During the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for traditional office space was drastically reduced. The aftermath has seen an increase in hybrid work arrangements and a lessened need for long daily commutes.

Now, Canadians with the flexibility to work from home are looking for increased convenience, innovative solutions, and quality of life improvements in their neighbourhoods. This shift has led to two parallel trends: the changing role of city centres and the rise of more localized living.

Smart cities are at the forefront of this movement towards innovation, as they revolutionize the way we live, work, and interact with urban environments. By leveraging advanced technologies and data-driven solutions, smart cities enhance efficiency, sustainability, and connectivity for residents, while serving as important testbeds for new urban design (e.g., a smart city may collect data on cycling in a downtown core to improve the placement of bike lanes and active transport planning).

Meanwhile, another concept has emerged in recent years to complement this so-called “smart shift:” 15-Minute Cities.

Synergy Between Smart Cities and 15-Minute Living

The 15-Minute City, coined by French academic Carlos Moreno, is an urban planning concept in which all basic needs — home, work, education, entertainment, groceries, healthcare, etc. — can be met within a 15-minute walk or bike ride. The concept is modelled after European cities and encourages a slower pace of life, an active lifestyle, and community engagement.

For urban planners to manage increased demands for convenience and accessibility, we need smart technology solutions to match local urban planning design to residents’ habits and needs, ensuring a smooth and efficient transition to more localized living. Essentially, smart city initiatives and 15-Minute City planning should go hand-in-hand.

Human Talent: Powering Smarter Cities

A “smart city” uses technology to improve urban planning and processes, but it also needs people to bring it to life. Smart city initiatives have multiplied across Canada and their success ultimately depends on attracting and retaining qualified talent to navigate these complex projects.

Our three-report series explores smart city initiatives, labour market trends, and best practices to guide smart city projects. These reports detail the roles and technical and human skills needed by these projects, as well as the sought-after academic backgrounds and education programs that can lead to smart city occupations.

The findings address key issues on both the demand and supply side, so the reports are divided into three themes: talent supply, talent demand, and a technical supplement.

1) Bringing a Smart City to Life

Smart cities use technology to improve urban planning and processes, but they also need people to bring them to life. This report looks at the key building blocks of a smart city—first-time entrants to the workforce, migration, the ability of smart cities to attract skilled workers from within and outside Canada, and other factors affecting labour supply, such as career transitions, re-entries to the workforce, and freelance and gig workers.

It identifies smart city-related occupations (as well as pathways to these smart city occupations), and discusses workforce diversity, the rise of remote work, and municipal development best practices. One of this report’s core messages is that cities need adequate infrastructure (e.g., affordable housing and connectivity) in order to support an inclusive and vibrant smart city for all citizens.

2) Moving Toward an Inclusive Smart Economy for Canada

Building smart cities is essential for achieving an inclusive, smart economy for Canada. Around three-quarters of Canadians (73.7%) live in cities, which provide the infrastructure for people’s lives and work—infrastructure that is rapidly becoming more digital, connected, and complex. This report identified that skilled talent is needed to implement and adapt smart city technologies, with a growing emphasis on “human skills” like collaboration and critical thinking.

We identified six key pillars—energy, mobility, infrastructure, health, government, and regulation—that drive smart city investments. Environmental wellbeing and diversity are top priorities, leading to partnerships and DEI-focused policies. A robust talent supply requires a clear understanding of labor and skill demands for smart cities. By identifying in-demand roles across the smart city pillars, Canada can continue its trajectory toward a prosperous future.

3) Labour Market Forecasts for Canada’s Inclusive Smart Economy

This report is an essential supplement to its two sister publications that focus on key drivers for smart city related labour demand and supply. To provide a holistic view, this report builds upon primary research and secondary data from national sources like Statistics Canada and the Government of Canada to project short- and long-term labour demand and supply for key smart city-related occupations in 14 smart cities across Canada. Key occupations include software engineers and designers, information system analysts and consultants, web designers and developers, and many more.

By examining the intricate dynamics of talent demand and supply, this report offers valuable insights into the future of Canada’s smart cities.