How Vancouver is Creating the Digital City

12/6/2013   By: Hanson Lok

Vancouver, Canada's first city to develop a digital strategy

As a market research agency based in North Vancouver, we are influenced by technology and our city. Yesterday, I attended an AIM luncheon featuring Nik Badminton (Principal, DigitalCultureMind) and Jessie Adcock (Chief Digital Officer, City of Vancouver) to learn more about Vancouver’s upcoming digital strategy.

Canadian cities are lagging behind the world leaders in digital. While we have taken steps in integrating digital, few or none of Canada’s cities have taken a step back to look at how digital and technology transform and improve the lives of citizens. That said, because leading cities such as London, New York and San Francisco have blazed the trail — we can learn and adopt best practices to catch-up quickly.

Vancouver is Canada’s first city to develop a digital strategy, and with it comes an aggressive number of major milestones by 2016. By the end of 2014 alone, 30 services provided by the city will become digital, up from only half a dozen or so in 2013.

The process of becoming digital does not involve technology alone.  The data and technology must provide utility in context of the environment (natural and man-made), as well as citizens themselves to be truly useful. The most powerful and effective digital changes coming to Vancouver will always involve all three pieces: technology, citizens, and the environment. Because of this, it necessitates a steady evolution of our city to becoming truly digital. Not a flash revolution that may leave citizens or environment behind.

One of the biggest challenges is inclusion. While technology is fantastic, it is undeniable that there is a digital divide. More affluent households will adopt more quickly and better technology first benefits them. The opposite end of the income curve may find themselves even further behind if these services and infrastructure improvements do not address their needs.

One potential improvement to help address this is the creation of truly reliable free Wi-Fi in public areas, which will help to reduce the broadband access gap. Another idea is to ensure digital services are not accessible only by smartphone, but also mobile phones despite the fact that over 60% of Canadians now have smartphones.  We can’t forget about the other 40%.