Finding Municipal Partners for Emerging Tech: Stratford, Ontario, Ready to Experiment
Who will you meet?
Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.
Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.
When it’s time to prove out CAV and IoT technologies, devices and platforms for autonomous vehicles, wireless networks and intelligent traffic systems, how do you partner with a city? Whose infrastructure, city streets and citizenry are ready and willing to accommodate? What are the best partnership models to collaborate?
In short, what does a good municipal partner look like? Sometimes it can be a small or medium-sized city that it is nimble enough and ready to experiment.
Stratford, Ontario, is one such city.
Stratford is a small rural city with a population of 32,000. Both a cultural centre and tech anomaly, it is ringed with prime farmland and attracts over a million tourists annually, many to attend its world renowned Stratford Festival, North America’s largest repertory theatre. A global award-winning smart city and “Pork Capital of Canada”, Stratford is a New York Times top tourism destination, CAV development centre, international banking IT centre and most recently, home to the University of Waterloo’s new Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business.
A heady mix packed into 10 square miles.
Just half an hour across rolling corn fields and dairy pastures from tech giant Waterloo, Ontario, Stratford has worked hard to attract new digital opportunities. “We have positioned ourselves as a ‘living lab’ for digital technologies to be proven out and scaled up in real living conditions,” says Stratford’s Mayor Dan Mathieson.
“We are buffered from urban sprawl and bureaucratic complexities, with a manageable 25 square kilometre footprint, yet close to major technology centres. Plus we have this fully functioning fibre-wireless hybrid mesh network spanning the city.”
They built it, and they’re coming
Stratford is taking a broad yet targeted approach to its economic development strategy. Major players like the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association (APMA), Renesas, QNX (Blackberry), Toshiba, Motorola, Hitachi, the University of Waterloo’s WatCAR program and others have already launched live projects in the city. The Government of Ontario designated Stratford as the Province’s official Demonstration Zone for a five-year Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network in partnership with the APMA, its partners and Ontario Centres of Excellence. The city is taking a triple-helix collaborative approach.
After a successful WatCAR pilot project in a vacant parking lot (in the dead of winter, of course) Renesas America built a four-acre CAV test site, the first of its kind in Canada, on the edge of town with a three-year lease, “and we have every intention of extending beyond that,” says John Buszek, Senior Manager, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. “We’re starting with a 10,000 m2 pad with lanes, signals, mannequins and outbuildings, and we will expand as needed.”
The City’s part was making land, power and connectivity available for the site, which City Hall arranged by lowering red tape as much as possible. “The consistent reaction we get among companies we work with is, ‘Wow, here’s a municipality that gets this, wants this, and will work with us.’” says Mathieson. “We have both the network and the ethos for testing and scaling autonomous vehicle and IoT technologies. So we’re saying to Canadian, US, and Japanese technology companies, ‘Come play in our sandbox.’”
To meet a diverse mix of international leaders, Mathieson is attending the Meeting of the Minds’ Mobility Summit in Ann Arbor this month and hosting a dinner for a select group of CAV and IoT thought leaders.
The Path to 5G
Today’s cutting edge technology is tomorrow’s legacy system. Can a municipal government, let alone a public utility company, maintain a margin of leadership in innovation? Infrastructure ages quickly.
“Actually, we think of this as future-proofing,” says Ysni Semsedini, CEO of both the city-owned electrical utility, Festival Hydro, and its data network utility, Rhyzome Networks. “It’s a long-view commitment, but when you frame this as a business case with a decade-long timeline (instead of quarter-to-quarter), it illustrates the advantages of owning your own infrastructure.
“Our strategy is to stay five years ahead of widespread technology adoption. In this world, you need that kind of lead time for development, testing approvals, etc. Technology companies are looking for those conditions where they can keep their options open and make course corrections.
“So we built our fibre/Wi-Fi mesh network in 2010, we upgraded our IEEE 802.11 hardware last year, we’re piloting DSRC now with a citywide rollout in 2019, and we’re currently in discussions with preferred partners (telecom companies) to develop a 5G mesh network and other trials using our infrastructure.”
And what would a public-private 5G collaboration with a telecom company look like? “Too early to say,” Semsedini replies, “but one possibility would be integrating a telco’s back end data system with our front-end mesh network. The lines can be drawn in different places.”
Given that Wi-Fi can’t keep pace with a moving vehicle, DSRC is still developing and 5G is a way off, how do you commit to a platform?
Maybe you don’t, just yet.
“I foresee autonomous vehicles needing to connect with multiple systems,” says Semsedini. “It’ll never be homogenous, so you’ll have vehicles going from perhaps Wi-Fi to DSRC to 5G, and so on.
“Stratford’s advantage is we already have fibre and mesh network infrastructure in place so we can test 5G’s 300-metre range and higher speeds by dropping 5G hardware into our Wi-Fi housings connected to the fibre. We have those options.”
Cross Border Coordination Counts
At a higher level, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed an MOU of mutual support and collaboration to promote the region’s competitiveness and closely linked auto industry that represents a quarter of North America’s vehicle production.
With industry, government and academia converging in a city most known for world-class Shakespeare productions and culinary scene, lessons can be taken from the triple helix partnerships and projects courted and coordinated from the City Council chambers and utility company.
“Stratford is a community with a culture that looks for opportunities, is proactive about infrastructure, invested and willing to evolve with technology and systems,” says Semsedini.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Since the Great Recession of 2008, the housing wealth gap has expanded to include not just Black and Brown Americans, but younger White Americans as well. Millennials and Generation Z Whites are now joining their Black and Brown peers in facing untenable housing precarity and blocked access to wealth. With wages stuck at 1980 levels and housing prices at least double (in inflation adjusted terms) what they were 40 years ago, many younger Americans, most with college degrees, are giving up on buying a home and even struggle to rent apartments suitable for raising a family.
What makes it hard for policy people and citizens to accept this truth is that we have not seen this problem in a very long time. Back in the 1920s of course, but not really since then. But this is actually an old problem that has come back to haunt us; a problem first articulated by Adam Smith in the 1700s.
More than ever, urban transit services are in need of sustainable and affordable solutions to better serve all members of our diverse communities, not least among them, those that are traditionally car-dependent. New mobility technologies can be a potential resource for local transit agencies to augment multi-modal connectivity across existing transit infrastructures.
We envision a new decentralized and distributed model that provides multi-modal access through nimble and flexible multi-modal Transit Districts, rather than through traditional, centralized, and often too expensive Multi-modal Transit Hubs. Working in collaboration with existing agencies, new micro-mobility technologies could provide greater and seamless access to existing transit infrastructure, while maximizing the potential of the public realm, creating an experience that many could enjoy beyond just catching the next bus or finding a scooter. So how would we go about it?
Dedicated anti-trafficking actors across the nation are trying to build better systems in big jurisdictions like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and in smaller but scrappy jurisdictions like Waco, Texas and Boaz, Alabama. They all share the same need, for stronger interconnectedness as an anti-trafficking field, and more collaboration.
The Forging Freedom Portal is a one-stop shop where a police officer planning a victim-centered operation can connect with their law enforcement counterparts, and the right service providers ahead of time, collaborating to make sure they’re planning for the language skills, social services, and legal support that victims may need. The portal is a place where the people who care most about ending human trafficking, who are doing the hard work every day on the ground, can learn from each other and share best practices to raise the collective standard of this work.