InnovationsService deliveryTechnology
June 19, 2018

Smart Technology for Social Equity

In July 2017, a local company unveiled a “virtual statue” on the Halifax Waterfront of philanthropist Ruth Goldbloom, who was a driving force behind the creation of Pier 21 Canadian Immigration Museum. This initiative speaks to a dynamic spirit in Halifax, one that embraces creative change and growth.

New residential developments downtown, along with lively restaurants and entertainment venues, are luring people back to the centre. Creative small businesses are driving a revitalization of the north end and downtown Dartmouth.

The municipality is finding new ways of applying technology to make public services more convenient and accessible for citizens, from public wi-fi downtown to smart parking meters and modern, reliable transit. Upgraded web-based services offer citizens better access to services throughout the far-flung municipality.

Concurrent with the digital transformation, Halifax Regional Council has affirmed a renewed focus on social development and healthy, liveable communities. This has seen the creation of an office for inclusion and diversity, as well as the development of strategic partnerships to work toward equitable opportunity for citizens across the municipality.

Under an exchange of services agreement in 1996, social assistance programs became the responsibility of the Province, while municipalities took on the management of local police forces and local streets and roads. Despite this separation of responsibility, the municipal role in programs such as policing and public safety, recreation services, transit, economic development and even zoning by-laws give the municipality an overriding interest in the health and safety of its citizens.

While recognizing jurisdictional boundaries, the municipality has made changes and introduced programs to improve social equity, such as municipal no or low-cost recreational programs for children.

A low-income transit pass was introduced as a pilot program, and has become a permanent offering. The municipality and the province are partnering on an exciting new pilot project that would put transit passes in the hands of all employment support recipients and their dependents to help build a more socially inclusive community.

In 2016, Halifax converted an out of service transit bus to a mobile food market to serve areas with limited access to healthy affordable food. The service has been welcomed by citizens and has earned national recognition for its approach to food security. The mobile food market is supported by a number of community organizations and local businesses in addition to the Municipality and the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

As these initiatives proceed, they will support the implementation of comprehensive strategies developed by the municipality alone or in partnership with other levels of government, business, and community organizations.

The Public Safety Strategy, which evolved from earlier crime reduction efforts, takes a broad, collaborative approach to improving public safety through four priority areas: resident resilience, safe places, strong communities, and crime prevention and reduction.

The Integrated Mobility Plan incorporates the principles of complete communities with integrated mobility choices, focus on moving people and goods instead of vehicles, managing congestion, and providing more options for sustainable, enjoyable, and healthy mobility for residents across the region. The Plan reflects the participation of all municipal departments, as well as the Nova Scotia Health Authority, and its implementation will see a shift in emphasis from the movement of vehicles to the movement of people and goods throughout the municipality.

Since 2014, the municipality has been a participant in the Housing and Homelessness Partnership, a collaborative effort including the Province of Nova Scotia, CMHC, investment property owners, and community organizations working with homeless people. The Partnership’s objective is to eliminate homelessness and housing poverty and, as an initial phase, has adopted a Housing First strategy to support chronic and repeatedly homeless individuals to establish a secure home.

In 2017, Halifax joined with the United Way to lead the Poverty Solutions Strategy. The Advisory Committee, which is co-chaired by Mayor Mike Savage and United Way Halifax President & CEO Sara Napier, includes representation from the Province of Nova Scotia, as well as a wide range of community organizations. It is intended that the Poverty Solutions Strategy will improve the alignment between municipal, provincial and community initiatives and programs to address poverty and optimize the impact of individual investments.

Appropriate technology to support and amplify this expanded activity on social and community issues will be vital to creating the healthy, liveable, and equitable place that these strategies envision. As the strategies move from planning to implementation, municipal officials are consulting with the strategic partners to consider how existing technology, and planned technology investment, can further facilitate and expedite the desired outcomes.

Halifax is building on a strong base of “smart” projects that have been implemented or are underway within the municipality as Halifax moves to become a Smart City. The focus on infrastructure, services, citizen engagement, evidence-based decision making, and transportation already supports the goals of the social and community improvement strategies in many ways.

Conversion to LED street lighting includes a central management system and communication network to allow the lights to be remotely monitored and controlled. In addition to operational savings, this project offers opportunities for improved public safety.

An enterprise Recreation Management software will improve citizens’ access to recreation programs and future opportunity to expand across all facilities throughout the municipality.

Public Wi-Fi in key downtown areas of Halifax and Dartmouth supports wider access to internet services for citizens and tourists, with plans for further expansion over time. It will also support the development of online services for people who currently have no or limited internet access.

Halifax was one of the first municipalities to adopt an Open Data program, in 2014. The Open Data initiative enables the release of a wide range of data for public access and use. A total of 45 datasets, including civic addresses and building permits, have been released and are being used by citizens. A regular cycle has been established for the release of new datasets. This initiative encourages greater citizen awareness and more active engagement in municipal governance.

Halifax Transit is adopting a wide range of technology to improve the convenience and reliability of the service, making it a high-value option for all citizens. Improvements such as bus stop announcements have already improved the service for visually impaired transit users.

Traffic signal and traffic management systems to manage congestion and allow emergency vehicle pre-emption will effectively reduce greenhouse gases and improve public safety by allowing first responders rapid movement through key intersections.

For Halifax, the Federal Government’s announcement last year of a Smart City Challenge Fund was welcome news. The Fund offers $300 million over 11 years to improve the quality of life for urban residents through better city planning and implementation of clean and digitally connected technology. Support from the fund would expedite municipal technology investments to advance the social objectives identified in the poverty solutions strategy, the public safety strategy, and the integrated mobility plan.

Council has approved a focus on poverty reduction, and municipal staff are working with their social policy partners, both internal and external, to identify specific issues that lend themselves to a smart technology solution. While Halifax is relatively prosperous, poverty is a persistent issue in some parts of the municipality, and United Way Halifax analysis suggests that one in eight residents struggle to meet their basic needs.

Investment in technology, supporting collaborative program and policy can make a powerful difference. In fact, it will transform the lives of some citizens, and allow the entire community to share the dynamic spirit and creative change.

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