By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
The city’s initial bid for $10 million in funding from Infrastructure Canada to improve access to digital technology in low-income neighbourhoods is complete.
Oshawa is in the mix to receive the money through the SmartCities Challenge.
Kyle Benham, director of economic development for the city, says the submission focuses on making improvements to the Lakeview neighbourhood.
Some of the priorities in the bid include increasing internet connectivity in Lakeview while ensuring services are offered at ‘affordable and sustainable’ prices and that residents possess the appropriate skills to benefit from technology.
The city also plans to improve the technological capabilities of public and private services in the area to enhance the ‘economic and social potential’ of local residents.
In 2013, the Region of Durham identified Lakeview as one of seven priority areas in its Health Neighbourhoods program.
Under the region’s definition, Lakeview covers the area south of the 401, bordered by Boundary Road to the west and Townline Road to the east.
With a median net household income of $44,000, it is one of the poorest areas in the city.
But as Benham explains, there are other factors at play.
Unemployment and health issue rates are higher in Lakeview in comparison to the rest of Oshawa and the region as a whole.
According to most recent data available in the Health Neighbourhoods initiative, 55 per cent of children in Lakeview are unprepared for school, compared the regional average of 29 per cent.
The number of residents of Indigenous background and vulnerable immigrants like single mothers and refugees is also higher in the area.
In preparation for the SmartCities bid, the city commissioned a Needs Assessment Study.
Surveys of low-income renters living in Lakeview within that study revealed;
– 61 per cent feel they will never escape poverty
– 64 per cent described their day-to-day lives as “very stressful” or “extremely stressful”
– 82 per cent do not feel they are thriving living in Oshawa
“It’s also [a neighbourhood] that has physical isolation. The 401 is quite a big barrier, and they feel like they are kind of cut off from Oshawa,” Benham says.
These factors, among others, have contributed to a “digital divide” for residents of Lakeview, Benham adds.
The SmartCities Challenge was announced in November 2017, but the idea has been on the city’s radar for much longer.
Oshawa was named as a Smart21 Community by the Intelligent Community Forum in 2016.
This award put the city in a favourable position for preparing its bid, Benham says.
“We’ve been working on this since the announcement, and in many ways, we were even working for longer.”
Benham says ‘extensive consultation’ was undertaken with partner agencies, organizations and the Lakeview community.
The city reports more than 450 community members shared feedback through surveys, an open house, and community-based workshops.
These conversations revealed public concerns regarding safety, access to services and mobility barriers.
“It’s actually one of the best survey results we’ve ever gotten,” Benham notes.
Additionally, the city hosted 10 stakeholder roundtables involving 50 organizations including representatives from resident groups, academic institutions, social service agencies, libraries, the Oshawa Public Utilities Corporation and the private sector.
After these rounds of consultation, the city identified priorities and developed a business plan to round out the final submission made April 24.
With the bid complete, the city will now wait for Infrastructure Canada to select the finalists for the funding, a decision Benham expects to occur within a few months.
If Oshawa becomes a finalist, the city will receive a $250,000 grant to develop a more comprehensive proposal and business plan due by January 2019.
Benham says he is very optimistic about the city’s chances.
“We believe we have a very good shot at being a finalist. It’s a pretty solid project and we have a really good story to tell,” he adds.
Regardless of whether Oshawa receives the $10 million or not, the intent of the project will continue in some form.
“If we are successful in the challenge, great, we will move things forward. But we need to focus on what we need to do to have an impact on that whole ‘digital divide’,” he says. “Part of the process that’s been really rewarding is the level of participation and goodwill from all the stakeholders. There is a real willingness to work together regardless of the final decision.”
To view Oshawa’s Smart Cities Challenge submission and to learn more, visit www.oshawa.ca/scc.