Sunday, November 23, 2014

Will Chilliwack ever become a Smart City?

With the municipal election done and a newish city council in place many of us are exhaling and preparing to just go about our business for the next four years. Bad idea. This is the time to connect with the city councillors -- old and new -- and school board trustees -- mostly old -- and let them know what is expected of them.

Yes, I know, they may not listen. I know, I know, most don't respond to emails and are all but invisible post election to about six week pre-election. I say don't let that stop you. Tell 'em what you hope for, want and expect and keep telling them.

I expect hope for a few things.

1. I hope that we move toward being a smart city, a connected city, a transparent city.

2. I hope that we add the two missing councillors - maybe that way they will have time to be smarter, more connected with the populace and transparent.

3. I hope that we take a play from Whistler and ban candidate signs for the next election. There are lots of other ways to broadcast information about candidates and the election.

4. I really, really, hope that for the next election Chilliwack resident's will get the same level of information from city hall that voters in some other municipalities received. Several cities provided full voter information brochures in print and on the city websites that included candidate submitted bios and statements with links to the candidates website and social media accounts.

Being a Smart City

I was just reading this post about Vancouver being chosen as one of the world's Smartest Cities.

Like Copenhagen, its credentials as a green city are quite evident. In fact, Vancouverites participated en masse in a program to develop a long term strategy for the city which resulted in an ambitious (and probably unreachable goal) of becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020. It helps that 97% of all energy in Vancouver comes from renewable energy sources (mostly hydro). Vancouver was also a pioneer in providing major incentives for green buildings which helped to foster an entire ecosystem of green building expertise from architects and engineers to producers of building products. quote context:
What caught my attention was the end of the post where the challenges were listed.
In order to stay competitive on a North American and global scale, Vancouver will need to continue to invest in digital technologies and support the rollout of broadband throughout the city. quote context:
This reminded me of a bit of discussion that took place during the Chilliwack campaigns. The energetic senior, Mr. Harrington said,
'My proposal to build a fast and free municipal WiFi network for Chilliwack is a new idea that would help entrepreneurs build new businesses and create jobs just as much as it would help seniors and students,' explained Harrington." quote context:
I almost voted for the man just because of this although his reasons for city wide connectivity missed some of the real potential. Unfortunately he lost my vote with his clean sweep mantra. I believe his intentions were good but he missed the mark. I expect council members to demonstrate civility and an overt willingness to work together. Collaboration trumps technology in my book. However, credit where it's due. Looking at expanding our technological infrastructure with city-wide broadband is a damn fine idea.

Moving on and connecting the dots - city-wide broadband means access to data, including big data, and access to data means potentially more knowledge and more knowledge means better informed decision making. Big data can illuminate patterns (traffic, human  foot movement, crime, etc) that we humans just aren't privy to. See more about cities and technoloy in this MIT article Cities Find Rewards in Cheap Technologies.

Transparency and Inclusiveness

There is an adage in communications that the quality of communication is determined by the receiver. Just because you publish a report on something doesn't mean that you have adequately shared it. The folks at city hall ought to remember that they do indeed work for the people. Like all employees, it's on you to report out in a way that your employer can understand. Understand? 

What do council members do?

I dug around quite a bit before the election to try a figure out what the council members do - or rather did - during their last term. It was hard! I still have no idea what a few of them did. Ok, they showed up. And they probably read a lot of really long, dry, documents and reports. It was clear that some did more than others. Do they get paid differently?

I asked the mayor about this apparent inequity and she said she looked at what each council person was interested in and then she assigned them to committees. She also said that some where on fewer committees because they had "job commitments". So, some counsel members get to do less for the city because they have jobs. They all have jobs outside the council job, don't they? Sorry, still don't get it. 

Seriously, I want to know what city councillors are doing. That goes double for the mayor. I suggest a blog. It not unheard of in municipal politics. Do a blog and let me subscribe to it so it comes to me, in my preferred inbox, regularly. A mailing list would be a darn fine idea too. 

I'd also like to see more fully online options available for committees and decision informing groups. I have time, energy and knowledge to contribute yet I have yet to make it onto a committee. I never get invited and the application process is really intimidating. Plus, I work in Vancouver so am only home on weekends. I am however free to contribute, online, almost every weekday evening. Bet there are many more like me out there.

I would also like to see all eight council positions used. Anyone who does group work knows that six is too few for a healthy and effective group process. Eight is better, twelve is ideal but eight will do. The higher numbers make it more likely that diverse ideas will be heard and less likely that the group will be controlled or biased from within.

Can we do better than "Where Business Grows"?

Is that the vision? Or was it a tag line? I can't tell. I just looked at the city website and the vision and goals are still really hard to dig out. I actually know more about Vancouver 's vision than Chilliwack's.

In 1972 the Club of Rome and MIT published a report called Limits to Growth. In the report they said that we live on a really small planet with limited natural resources and we better smarten up. A few years later they published a second report called No Limits to Learning. That report said that even though there were limits to growth, there were no limits to our capacity to learn. They went on to say that there are two ways we could learn. We could learn by shock -- Doh! You do have to change the oil in your car. Or we could learn by innovation. To learn by innovation requires they ability to anticipate what might be -- systems thinking -- and participation -- diverse minds, collective intelligence and getting everyone informed and involved in finding solutions.

I would much rather our vision be of a learning community than a business friendly community. I don't want Chilliwack to grow, I want us to grow smarter together. Plus, the closer we get to the 100,000 mark the further away we get from the small, safe and quasi-farming community I fell in love with 25 years ago.

In biology cells divide when they reach a certain size. In the wild animals that live communally self-regulate the size of the group. Humans, in all our brilliance, strive for bigger regardless of the cost. How dumb are we, really?

Use Your Voice

Ok, that is my rant, along with a healthy dose of hopes and a few expectations thrown in for flavour.

Please tell our mayor, council members and school trustees what your hopes, wishes and expectations are. Tell them, tell them and tell them again. At least then they can't say they didn't hear from anyone.

Mayor and council contact information is here.  School board trustee contact information is here.