The annual conference marking the 125th anniversary of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering (CSCE), running from June 6-9, 2012, will offer an exciting venue and numerous opportunities to learn and share experiences. Edmonton, Alberta, will welcome civil engineering practitioners, researchers, and policymakers from around the world with a river valley parks system 22 times larger than New York’s Central Park, and a dazzling array of unique dining, cultural and recreational opportunities.
The conference itself is sure to be a memorable affair. Along with anniversary celebrations and regular annual meetings of the CSCE, the program features a number of specialty conferences:
- The 12th International Environmental Specialty Conference;
- The 3rd International Structural Specialty Conference;
- The 9th International Transportation Specialty Conference; and
- The brand-new 1st International Specialty Conference on Sustaining Public Infrastructure.
The new conference event focusing on sustaining public infrastructure offers a unique opportunity for infrastructure practitioners and policy-makers to examine issues beyond the traditional discipline of engineering, including all of the financial, political, social, and environmental elements that affect sustainability. In light of this, the first ever Award for Government Leadership in Sustainable Infrastructure will also be presented at the 2012 Conference.
First International Specialty Conference on Sustaining Public Infrastructure
Specialists have been chosen from around the world to present and discuss issues, identify current and future challenges, and highlight recent advancements and innovative solutions. Participants can expect a variety of special sessions and panel discussions.
The International Panel on global asset management practices from various countries will feature key speakers such as Dr. Ian Greenwood (New Zealand and Australia), Dr. Bryan Adey (Switzerland), William Wallace (USA), Rhys Davis (UK), Dr. Gye Woon Choi (Korea), Ravi Mital (India) and Dr. Guy Felio (Canada).
Representatives from the City of St. Albert, various First Nations Communities, and the City of Whitehorse will lead a Small Communities Session aimed at exploring public infrastructure issues and strategies for smaller communities in Canada. In the Government Panel, speakers from Alberta’s provincial government and local municipalities will discuss specific roles that governments play in infrastructure decisions.
A Financial Sustainability Panel will look into various innovative approaches towards attaining financial sustainability. Featured panelists will include Tim Beaucamp from the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants of Canada, Casey G. Vander Ploeg of the Canada West Foundation, and Bernie Kreiner representing the Government Finance Officers Association.
From the City of Edmonton, Jim Andrais (Office of Environment), Heather McRae (Community Services), Gord Jackson (Sustainable Development) and Rhonda Toohey (Transportation Planning) will present the Edmonton Case Study session. This session will explore the City’s six over-arching strategic plans to achieve its imaginative and ambitious long-term vision.
The specialty conference on sustainability will also showcase technical papers investigating many facets of the theme of sustaining public infrastructure, including infrastructure management, decision making, and sustainable practices.
Meeting CSCE’s Vision
Organizers believe this first-ever International Specialty Conference on Sustaining Public Infrastructure fits well with the Canadian Society of Civil Engineering’s Vision 2020—Leadership in Sustainable Infrastructure—and breaks new ground in developing a conversation among the multiple disciplines that make and build our society.
The importance of civil infrastructure and the need to make wise, long-term investments are gaining broad acceptance at the international level. Society has urgent infrastructure requirements today, and at the same time must plan for the needs of future generations. This demand for enduring, financially prudent, and environmentally-sound infrastructure presents huge challenges—and opportunities—for civil engineers and allied professions the world over. This landmark event in Edmonton will provide a forum in which to share the ideas and experiences necessary if we are to deliver these vital infrastructure services.
As Co-Chairs of the CSCE 2012 Conference, it is our pleasure to invite you to Edmonton from June 6-9, and to stay a while longer to enjoy this vibrant, welcoming city if you are able. It will be a great time to support the advancement of excellence in civil engineering and meet colleagues from around the world.
Canada’s first ever National Infrastructure Summit (NIS), hosted by the City of Regina in January 2011, was unique in many ways. One reason is that the conference gathered such a wide spectrum of participants from the private, non-profit, and public sectors. The summit attracted hundreds of delegates, representing diverse industries such as engineering, architecture, construction, and finance. Academics, tax specialists, municipal and infrastructure policy experts, and think tanks were also in attendance. The public sector was represented by elected officials and civil servants from all three orders of government—municipal, provincial, and federal.
