2 prizes of up to $10 million each
    Open to all communities with populations under 500,000
  • 1 prize of up to $5 million
    Open to all communities with populations under 30,000

Regardless of size, all communities have an opportunity to improve the lives of their residents through innovation, data and connected smart technology. This includes the indigenous communities (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) across Canada.

The first stage of selected communities will be awarded preliminary funds to pilot their ideas and prove their concepts. The finalist communities will earn grants to implement their proven smart city pilots at scale. Infrastructure Canada states that depending on the winning proposals’ scope and the work involved, the implementations could take from two to five years. After the first round of competition has been implemented, it is expected the competition processes will be repeated two times over the next 11 years with additional grants.


Getting Started with Self-Assessment

Community leaders nationwide have an opportunity to take advantage of the incentives and support being offered by Infrastructure Canada to get residents involved in a grass-roots movement to develop innovative ideas for improving city services and addressing the future needs of residents. The intent is for municipalities to develop their smart cities approaches with help from stakeholders and residents so that any projects submitted have resident buy-in and address their needs and challenges.

Some basic self-assessment questions for cities and communities:

  • How could technology improve on the existing processes related to smart infrastructure?
  • Does your community have an app to report issues, see schedules, pay bills, etc.?
  • Are there municipal assets that are not being fully utilized?
  • Do emergency response teams have maps and demographics to better respond to calls?
  • Is there Wi-Fi network access in popular public areas to encourage use of web-based services?

If you're a resident, then check with your city or community's website or call in to the city’s information line to find smart city initiatives. For example, the cities of Calgary and Edmonton have great initiatives underway. Here are some other cities’ responses to the challenge:


Explore our smart city ideas and initiatives.

Explore Our Perspective

Ahsan Upal is a regional manager with Burns & McDonnell responsible for Canadian business development and leading engineering, project management and regulatory teams for major electrical distribution and transmission projects across Canada and the United States.