Urban Opus is a partner in a new Canadian national research project looking at how data can benefit rural communities.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of ‘smart city’ projects occur in large urban centers.  There are a variety of reasons for this, including the unfortunate perception that rural cities, towns and villages have less cash, capacity and incentive for data solutions.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  For example, while large cities seek economic benefit from the smart management of the internal complexity of their infrastructure, rural centers can benefit from the smart management of their surrounding natural infrastructure and suprastructure (regional resources).

The new project, primed by Ian Parfitt of Selkirk College, is entitled, “Open Data for Open Government in Rural British Columbia“, and was just announced by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).The new project runs parallel to Canada’s current quest to redefine Open Data and Open Government on a national scale.



Urban Opus aso serves on the steering committee for the new project and hopes to learn a lot by exploring how fundamental urban data principles might be applied successfully in rural contexts.  Three such principles are top of mind.

First, Urban Opus was conceived to extend the paradigm of smart cities beyond the predominant “machine model” whereby a city can be made “smart” by harnessing sensor data streams to optimize its infrastructure components, both individually and collectively.   Urban Opus believes that even in a large city such a model is wholly insufficient because cities are really about people, with citizen engagement being the transformative solution.  When one moves to rural regions the machine concept is less compelling still, where the complex bounty of natural and resource ecosystems becomes the more obvious wrench thrown in the machine.



Second, while the new project is founded on “open data”, Urban Opus expects that other sources of data, most specifically proprietary and citizen data, will be equivalently valuable in rural settings as they are in urban ones, especially for effectively compelling “open government”.  In fact, rural settings may provide less complex ‘marketplaces’ within which to demonstrate the brokerage policies and principles required to mesh different kinds of data.

Third, the Urban Opus alternative to the “machine model” of cities, which is to model cities as “communities of communities”, seems particularly attractive and appropriate for the cultivation of data solutions in rural regions, including the opportunity of bridging the traditional chasm between urban and rural domains.

Planning for the new rural data project is underway.  Now is a great time for interested participants to step forward.