City seeks input on smart city projects

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Business owners ask for faster Internet speed

A smart city needs better bandwidth, said several business owners invited to a city luncheon Thursday where they discussed St. Albert’s Smart City Projects.

Smart cities are considered communities that use technology to improve the services they provide to residents and businesses. St. Albert is now creating a rough draft for a smart city master plan in 2016. For that, the city is asking for input from residents and business owners.

On Tuesday, city planners heard that providing businesses with high-speed Internet would be a good place to start. “Many of the businesses that are here now need more bandwidth,” one attendee said.

St. Albert has already started on a number of smart city projects, and others are in the works, said Sarah Batchelor, smart city project associate.

Samples of projects include free wireless Internet access in community facilities, electric vehicle charger stations and interactive maps of capital projects. But as the city grows, there is a need to increase these services, and create more efficiencies, she said.

She listed a number of smart city projects from other cities across the world. These included a smart home project in Amsterdam, where residents can remotely control products in their home and save money on energy use. Or New York City, where residents can share their ideas for the city on a website.

Now St. Albert wants to know “what the smart city means to you and what would you like to see,” she said.

Attendees came up with several ideas for smart city uses. Some said the city could use a smart city app with information on retailers, restaurants and services that also shows who is looking for employees.

Another person said the city should use technology to make it more attractive to new businesses. That could include sharing city data with the public, or creating a way of showing businesses where to target their advertising by mapping high traffic or pedestrian volumes.

“St. Albert has proven itself as one of the best business places,” one man said. “But we haven’t really proven ourselves as one of the best places to work because we commute.”

One person suggested creating a police app where residents and businesses can share information about break-ins in real time. The app could also help with reporting potential crime issues, such as bags discovered in unlocked cars, or doors left ajar in an empty building.

Often, the discussion returned to the issue of low bandwidth, though. One business owner said the city could attract young people by offering faster Internet services. Another said the city could create a technology centre to house businesses in need of “extreme bandwidth.”

And another person said that faster Internet speed could help attract new businesses. “You have to encourage them, you have to give them what they need,” he said.

The business owners also warned the city not to double services already available, and to start out with small steps to “get people used to the idea.” And they said that it’s not enough to develop applications. Others must hear about them, too, they said.

“It’s not a matter that these applications just appear,” one person said. “You have to market them to the city and to other cities and develop a recognition.”

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