Digital Kitchener: Putting Smart City Concepts Into Action

Dan Murray

Many Canadians might not realize it, but in their neighborhood parks, soil sensor networks will soon tell the city parks department when specific trees need watering. Although Kitchener doesn’t yet boast a “connected trees” system, the city has taken on numerous smart city initiatives over the past few years that have contributed to its already burgeoning reputation as a tech powerhouse in Canada.

If you live in or visit Kitchener, you may see or hear about our plans for a network of 18,325 energy-efficient streetlights. You may also know about our work with world-class tech leaders and incubators in the city, or our crowdsourcing project to test the speed and quality of Internet connections across the city.

In January 2017, all this progress was pulled together under a new four-year Digital Kitchener strategy – a vision to build a smarter, more connected city using innovative digital tools, engaging our residents and working with community partners.

Digital Kitchener is about building a connected, innovative, inclusive and on-demand city. This means establishing digital infrastructure to support features like our recent tax and utility billing system, which helps citizens connect to efficient city services. Our infrastructure helps streamline billing and financial processes and improves customer service.

In April 2017, Kitchener will introduce an online portal that offers customers 24-7 access to their property tax and utility accounts. They will be able to track utility consumption, request online customer service, submit meter readings, and more.

Digital Kitchener involves more than third-party tools and tech. The new online billing service shows how tools can help establish infrastructure for a smart city. At its core, Digital Kitchener is about using infrastructure, resources, and relationships to connect residents to their government and to each other.

Investment in public wi-fi access, including at all city facilities and major green spaces, is another example of how a Digital Kitchener will offer information when and where people want it. We’re also exploring additional possibilities of a narrowband LED streetlight network. We already stand to save $1 million a year (it will have paid for itself in just over eight years), and energy costs will be cut by 15%. Now we’re looking into how streetlight sensors could help to organize everything from parking and traffic to black ice detection and storm water management.

The other big part of building a Digital Kitchener – the bit where startups and our tech community comes in – is the Civic Innovation Lab. Situated in the Communitech Hub, it’s the place where city staff and local innovators get together to develop new services and products for our smart city.

This allows us to bring our ideas and thoughts to the tech community and have them weigh in. And we’re not just talking about any old tech community here – Kitchener-Waterloo has been called “Silicon Valley of the North” and “Startup City,” and is home to the likes of Google and SAP. Adding further excitement to this great reputation is the soon-to-be-opened Catalyst137, which will be the world’s largest IoT manufacturing facility.

There is much potential coming from the growth of IoT and many opportunities to look at how we can do things differently. The path we’re taking — laying the digital foundations and working with the tech community to see what it can do — means we’ll be able to make the most of it. It’s an exciting time to be a technologist, especially in a city like Kitchener.

To learn more, visit the Digital Kitchener website and hear my colleagues Alex Ahkoon and Joyce Evans talk at SAP Smart Cities Forum on March 7. Join the City of Kitchener, alongside leaders and technologists from cities around the world, at the SAP Smart Cities Forum in Toronto on March 7.

Dan Murray

About Dan Murray

Dan Murray is Director of Technology Innovation and Services at the City of Kitchener, a thrivving city located in Southern Ontario, Canada, with a population of 230,000.