4 Examples of Smart City Innovations in the U.S. and Canada

Sanjeevan Srikrishnan
4 Examples of Smart City Innovations in the U.S. and Canada

It’s no surprise that smart city initiatives are finding fertile ground to grow in the U.S. and Canada. Many of the basic building blocks are present – affluent economies, well-developed infrastructures and free markets that encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. Nearly a third of the world’s leading smart cities are located in the region, according to two recent studies.i And with a plethora of smart city players based in the region, from industry giants to startups, there’s no shortage of activity.

However, this abundance of activity is not always in sync as many vendors are rushing to bring their own proprietary smart city solutions to market. That can lead to a siloed effect where one city system can’t communicate with another, resulting in inefficiencies and poor citizen experiences. Getting to a smart city platform that provides a seamless, integrated experience for citizens requires digital ecosystems where multiple players can participate, collaborate and exchange data through low-latency private interconnection.

Incubating digital innovation

The U.S. and Canada are hotbeds for technology innovation and not just for the reasons mentioned above. Although North America is the third largest continent by land mass, it has the lowest population density (Figure 1). This means that the region has similar economic and technological advantages as other affluent regions without as much geographic risk. History has shown that innovation often sprouts on college campuses in the U.S. and Canada where many of the tech giants of today got their start. Along with other factors, being home to most of the world’s leading universitiesii makes North America an ideal incubator for entrepreneurship and digital innovation. Other factors include active venture capital markets that help fund startups, a mobile workforce unimpeded by excessive government involvement and a decentralized political system that encourages states to compete for businesses and residents.iii

Sources: WTBF Media, Worldometers, Wikipedia 

Interconnecting innovation

With the U.S. and Canada being such accelerators for tech innovation, as you might expect the Americas region as a whole is projected to reach 32% of the global smart cities information and communication technologies (ICT) spend by 2023, or $60.6 billion, according to the IDC. The fastest growing smart city use cases for the Americas are Vehicle to Everything (V2X), Digital Twins, Public Safety Wearables, Intelligent Traffic Management and Water Quality Monitoring.iv

Here are a few examples of smart city use cases in action in the region:v

1. Data-driven public safety: The police department in Chicago, IL deployed real-time crime centers that leverage gunshot detection data from ShotSpotter and surveillance cameras to help officers pinpoint dangers more quickly. As a result, homicides and shootings were reduced by 40% in Chicago’s deadliest neighborhood, and shootings were reduced in 18 of the city’s 22 police districts.

2. Resilient energy and infrastructure: New York, NY ranks as a leading smart city on several lists and for good reason. Smart monitoring is helping the city manage resources more effectively and save money. Automated Meter Reading (AMR) units have been installed to give the city better data on actual water consumption and bill its citizens more accurately. When integrated with a with a smartphone application, AMR units notify citizens of their water consumption and provide warnings of potential water leaks when abnormal spikes are detected. Faster detection of water leaks has saved the city more than $73 million. Water quality monitors also alert the city if any water quality issue is detected, enabling faster response to protect citizens from polluted water. Other areas that the city is monitoring for improved detection and management include waste collection, air quality, fire prevention and more.

3. Intelligent transportation: Pittsburgh, PA implemented a network of smart traffic lights to reduce congestion. Traffic is logged in time-sequenced clusters of vehicles and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms use that data to build a timing plan that will move all the vehicles through the intersection in the most efficient way possible. Each light communicates the data it gathers to neighboring lights, enabling the system to adapt sequencing to minimize traffic buildup. The city estimates that intersection wait times have fallen by 41%, journey times by 26% and emissions by 21%.

4. Multiple categories: Toronto, the fastest growing city in Canada, is partnering with Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs to turn its Quayside waterfront area into a high-tech smart city. The plan calls for self-driving cars, heated cycle lanes and sidewalks, green energy, public WiFi and a subterranean level populated by robots responsible for delivering freight and removing waste. Sensors throughout the community would collect data about energy consumption, building use, traffic patterns and more for a software platform to analyze and manage. Interestingly, the plan also includes a thermal grid strategy that will leverage waste heat from nearby data centers and other industrial sites to provide district-wide heating. It’s a concept that’s similar to one that’s already employed at one of Equinix’s green data centers in Amsterdam. The data center, known as AM3, uses aquifer thermal energy storage (ATES) to cool equipment via cold groundwater when temperatures rise above 18 degree Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit), eliminating the need for traditional mechanical cooling. Excess heat is then used to heat the office building and nearby buildings of the University of Amsterdam.

