COLLABORATION

Canada joins mega city-university network to solve urban challenges

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To build a global green utopia for tomorrow, cities around the world need work in cohesion.

The optimist’s vision of cities of the future is one that is lean, green and highly efficient; a haven for the young and old where everything runs on 100 percent renewable energy.

In such a world, urbanisation, income growth and infrastructure development keep pace with the growth of new technologies, creating urban centres that are resilient and self-sufficient, as well as affordable and inclusive.

This green utopia is possible by as soon as 2050, a research project by Stanford University concluded in 2017, after mapping out plans on ways to transform existing fossil fuel-based infrastructures to wind, water and solar energy across 139 nations.

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But Rome wasn’t built in a day. To achieve such a vision quickly and on a global scale, cities everywhere have to work as a single collective to identify and share new and innovative methods on creating efficient local infrastructure, improving all aspects of urban living from food to connectivity, water, energy and waste management.

This is exactly what the MetroLab Network does. Launched in 2015 as a result of the White House Smart Cities Initiative, it is an expansive international coalition of city-university partnerships dedicated to seeking out innovative solutions to the many challenges facing today’s urban centres.

As part of the network, members explore opportunities to share information, best practices and solutions to these urban challenges with one another. Universities and the cities in which they call home come together to form alliances, through which the city becomes the university’s living laboratory while the university is the former’s R&D department.

The network now counts 45 cities and 61 universities as members, spread across six counties in the US.

Last week, it signed on its first alliance from Canada.

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In an announcement, the Unversity of Alberta and the city of Edmonton said it would leverage the collective might of the network to work on three major projects that aim to solve urban challenges. These include investigating ways to make the city’s buildings more sustainable, take better care of the elderly and improve urban transport connectivity.

According to a report in Folio, a project called Advancing Towards Smart Buildings will install sensors in city-owned real estate to collect data that would inform future strategies on reducing energy needs and maintenance costs.

A second project called the Automated Nursing Agent will use artificial intelligence (AI) to assist elderly Edmontonians with tasks such as managing phone calls and taking their medication. The application would also file reports on their health state to city caregivers.

Finally, the alliance seeks to expand the Alberta Cooperative Transportation Infrastructure and Vehicular Environment project by extending connected vehicle infrastructure coverage along the Anthony Henday Drive testbed, Folio reports.

This will help governments how the technology can be applied across all roads in Canada, as well as provide guidance for a future regulatory framework with applicability across North America.

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“The City of Edmonton and the University of Alberta have an extensive history of working together for the benefit of our city and region,” said Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson.

“It’s a great opportunity to join a network of researchers to help create technological advancements that contribute to community and personal wellness.”

University of Alberta President David Turpin said joining the network would give the school and city added exposure for their work.

“Starting with our combined research efforts in areas related to smart city infrastructure, transportation and elder care, we will develop ideas, technologies and innovations that transform not only our city, but cities around the world,” he said.

In addition to Canada, the cities of Glasgow, Liverpool and Bristol were also named new members of MetroLab last week.