$4.95 million to make cities smarter

McGill to develop new training platform to find smart, digital solutions to improve food access, mobility, and health in large urban centres A smart city-supported by digital solutions to enhance food access and mobility-is a healthy city. That’s the thinking behind the Implementing Smart Cities Interventions to Build Healthy Cities (SMART) Training Platform co-led by McGill, the University of Guelph and the University of Manitoba. Today, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, and the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, announced an investment of $4.95 million over six years for SMART.

Three researchers will converge to lead the development and implementation of the training platform: from McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management, Professor Laurette Dubé , James McGill Chair of Consumer and Lifestyle Psychology and Marketing, and Chair and Scientific Director of the McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics (MCCHE), will help oversee the platform’s next-generation implementation science approach; from the University of Guelph, Dr. David Ma , whose work focuses on nutrition, health and knowledge mobilization; and from the University of Manitoba, Dr. Miyoung Suh , an expert on nutrition strategies for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and smart vertical farm solutions for indigenous health.

Together, they will focus their research efforts on the central place of food in cities, the use of ’big data’ to create smart solutions for urban environments, and on bringing together the best knowledge, practices and tools from different fields of study to solve complex societal problems.

McGill will be a key player in the Montréal-based component of the SMART platform, which is data and technology focused and seeks to develop digital solutions to enhance food access, mobility and health in the largest urban centre in Quebec. Montreal, winner of the 2019 Canadian Smart City Challenge , is a founding member of the C40 world alliance of megacities. It has recently launched its first strategic plan, Montréal 2030 , targeting real-world transformation for meeting current and future challenges, and bolstering the city’s economic, social and ecological resilience.

Dubé will draw on two decades of experience and leverage a worldwide network of scientists and action partners to advance the research mission. She is a recognized pioneer in the convergence-by-design approach, which explores how collaborative, cross-disciplinary research can both unravel and present solutions to pervasive societal challenges. This approach will guide the SMART platform, and the connected activities at the MCCHE.

"Cities could be the most powerful entry point for the transformation that is globally called upon throughout the economy and society, particularly in tackling the challenges and realizing the possibilities brought by digital transformation in the COVID-19 pandemic responses. As the McGill principal investigator and on behalf of my colleagues from other academic institutions in Montreal, Quebec and the rest of Canada, we are extremely pleased to advance both the disciplinary and convergence science and training needed for healthy cities around the world," said Dubé.

Professor Pascale Brisette (Département des littératures de langue française, de traduction et de création), the founding Director of the McGill-based Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Montréal (CIRM), will oversee the integration of the Data for Society Hub (DSH), into the platform. The DSH is an infrastructure for data exchange, analysis, and consulting that was created through the $50M Smart Cities Challenge project led by the City of Montreal and that is coordinated through the CIRM.

"As the regional director of public health, I am very happy to be working with McGill University and dozens of partners across Canada on the Training Platform to Make Cities Smarter," said Dr. David Kaiser. "Such metropolis as Montreal presents complex challenges and unique opportunities for improving population health and eliminating health inequalities. In order to achieve our public health goals, we need professionals who have interdisciplinary training, we need to better understand the factors that influence population health, and we need to develop the infrastructure that will allow us to work better and go further with our intersectoral partners. I look forward to the next six years of partnership and innovation in the service of the health and wellbeing of all Montrealers."

McGill’s Faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences, Arts, Science, and the Desautels Faculty of Management will be represented by additional co-applicants: Professors Ernan Haruvy, Yu Ma, and Wei Qi from the Desautels Faculty of Management; Professors Sara Ahmed (School of Physical and Occupational Therapy) and Alayne Mary Adams (Department of Family Medicine) from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences; Professor Raja Sengupta (Department of Geography) from the Faculty of Science.

This team, together with collaborators from partnering institutions, will also develop a curriculum to equip trainees at nine institutions across the country with the knowledge and skills to tackle many of the challenges faced in urban environments, creating new synergy between the food, health, transportation and other systems that create them. The trainees will engage in implementation science; that is, examining whether a particular practice works by testing it in the real world, and understanding how to adapt it so that it works best in different regions, under different conditions, and with different populations.

About McGill University

Founded in Montreal, Quebec, in 1821, McGill University is Canada’s top ranked medical doctoral university. McGill is consistently ranked as one of the top universities, both nationally and internationally. It is a world-renowned institution of higher learning with research activities spanning two campuses, 11 faculties, 13 professional schools, 300 programs of study and over 40,000 students, including more than 10,200 graduate students. McGill attracts students from over 150 countries around the world, its 12,800 international students making up 31% of the student body. Over half of McGill students claim a first language other than English, including approximately 19% of our students who say French is their mother tongue.

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