By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
A new partnership involving the city of Oshawa and post-secondary institutions could be the first of its kind as it aims to turn Oshawa into a hotbed for solutions to the problems that cities are facing today and into the future.
The proposed collaboration between the city, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), Durham College, the civil engineering department at the University of Toronto and the Canadian Urban Institute looks to establish Oshawa as a “Centre for Urban Innovation.”
“There’s a lot of things we just don’t know about a city and how to make it more efficient, (and) how to improve the quality of life is an ongoing question,” says Daniel Hoornweg, an associate professor in UOIT’s Faculty of Energy Systems and Nuclear Science and a driving force behind the idea. “If a city emerges, and hopefully Oshawa does, as a place that’s willing to constantly try to figure out how to be a bit more efficient and a better place to live based on the ingredients that are available, I think that’s a hugely powerful incentive or catalyst that, over time, the place becomes known as a place you can try new things.”
And not only trying new things, but attracting business and investment and eventually helping Oshawa transition into a more diverse economy.
On a basic level, the partnership will begin with a set of pilot projects to test the waters that would see co-op students working with city staff and other officials to research different city issues. The initial costs, while not specifically set out in the city’s report, will be accommodated in this year’s budget.
Hoornweg envisions projects looking at everything from commerce issues to transit to electrics to traffic or big data.
In fact, the first pilot project could be a “hackathon” of sorts that sees university students analyzing the city’s open data to find ways to make it more useable and accessible.
“Specific initiatives will have defined terms of reference and budgets as appropriate…Any associated financial implications related to the initiatives will be reported for council approval,” the city report reads. “The city’s contribution to launch the individual initiatives is anticipated to be the use of internal city resources supplemented by support from students. If possible, the partners will jointly seek sources of external funding to support the individual initiatives.”
With that said, Hoornweg notes this project isn’t about the money, but about breaking down barriers between institutions.
“At the end of the day, the biggest weakness of city’s the world over is that, we as humans, we don’t work together nearly as well as we should,” he says. “We’re not really asking for money as much as we’re asking for basically an open mind on seeing if there’s ways to do things better.”
A recommendation to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the partners, laying out the basic ideas for the partnership carried through the Development Services committee on March 27. It received strong support from councillors ahead of the final approval on April 10.
“This is nothing but positive for the city of Oshawa,” said Councillor Bob Chapman, noting that while all the details are yet to be ironed out, that will happen in the near future. “By all means we need to endorse this.”