By all measures, the summit was a huge success, and work is in full swing for the second National Infrastructure Summit to be held in Regina on September 10-12, 2012. The success of the 2011 National Infrastructure Summit and the importance of the coming 2012 Summit are clear. The 350 delegates who attended the 2011 event were surveyed, and 94% indicated their interest in attending the 2012 Summit. Further, attendees believed that the momentum created in 2011 needs to be continued and expanded. In particular, the discussion needs to move from the theoretical to the practical, with the focus placed on global models and innovative examples that are being tried, tested, and proving successful.
At the 2012 Summit, delegates will participate and engage in discussions and workshops led by leaders and experts in various fields such as global best practices in infrastructure management and new approaches to funding, planning, building, and maintaining our critical public assets.
2012 NIS is designed to expand upon five major themes:
- Defining the Need: When defining infrastructure needs, it’s important to have an accurate inventory of all assets and to properly determine, measure, and understand their current condition. This theme will address practical actions and best practices such as defining appropriate levels of service and identifying new solutions to implement sustainable infrastructure asset management.
- Financing the Opportunities: This theme hones in on innovative options to finance infrastructure in municipalities and strategies and solutions that can produce cost efficiencies for infrastructure at any age of its life cycle, while also maintaining service levels expected by citizens.
- Politics of Infrastructure: Municipal leaders and infrastructure managers face a number of “real-world” challenges when making and executing decisions about local infrastructure investment. This theme focuses on how municipal leaders can best determine local priorities, communicate infrastructure needs, assess and evaluate funding options, and earn public support for infrastructure investment decisions.
- Innovation: Canada’s public infrastructure is aging, with some systems over a century old. Often, the mindset behind infrastructure design is even more archaic. This theme focuses on innovation—designing and implementing innovative, lower cost, and more sustainable methods of providing neighbourhood infrastructure. Innovation is not just about more funding to do more innovative things, but finding new ways of doing what we do now, but doing it better.
- Citizen Engagement: Citizen engagement is based on the premise that people should have, and want to have, greater influence on decisions that affect them. True engagement is more than just asking for opinions—it’s about ensuring that issues are framed authentically and sincerely. Informing, educating and gathering public input is critical to the successful implementation of new initiatives, projects, and processes.
A very unique aspect of the 2012 Summit are the two urban renewal competitions that are being held in conjunction with the conference. The competitions have been tagged with the title Morph My City.
The first competition invites submissions for a long-term and step-by-step design of a new neighbourhood. Beginning with a canola field—an undeveloped, unserviced section of land within the city of Regina—the competition will be won by those who draw up the best plan to build-out a creative, innovative, and sustainable 21stcentury urban neighbourhood.
The second competition involves submission of a conceptual design plan to renew a pre-existing neighbourhood—to turn it into an innovative, long-term, and financially sustainable neighbourhood—again within the City of Regina.
The finalists for both competitions will present their submissions during the summit, and an expert panel of judges will choose a winning submission for each competition. To date, 2012 Summit organizers have received exposure to over 10,000 interested parties through the Morph My City website. Interest has come from all over the world, including Canada, the United States, Australia, India, Mexico, and Egypt.
Alongside the Morph My City competition, the 2012 Summit has yet another added feature—an Invitational Trade Show that will showcase innovative tools for resolving infrastructure issues.
Without doubt, the Summit is one of the most anticipated infrastructure events for 2012. For further details on registration, guest speakers, and accommodations, please visit the 2012 National Infrastructure Summit website at www.NISummit2012.ca or contact Sheila Harmatiuk, Manager of Government Relations at (306) 777-6769 or email@example.com.
*The last day to receive a discount on your registration is May 31, 2012.*
By: Casey Vander Ploeg, Senior Policy Analyst, Canada West Foundation
The benefits of urban brownfield development are numerous and significant, breathing new life into old neighbourhoods, increasing local property values and land productivity, and mitigating sprawl. There is also a strong infrastructure connection. Brownfields sit upon an existing network of roads, sidewalks, lighting, water mains, and wastewater lines that is not being fully utilized. Brownfield redevelopment brings that existing infrastructure back on-line, often at a lower cost than building and operating new networks in far-flung suburbs.
But—and there always seems to a “but” when it comes to these things—brownfields often represent a huge environmental risk in the form of contaminated soil. Thus, brownfield redevelopment suffers from a negative public image and the potentially huge costs of cleaning up “dirty dirt.”
Last December in the first “Dealing with ‘Dirty Dirt’” blog, I reported on a company called Ground Effects Environmental Services (GEE) which developed a suite of new technologies to remediate polluted soil, ground water, and even air. But GEE is not alone in working on better ways to treat contamination.
