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Making Winnipeg a Smart City With New Technologies

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By Sumeep Bath, Geoffrey Gunn, Madeline Stanley, Jennifer Temmer, November 7, 2018

As global populations continue to migrate to cities in search of economic opportunities and higher living standards, the world’s urban centres are continually growing.

However, in a time of limited resources, cities need to actively manage their own sustainable growth. In other words, cities need to get smart.

A smart city is an urban area that uses new technologies and data collection mechanisms to collect information about how the city is working—and then uses it to improve the efficiency of that city’s systems and valuable assets, all in the name of sustainability.

For example, among its many "smart" initiatives, New York City has implemented an internet of things (IoT) system whereby various sources of data, from microwave sensors to traffic video cameras and EZPass readers, are analyzed to alter traffic signals in real time to ease congestion issues in NYC’s busy midtown area and reduce cars’ emissions. Many cities, including Stockholm, London and Singapore have adopted innovative solutions to make their cities more sustainable.

The Peg’s population has grown to 765,800 from 657,800 in the last 10years and is well on course to hitting a million in the next decade.

Winnipeg, in the heart of Canada, is no stranger to fast-growing populations. Thanks mostly to immigration, The Peg’s population has grown to 765,800 from 657,800 in the last 10 years, and is well on course to hitting a million in the next decade.

Nevertheless, Winnipeg still faces a multitude of urban challenges ranging from unreliable public transport to inequitable access to health care. Despite some worthy attempts, Winnipeg also lags behind its Canadian cousins when it comes to implementing smart, city-wide solutions.

To move towards smart city status, however, Winnipeg does not need to reinvent the wheel, given the number of existing smart solutions already out there for cities.

We asked four members of our Winnipeg team how they would tackle some of Winnipeg’s most pressing issues and this is what they came up with.

HEALTH CARE

Jennifer Temmer: Use big data to organize and better target health outreach and education campaigns in libraries.

“In many communities, including those across Winnipeg, libraries have become important public spaces for everything from socializing to accessing the internet. As books and DVDs make way for e-readers and movie streaming services, libraries need to remain relevant.

One unique way to do this would be to take advantage of smart technologies and the power of big data. By connecting library card data with provincial health card data (all of which would be anonymous), community health providers could learn from which health issues library users in certain communities are suffering and then develop targeted approaches for public health education and community interventions on a library-by-library basis.”

ENVIRONMENT

Madeline Stanley: Use sensors and the Internet of Things to detect water quality and sewage spills into Winnipeg’s waterways.

“Manitoba is the land of 100,000 lakes, but here in Winnipeg we continue to release raw sewage into our rivers and lakes. In fact, raw sewage leaks into our waterways daily and we don’t hear about these issues until there is a news flash or extensive harmful algal blooms form on Lake Winnipeg.

When monitoring a lake, the Internet of Things refers to the multitude of sources of data on the health and status of the lake—from photos posted on social media to trackers implanted in fish.

We can learn from the City of Stockholm, which has implemented a source-to-sewer Internet of Things network of sensors to monitor water quality (such as pH, temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen) throughout the city’s water system. Data is collected in real time and analyzed with big data analytics to inform and warn city officials about bacterial contamination in drinking water, wastewater release, pollution or algal bloom production so that they can make quick, smart decisions.

To move towards smart city status Winnipeg does not need to reinvent the wheel, given the number of existing smart solutions already out there for cities.

There is a large opportunity for the City of Winnipeg to implement an IoT network throughout our source-to-sewage network. For example, if a sensor detects contamination downstream of a wastewater facility the analytical network could respond by adding chemical treatment or shutting gates to the downstream ecosystem. The integration of these technologies, which are relatively low cost, may resolve some of the largest contributors of point source pollution to downstream ecosystems, such as Lake Winnipeg.”

ENERGY

Geoffrey Gunn: Make buildings smarter to make Winnipeg more energy efficient.

“Although Manitoba’s electric grid is almost entirely powered by renewable hydroelectricity, fully half of our winter energy use still comes from natural gas and fossil fuels. Luckily there are more ways than ever to be smarter about our energy use.

Smart thermostats can now learn how to heat and cool buildings more efficiently and direct heat to the places it’s needed, and in new neighbourhoods we can choose efficient district heating powered by biomass or geothermal systems.

Digital technology empowers networks by linking sensors to controllers with WiFi or cellular technologies. These micro-networks heat rooms, houses and even office buildings more efficiently because they develop more realistic models of airflow and what the needs of users are.

More practically, we can look to innovative projects like the Prince George District Energy System that uses low-carbon biomass to heat multiple buildings across downtown, saving 1,900 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year. This technology used to be more common in industrial facilities, but innovative cities are re-examining it as a way to reduce their carbon footprint and to save money.”

Smart technologies could help Winnipeggers get a better real-time understanding of how long they have to wait for a bus to arrive, so they can plan their trips better, and reduce waiting times, especially in the winter.

TRANSIT

Sumeep Bath: Make Winnipeg Transit more efficient by monitoring usage in real time.

“Despite enjoying a growing population—by an average of 1.7% per year since 2013—Winnipeg’s transit system has been experiencing declines in ridership for the last few years.

While reasons for this decline abound, what is clear is that healthy use of a reliable public transportation system could help Winnipeg to ease traffic congestion issues (and reduce greenhouse gas emissions); allow those with a low income to navigate the city better; and promote tourism.

Smart technologies could help Winnipeggers get a better real-time understanding of how long they have to wait for a bus to arrive, and where their bus is currently located, so they can plan their trips better, and reduce waiting times, especially in the winter.

This can be achieved by placing GPS tracking devices in buses to monitor their actual locations—real-time information that is then accessible via the existing Winnipeg Transit app and informs Google Maps. To improve sophistication, a complement could be using Internet of Things technology to track riders’ cell phone movement to better locate buses, as well as harvesting information from riders’ social media posts regarding transit movements and late arrivals.”