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Mississauga approves Smart City master plan to guide its digital projects

Mississauga has approved a "Smart City" master plan to guide officials on how to proceed with digital projects, enhance online city services and use technology to improve quality of life.

Plan to help Mississauga become 'more engaged and connected city,' says spokesperson

Shawn Slack, chief information officer for the city of Mississauga, says council has approved a Smart City master plan that will guide its digital projects for the next 10 years. (CBC)

Mississauga has approved a "Smart City" master plan to guide officials on how to proceed with digital projects, enhance online city services and use technology to improve everyday life.

The Smart City master plan, which received final approval from council on Wednesday, is a framework that will enable Mississauga to create a "more engaged and connected city with data and technology" over the next 10 years. The vote follows unanimous endorsement from the city's general committee.

"It's a master plan that will act as a guide for our smart-city initiatives," said Shawn Slack, chief information officer for the city of Mississauga.

In an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning before the vote on the master plan, Slack said Mississauga considers itself a smart city already and has taken steps to transform itself digitally.

The plan defines a smart city as an urban centre that employs technology to provide support to people who live, work and play there. It includes allowing residents to pay bills or register for parks and recreation classes online.

New technology is changing urban planning, Slack said.

"Now that technology is in the public realm, we really have to pay attention to how it can be used to improve the quality of life," he said on Wednesday.

Slack said the smart city projects already underway in Mississauga include:

  • Wireless Mississauga, which is free public internet access at more than 70 WiFi hot spots in the city. In 2018, the city provided eight million hours of free public WiFi, a move that he says was appreciated in particular by post-secondary students.
  • Virtual Campus, in which Mississauga has joined forces with University of Toronto-Mississauga and Sheridan College, with the help of roaming service provider Eduroam, to become a virtual campus. That means students can access their secure educational networks at city facilities where there is free WiFi.
  • A Public Sector Network, which is the largest municipally owned fibre optic network in Canada. More than 800 kilometres of fibre connect more than 290 sites across the city. It was built over the last 20 years in partnership with Brampton, Caledon and Peel Region.

"It's about supporting digital literacy, learning and innovation. We're well positioned to be a smart city going into the future as well," he added.

In a June 26 news release, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said: 'Mississauga is working to become a municipal leader when it comes to leveraging smart technology and innovation to engage our residents and solve some of our city's most pressing issues.' (CBC)

The master plan "declares" five living labs in Malton, Streetsville, Port Credit, Clarkson and downtown Mississauga, highly connected areas where the city plans to test new technology with public involvement.

Slack said the master plan provides a framework that is a "Smart City continuous improvement plan." That means it allows for exploration and gives the city a chance to look at the technology it has already, determine what the technology is capable of and what needs to be replaced, he said. 

He added that the city is looking at "digital sign of the future" that would be on the ground, voice interactive, touch screen, in multiple languages. It could have artificial intelligence capabilities that could provide directions when people speak to the sign, for example. Such a sign could be located near a bus stop, he said.

Mississauga did not win in its category in a 2017 Smart City Challenge by the federal government, involving more than 130 cities competing for $5 million to $50 million in onetime funding, but it has proceeded with smart city plans despite that setback, the master plan says.

'Smart City needs to be city-led'

In an email Wednesday, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said: "A smart Mississauga uses technology as a force for good, to bring people together, create opportunity, help people navigate our city, grow our economy and ultimately make our city more accessible."

The statement also says cities must making integrating technology into their building process "a top priority or risk being left behind."

Asked about the Sidewalk Labs project in Toronto, in which a subsidiary of Google parent-company Alphabet Inc. is making plans for a high-tech neighbourhood on the city's waterfront, Slack said the project doesn't define Toronto but it is clear that corporations, not Toronto city council, are in charge.

"Smart City needs to be city-led. It can't be led by technology," he said. "I think that project just got a little ahead of itself."

The City of Mississauga is hoping to avoid that by being in charge of its digital projects, he added.

"Mississauga will serve as a model of government-led smart city urban development," the plan reads.

With files from Metro Morning

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