Dr. Steve Siciliano is a professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Engineering, specializing in soil sciences. Siciliano is at the centre of a unique partnership with Communities of Tomorrow, Stantec Consulting Ltd., and Mitacs—a national non-profit, working to spur innovation by building partnerships with private companies, government, and academia.
The research partnership is developing a new technology to test soil and measure any contamination or toxicity with the help of the lowly earthworm.
In the lab, Siciliano is mimicking the digestive processes of earthworms to determine the degree of toxicity in soil samples. The SEG (Simulated Earthworm Gut) test is being developed to supplement existing technology in the field, which is time consuming, expensive, and sometimes uses live animal testing.
“The SEG test indicates the relative risk to ecological receptors and reflects soil quality. Soil quality is critical as humans, animals, and ecosystem services are impacted when degradation of soil quality occurs,” said Siciliano in the Innovation Impact Report: Simulated Earthworm Gut. “Quicker and more accurate safety testing reduces costs and speeds up business development.”
As a result of consultation and funding from Communities of Tomorrow, the dollars behind the research have been doubled and three graduate students are now also involved.
The importance of such developments is significant. Soil testing is critical to the practice of risk assessment—determining the liability of landowners for any soil pollution and the potential cost of cleaning it up. It is absolutely critical to brownfield redevelopment.
Siciliano is investigating the effectiveness of the new SEG testing protocol on soils polluted with diesel and other hydrocarbons. It has already been demonstrated to be effective for assessing soils contaminated with metals.
The SEG process is proving to be faster than other types of testing, and can save a company up to 50% of the current cost of soil toxicity testing. As a partner in the effort, Stantec is looking to employ the new technology and expand its risk assessment activities, and Siciliano and the University of Saskatchewan are looking to train students so that more risk assessment can happen locally within Saskatchewan.
Siciliano’s work is a great example of the benefits that accrue from innovation and new technologies. Innovation results in systems and process that are better, faster, and less expensive. That equates to more efficiency and higher productivity. Whenever that happens, resources such as time and money can be employed elsewhere, expanding the total amount of goods and services produced in the economy. That’s investment. That’s productivity. And, that’s how an economy grows.
Dr. Siciliano said it even better.
“Environmental liability should never stop economic growth. It just needs to be a cost associated with doing business. Our job is to reduce that cost so that more business can happen.”
To read the Innovation Impact Report: Simulated Earthworm Gut, click here.
The following column is written by Gord Hume, President of Hume Communications Inc., former Councillor of the City of London, ON, and author of “Cultural Planning for Creative Communities” and “Taking Back Our Cities” for www.letstoc.ca
When Casey Vander Ploeg and the team at the Canada West Foundation and Communities of Tomorrow approached me about writing a column for the Let’sTOC series, I instantly agreed. The dialogue that both organizations are encouraging is another important step in building stronger cities and changing the way municipalities operate and are funded. That’s a critical theme I explore in my latest book, Taking Back Our Cities.
This is the first of what will be a series of regular columns on www.letstoc.ca. My columns will look at issues ranging from the infrastructure crisis in Canada and how municipalities function, to how we can improve the structure and relationships between the six levels of government in Canada.
My reputation as a blunt-spoken veteran of 13 years in public office, and four decades of interest in municipal government and national politics through my career in the media, provide a unique perspective. I will provide a clear-eyed look at key issues and opportunities. You may not always agree, and that’s just fine. But, we do need to change the conversation and encourage dialogue in this country about how we can build stronger communities.
In my speeches and media interviews, which in the past month alone have literally stretched from Nanaimo, BC to Gander, NL, there is a consistent theme coming back to me—the current system isn’t working and we need to change if our cities are to compete more effectively in the global economy.
With 80% of Canadians now living in an urban setting, how we build, rejuvenate, create, and grow our towns and cities is critical to our national prosperity. What goes on in our communities combines with natural resource extraction and the aqua and agricultural industries to generate most of Canada’s wealth.
One of the hardest decisions for politicians of any government is to invest significant amounts of money for the future, knowing that they won’t be getting any credit.
I was a very young man when I began my media career in the late 1960s as the city hall reporter for a radio station in Saskatoon, my home town. The Mayor of Saskatoon at that time was Sid Buckwold, a brilliant man who would go on to a distinguished career as a Senator. Mayor Buckwold and the Council of the day were smart enough to understand the benefits of land-banking (acquiring property for future growth and expansion) and the importance of long-range planning. They were doing future planning for transportation systems, including new bridges across the South Saskatchewan river—such as the one being completed now—that will provide better access for Pacific Rim markets.