Overcoming challenges

Smart city initiatives may be flourishing in North America where resources and opportunities abound but challenges remain. Concerns around safety, security and data privacy are making headlines. Several cities are banning or considering bans on use of citizen data such as mobile location and facial recognition. And high-profile projects like Sidewalk Labs vision for Toronto have been met with data privacy controversy despite a plan to create an independent trust for guarding citizen data. Lack of standards for the ethics and legality around capturing and using this type of personal data underlies many of these concerns, and it’s exacerbated by the fact that each smart city initiative is sponsored and governed by different players, technologies, policies and funding mechanisms.

However, the tide may be turning. Cities are beginning to develop privacy policies and international standards bodies like the ISO have started to develop smart city standards. In another example, last month 15 cities in the region partnered with other cities, foundations and businesses to launch the Open Mobility Foundation to focus on the development and adoption of mobility data standards.vi

Interconnecting trust

Data exchange is essential for smart cities to succeed in their promise to deliver safer, healthier and more sustainable communities. Data trusts can address data privacy concerns but need to ensure that data is exchanged securely and reliably between participants.

A smart city digital platform based on  Interconnection Oriented Architecture™ (IOA™) best practices can enable diverse stakeholders to collaborate and securely exchange data in real-time. Private interconnection avoids the public internet, keeping data safe in transit on low-latency, high-bandwidth infrastructure. And as data volumes at the edge grow, an IOA strategy places scalable, on-demand cloud-based compute power and storage resources at the edge to process sensor data in real-time while aggregating the data needed to improve core AI algorithms in the cloud.

Download the IOA Playbook to learn more.

Watch the Interconnections blog for future articles on smart city perspectives around the world. Don’t want to wait? Check out the whole smart city series!

Part 1: Introduction –Build a Smart City in 3 Easy Steps

Part 2: APAC – Why Are Smart Cities Booming in Asia Pacific?

Part 3: EMEA –What’s Shaping EMEA’s Smart Cities? (It’s Not Just GDPR!)

Part 4: Digital Twins – The Secrets of Digital Twins for the Cities of Tomorrow

Part 5: Smart Transportation – Driving Through The Data Downpour with Smart Transportation

Part 6: North America – 4 Examples of Smart City Innovations in the U.S. and Canada (see above)



[i] Twenty out of 69 cities (29%) ranked as “High” and “Relatively High” in this study are located in North America: IESE, IESE Cities in Motion Index 2019, ST-509-E, May 2019. Eight out of 27 cities (30%) in this study are located in North America: Phys.org, Top smart cities are global cities, new research reveals, Feb 2019.

[ii] The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019.

[iii] AEI, 10 reasons why America is so much richer than other rich nations, Mar 2017.

[iv] IDC, Smart Cities: Spending Trends and Opportunities, June 2019.

[v] Chicago Tribune, Chicago’s top cop touts reduced violence in Englewood neighborhood, Nov 2017; New York Engineers, How New York is Becoming a Smart City; iCorps Technologies, New York’s Smart City Transformation, Aug 2018; Govlaunch, Pittsburgh reduces traffic congestion with AI; SingularityHub, Alphabet Releases Its Master Plan for Toronto’s New Smart City, July 2019; CityLab, A Big Master Plan for Google’s Growing Smart City, June 2019; Data Centre Dynamics, Toronto smart city proposal from Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs includes plan to use data center waste heat, June 2019.

[vi] Axios, Cities are writing privacy policies, June 2019; ISO, Standards catalogue: 13.020.20 – Environmental economics. Sustainability;Forbes, What The Open Mobility Foundation Says About Cities, Software And Standards, July 2019.

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