Hampstead as a Smart City

2015-08-27

Some of you may be aware of the term, “Smart City.” Montreal recently hosted a Smart City Expo with cities from around the world giving talks. In June, I was at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Edmonton and attended a number of discussions on this topic. So what is a Smart City and should Hampstead become one?

The term Smart City refers to many different things. I only have space to talk about one in this message: Open Data. Edmonton is a leader in Open Data. All information is made available to the public unless it is confidential or illegal to release it. That means almost everything is public and it is available in a computer readable format so individuals can work with it and create new information.

Why is this important? First, in a democracy the public should know what elected officials are doing. Transparency tends to reduce corruption. Secondly, when data is public and can be used easily, individuals often create applications that can be very useful and they do it for free.

While Hampstead does make information available on our web site, in eHampstead e-mails, and on Facebook and Twitter, this information is not machine readable, so it cannot be manipulated to create new information or useful apps. Of course, we are also far from putting ALL possible information out, as Edmonton does.

It costs money to make data available and to keep it updated. I would like Hampstead to open up more data but we have exactly one IT professional. Still we might hire another person or contract out, if there are enough people interested in the data. In comparison, Edmonton is over 100 times Hampstead’s size so we must be realistic.

Here are a few ideas of mine but I would like to hear what you think. Many residents would like to know what is coming down the pipeline in terms of demolitions and major renovations. Currently, you must watch for Public Notices and you could easily miss one. The controversy in Montreal about the Alcan building and lack of notice is a good example. If we made available all the data, that we can legally release, you could be as up to date as your council is. You might know months before anything comes to a council meeting or a demolition committee meeting. Equally, we could create an eHampstead topic so those interested in Urban Planning issues would get an e-mail about upcoming demolition and minor exemption requests. This e-mail idea was suggested by Hampstead resident, Syd Cohen.

We could list all the contracts that we sign and the summary info on why council chose the supplier that we did. I think doing that would remove a lot of unwarranted suspicion. In addition, someone might do an analysis looking for patterns that could indicate collusion by bidders.

Council gets monthly finance reports showing how we are doing compared to budget. You could be as aware as the council is and why not? With interested residents as aware as council is, perhaps we could make an app allowing you to vote on where we should allocate budget dollars.

But it all costs money and if there is no interest, we won’t do it. So let me know what you think and I welcome suggestions on other types of data that you might like to see.

I realize that most of you are very busy and happy to leave the running of the town to those elected, as long as the town is run well. However, I find that I get many good ideas from residents, as well as tips about issues that need to be addressed. The more information that we make available, the more residents will be involved and we will all benefit.

If you have any comments or questions on Hampstead as a Smart City or anything related to Hampstead, please e-mail me at wsteinberg@hampstead.qc.ca or call me 7 days a week until midnight at my home office (514) 483-6954.


Sincerely,


Dr. Bill Steinberg
Mayor, Town of Hampstead