St. Albert will start to become a smarter city in 2017 after council approved a Smart City implementation and policy plan.
Council approved the move at its Nov. 28 meeting, authorizing administration to begin working on some of the lowest-cost and lowest-risk components of the plan next year.
“Some projects will be very small,” innovation and technology services director Gord Coulman explained to council. “They will be low effort, low cost, and in the public perception low risk.”
While council approved the Smart City Master Plan at the Oct. 3, meeting, this was the first look council got at how that plan will be implemented.
Several projects could get underway in 2017, including expanding the municipal-area digital network to more facilities, launching an open-data program, several pilots related to the so-called “Internet of Things,” expanding free Wi-Fi access throughout the city, modernizing some technology within city departments, and direct water-usage information for residents.
As part of the smart city project, city staff has built an online map tool using the existing Geographical Information System (GIS) to show what projects the city has already undertaken. As new projects come online, they will be included on this mapping tool, which is available on the city’s website.
“The intent of this map is to show the value of smart city to residents, and to inform the efforts of other municipalities that follow us closely,” Coulman said.
While council approved the implementation plan, which will be used to guide operational activities and be used for future planning, several councillors expressed reservations about some of the projects included in the long-term plan.
Coun. Sheena Hughes said she was concerned about a part of the plan that would see the city have a specific area designated as an “innovation district.”
Travis Peter, the city’s smart city and innovation manager, explained this proposal is currently not written in stone and would come back before city council for approval as part of the Municipal Development Plan. But he noted encouraging startups to be located in the same area has had benefits in other jurisdictions.
“We’ve seen it nationally and globally, there is a value to a targeted co-location,” he said.
Coun. Bob Russell said he was concerned about what the smart city program is costing the city. Coulman said the only cost, aside from specific capital or operating items council approves on a case-by-case basis, is the time Peter spends – or roughly half of his salary.
Coun. Cam MacKay said he was pleased to see that his biggest concern – the prospect of the city becoming an Internet service provider and competing with private-sector companies – was removed.
“It would have been quite damning for our municipality in the long term,” he said.
He noted the approach Coulman and Peter have taken – avoiding the high-cost and high-risk items – would be helpful in ensuring continued council support.
Hughes said while she had some concerns, she wouldn’t vote against the entire package based on those concerns. But she said she was worried about the potential cost of items slated for 2018 and 2019, given the city’s current projected 10-year capital budget shortfall of more than $300 million.
“What you have planned for the rest of the year seems pretty harmless,” she said. “The more we can make sure this is efficient, the more likely we are to have this plan implemented.”