The federal government is poised to launch the Smart Cities Challenge– inviting municipalities and Indigenous communities across the country to use “technology and data to improve livability and opportunities for the city and its people.” Ottawa is prepared to put up $300 million in awards for the communities that put the most innovative foot forward.

The Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships (CCPPP) has been promoting this type of challenge for some time.  It’s not a new idea, but it’s an excellent one.

Glasgow won the UK Future Cities Competition in 2013. Columbus, Ohio took top honours in the 2016 U.S. Smart Cities Challenge. Both cities focused their attention on relieving their increasing transportation stresses. The plans are based on integrated data exchanges that improve everything from traffic flow, to air quality, to pedestrian safety, to journey planning.
In the parlance of the new millennium, the Smart City Challenge encourages cities, towns, and First Nations communities to disrupt themselves. It gives them permission and incentive to break out of the “we’ve always done it this way” trap.

We’re confident the public–private partnership industry will play an important role as the Smart City plans unfold. The model lends itself to the development of the new, innovative, high-tech design that will connect infrastructure and services.

Done correctly, hundreds of millions of dollars in investment in innovation could easily initiate billions of dollars in inventive, if not visionary, new approaches to infrastructure design and service delivery.

You need look no further than the United States for proof. Transportation innovations form the backbone of the Columbus Smart City vision. The goal is to relieve traffic congestion and reduce fatal collisions. Information collected from traffic signals is analyzed to determine the most dangerous and accident-prone intersections. That information alerts drivers, or eventually autonomous vehicles, as they approach the area.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther says, “Transportation is not just about roads, transit, and ride sharing. It’s about how people access opportunity. And how they live.”

Pittsburgh was among the Smart City challengers, finishing second in the U.S. competition. But runner-up status didn’t stop America’s Steeltown from making good use of all the great ideas it generated.

Mayor Bill Peduto’s team didn’t miss a beat, continuing to pursue their Smart City initiatives that include the integration of autonomous driving and renewable energy.

Austin, Texas also “lost” the Challenge. But Mayor Steve Adler says the Smart City work continues. “We are not taking our ball and going home,” says Mayor Adler. “We’re going to take the field and reinvent the game. We have the team in place. We have ambitious goals.”

Austin is developing new transportation technologies that not only move Austin more efficiently, they also translate into better access to health care services and improved public safety.

This is new frontier for the infrastructure industry. Its innate innovative spirit will require new and disruptive thinking. It will necessitate new eyes and bold ideas to ensure Smart City infrastructure and services provide the best value for our money. It will also force us to review, renew, and evolve our definition of public-private partnerships.

We are heading down a road where thinking “big and beyond” won’t be the exception — it will be the expectation in order to ensure our Smart Cities are safe, healthy, accessible, and prosperous cities.