It was a lesson that impressed me. When I return to Saskatoon and see the subdivisions and the Circle Drive route and remember those courageous decisions decades ago, it confirms the value of long-range planning. Perhaps these are some of the reasons why Saskatoon is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, with a booming economy and a very high quality of life.
A real problem today is that more and more, politicians from all orders of government are just too focused on the short-term. It takes real political courage to invest in a ten or twenty year strategy to upgrade sewer pipes, for example, and to pass a long-term bylaw setting water and sewer rates that will provide sustainable financing. The reality is that homeowners—taxpayers and voters—just don’t think about their sewer pipes. That is, of course, until the day comes when they can’t flush.
There is a natural reluctance by home owners to resist paying for things they can’t see, and pipes buried deep in the ground are hardly a good opening gambit for cocktail party conversation at the neighbourhood barbeque.
This is where local politicians need to show leadership and show courage. It’s very easy to slice the underground repair budget in a tight fiscal year, or delay replacing and improving water and sewer lines. But, the value and importance of such infrastructure cannot be underestimated.
Municipalities are responsible for more than half the infrastructure across Canada, and the gap in funding that deficit is growing every day. It’s a national crisis that is being ignored by too many politicians.
We need to have this national debate, and we need to push our political leaders to better understand the need and value of long-range planning, investments, and infrastructure commitments. The value of this strategic thinking and planning will pay off in better, stronger, and more prosperous towns and cities.
Leadership takes courage. We need to expect and demand more from those seeking public office, and we should reward long-term thinking instead of the knee-jerk, short-term shouting about the issues of the day.
That’s what the Council in Saskatoon showed in the 1960s. And, the people of that city are benefiting today from those investments and their foresight and commitment.
I got to know Sid Buckwold very well. We became great friends. The early lessons he taught me about municipal government and the value of public service have helped to guide my own career in public office. Today, there is a major bridge in downtown Saskatoon that was re-named to honour Senator Buckwold following his death in 2001.
It’s a fitting tribute to a man who showed the kind of political courage, foresight, and strength that Canada’s communities desperately need today.
By: Casey Vander Ploeg, Senior Policy Analyst, Canada West Foundation
In most large cities, public transit boasts a long history, being one of the most visible and vital services provided to citizens. The transit system in Calgary, for example, goes back to 1909 when the Calgary Municipal Railway was established with a dozen electric streetcars. The Regina Municipal Railway goes back almost as far, opening in 1911.
A Rich History
The history of transit is not only long, but rich. Who knew that one of the biggest urban fires ever in western Canada happened on January 23, 1949? On that day fire ripped through Regina’s transit yard, consuming several garages and destroying 17 trolley coaches, nine buses, and five electric streetcars. Regina came to a standstill.
Over the years, public transit has come a long way. Electric trolleys gave way to electric, then gas, and now diesel buses. Fleets today are augmented with buses running on natural gas and biodiesel, and include articulated units, low-floor units, and even “kneeling” buses. Buses themselves have given way to things like the Skytrain in Vancouver and Light Rail Transit in Edmonton and Calgary. Again, who knew that when Edmonton’s LRT opened in 1978 and Calgary’s in 1981, they were some of the very first LRT systems in all of North America?
The Achilles’ Heel of Public Transit
Virtually everyone agrees that public transit has a clear advantage over the private vehicle, and this holds whether transit is assessed economically, socially, or environmentally. Economically, mass public transit is efficient. Socially, it is equitable. Environmentally, it is eco-friendly and sustainable. But, transit also has its Achilles’ heel. In most Canadian cities, it is not financially self-sustaining—it requires a tax subsidy to break even. The finger of blame here is pointed at everything from low urban population density to the automobile culture.
In my mind, however, it boils down to two things. First, the fiscal playing field between transit and the private automobile is very uneven. Cars, trucks, and motorcycles are relatively cheap to own and operate. The fact that roads and bridges are provided free of charge—paid through taxes rather than tolls—is a huge factor. Second, the private automobile is just more comfortable, quiet, and convenient. Transit can’t compete with all of that in the minds of most city dwellers.
But, a Regina-based company is out to change that.
