Mississauga: Canada’s Rapidly Growing Smart City

Shawn Slack

Technically speaking, Mississauga is the most populous suburb in North America. As part of Toronto’s urban sprawl, it is home to nearly 800,000 people. As the City of Mississauga’s chief information officer, I’m proud to tell its story and get the word out that Mississauga is a great place to live, work, and play.

From humble beginnings, Mississauga has quietly emerged in the past 20 years as one of the world’s most noteworthy breeding grounds for “smart city” innovation, using digital technology and Internet connectivity to run more smoothly and be more responsive to citizens.

Other cities might be doing things that are more exotic and exciting – the Masdar City Project in the United Arab Emirates springs to mind – but from a functional point of view, we’re highly encouraged by what Mississauga is achieving.

You could say the seed was planted in the late 1990s, when Mississauga became one of the first cities to install a fiber infrastructure for voice and data services. That network has grown to comprise more than 150 sites, with enough strand fiber to circle the planet! We all know how much technology has advanced since then, and the City of Mississauga has based its strategy on collaborating with companies and innovators at the cutting edge.

We’ve found that the best strategy is to not over-specify our connected community vision, but rather to watch what companies like Apple, Bell, Cisco, Google, Microsoft, and others can do before figuring out how that fits within our broader goals. Following that path over a number of years, we now find ourselves in the midst of a number of progressive initiatives that are genuinely making Mississauga a better place to live for those willing to embrace today’s technology.

Mississauga’ progress is not going unnoticed. We’re generating excitement across Canada and even globally, attracting international investment, serving on advisory panels for the federal government, and welcoming partners from around the world eager to demonstrate their technology in our city.

Let’s look at some of the projects that are putting Mississauga on the map.

Wi-fi ubiquity

The bedrock for any aspiring smart city, ubiquitous high speed wi-fi is the glue that holds it all together. We have rolled out free wi-fi across Mississauga in arenas, libraries, campuses, and many other buildings, and now have plans to introduce it in streets, corridors, and parks. Citizens are using our free wi-fi service 20,000 times (200,000 hours of service) each month, and it’s having a notable effect on tourism, events like the Pan American Games and Summer Olympics, local businesses, post-secondary schools, and the quality of city services.

Smart traffic management and transit

We expect the population of Mississauga to increase significantly over the next 30 years with the construction of the Light Rail Transit System (a $1.4 billion investment starting in 2018) and continued development in the city’s downtown and business corridors. One of the biggest challenges that level of growth brings is keeping transit running efficiently. Today, with the pressures of GTA-wide traffic and congestion, six million people can travel through and around our city every day—and if you’re one of those six million, you know the challenge is already present.

We are well into implementation of our advanced traffic management system, a network of 750 traffic light sensors linked to a data analysis dashboard—the traffic management center. This investment enables real-time adjustments in response to traffic issues identified by connected intersection sensors and traffic cameras. It also creates the opportunity for efficiencies like priority access (automatic green lights) to snowplows and sanders during the winter season.

Mississauga’s Transitway system is a dedicated road for priority bus services connected by transit stations around the city, each with fully automated bus signage, security, and wi-fi. This is the IoT foundation, which opens up a new world of possibilities in location intelligence. The City of Mississauga already publishes its real-time bus location as a live open data set, which creates opportunities for others to create apps or solutions. A bus app that’s connected to our real-time open data feed could, among other things, tell you about an art exhibit at the next stop or update you with pinpoint accuracy on when the next bus will arrive. So real-time next bus signage and information is already here– now there’s excitement over what can happen next!

Smart streetlights

Our cloud-based, city-wide network of LED streetlights includes radios and sensors that determine when they should be brighter or dimmer and alert us when they need replacing. It’s a great way to cut light pollution and equipment and maintenance costs. It also significantly reduces the cost of electricity and helps reduce our overall carbon footprint.

Smart waterways

Some areas of Mississauga are prone to major flooding, so a sensor network in our waterways detects any threats from heavy rainfall or pipe leaks and sends automated alerts. This gives city workers and emergency responders the time and information they need to prepare and limit the impact as much as possible—preventative maintenance in its purest form.

To learn more, read our IT Master Plan, and join me, along with leaders and technologists from cities around the world, at the SAP Smart Cities Forum in Toronto on March 7.

Shawn Slack

About Shawn Slack

Shawn Slack is the Director of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer for the City of Mississauga.