Dr. Raman Paranjape is a professor of electronic systems engineering at the University of Regina. To avoid the hassles of parking downtown one day, he took the bus. “It worked fine on the way out from the university, but on the way back, I had no idea if the bus was still to come or had come and gone,” he said in “New Software for Tracking Buses”. And, that got him thinking. He shared his thoughts with Dr. Graig Gelowitz, a University of Regina research engineer with a strong interest in location-based technologies, and Dr. Luigi Benedicenti, a fellow professor of engineering in software systems. Together, they felt that there was a logical and very practical application of locational technology—tracking and monitoring buses and routes in real time.
The trio decided to form Canadian Research Logistics (CRL Engineering). The focus of the company is to develop, apply, and market locational transportation technologies, with the specific goal of making public transit more effective, comfortable, and convenient—both for transit riders and transit providers. While the company has developed a number of products, the TransitLive Configuration (TLC) is one of the most interesting.
TLC allows transit riders to track the location and movement of buses across the city of Regina, including accurate arrival times updated by the minute. The technology lets transit riders view bus movements on a graphical map, which shows all the bus routes and also displays stops, stores, and points of interest as well. TransitLive can be customized by users to store preferred destinations and even provide personalized reminders. The utility can be accessed on personal computers via the Internet at www.transitlive.com or on a mobile phone browser by calling 306-596-6136.
TransitLive also offers riders the option of texting to get arrival times. Users can text the system and it will text them back. Users can even set up text alerts, so that they are warned when the bus is seven minutes, five minutes, and two minutes away from the stop. The alerts can be set up for every day, or in any cycle that users prefer.
Anyone can use the system—even without a computer or a smart phone. All they need to do is call the phone number and punch in a bus stop identifier. They will then receive an audio announcement of real-time information about the next three buses coming to the stop.
If all of that isn’t cool enough, transit authorities also benefit. With real-time information constantly available to operators, it becomes easier to manage the fleet effectively and efficiently because the position of each bus can be pinpointed. Transit operators can record, monitor, and account for delays and other events. TransitLive helps transit officials better prepare and respond to emergencies, and provides for enhanced safety and security.
“There are many potential uses for the TransitLive platform,” said Dr. Paranjape. “It allows the City to track its fleet, it can be employed to allow riders to actually order buses to a specific location, and it even has an emergency communications capability.”
Getting these impressive results was not easy, however. While CRL Engineering had solid theoretical and practical ideas on how the TransitLive Configuration system would function, they had no way to develop, refine, or prove-out the concept in the real world. What they needed was a robust environmental field to test and try the technology. What CRL Engineering needed was a “living lab.” They found that lab right at home—the City of Regina.
CRL and the City agreed to engage in a multi-year development process, and Communities of Tomorrow helped arrange and provide financial backing. In May 2010, two dozen of Regina’s buses began carrying GPS and cellular modem-enabled computer systems in a trial to optimize the system. The results were nothing short of spectacular.
An Award Winner
CRL Engineering has already earned two public acknowledgments for TransitLive. In 2010, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan (APEGS) rewarded CRL with its Exceptional Engineering and Geoscience Project Award. In 2011, CRL was given the Award of Innovation at the 2011 Regina Chamber of Commerce’s Paragon Awards Gala. With the technology up and running, the TransitLive software system is headed for the world market.
Back to the Achilles’ heel of public transit. In the minds of many, the private vehicle offers more comfort and convenience. Who wants to wait for the bus in -40 degree weather stomping your feet, shielding yourself from the wind and wondering when—or praying if—the bus is coming to your stop? With TransitLive, that’s history. Users can stay inside where it’s toasty warm, and head out at the last minute just as the bus arrives.
That ups the comfort and convenience factor. That helps level the playing field.
Some expect that in Regina, TransitLive has the potential to boost ridership anywhere from 5% to 10%. That kind of gain is no small peanuts, and will help secure more revenue for public transit. That means TransitLive is also great for the future of transit-related infrastructure. Boosting ridership means transit inches closer to becoming more financially and fiscally self-sufficient—moving transit closer to a break-even position. In turn, that allows for a lowering of any tax subsidy. As noted in previous Canada West Foundation infrastructure research, self-sustaining user pay systems are easier to finance, fund, and maintain. The reason is that they depend on user fee revenue as opposed to tax dollars.
Increased ridership also allows transit to showcase its other benefits, particularly on the environmental front. It means reduced traffic, decreased congestion, lower consumption of resources, and less emissions and pollution. In the end, the TransitLive is much more than a small cog in the bigger wheel of a more sustainable transportation system. Kudos to the City of Regina and CRL Engineering.