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More than 100 people have reached out to Tillsonburg’s mayor to voice concerns about the town becoming a Smart City or 15-Minute City.

The problem, says Mayor Deb Gilvesy, is their concerns are based on misinformation.

“There is misinformation circulating about the town that is unequivocally untrue, and it is actually scaring some of our residents,” said Gilvesy at a council meeting on Feb. 27.

Gilvesy wants residents to know Tillsonburg has no plans to implement any traffic policies similar to those proposed in communities like Oxfordshire County, UK, which some online critics say will prevent or limit people from leaving their ‘15-minute’ areas.

Oxfordshire County plans to use traffic filters (using cameras) to reduce congestion on six roads in its City of Oxford, population 162,000. On its website, Oxfordshire states no one will be confined to their local area, however residents may need to take different routes if travelling by car during peak hours.

Critics have called it a “climate lockdown.”

“The Town of Tillsonburg has no plans, and I repeat, no plans to become a community where citizens are actively prevented from using personal vehicles or penalized for travelling more than 15 minutes away from their home,” said Gilvesy. “Again, no plans.”

In the last month, the mayor said she has received more than 100 emails, phone calls, and social media messages, including a letter to council, received as information, which stated “We, the citizens of Tillsonburg, did not vote or give you any consent to you declaring our town to become a Smart City. You decided this in dictatorial fashion and omitted the input from your community.”

“I want to make people aware this is not the same context as a ‘15-Minute City,’” said Gilvesy. “I think people are confusing 15-Minute Cities versus Smart Cities. There is a definite difference between a Smart City and the restrictions of a 15-Minute City.” Article content

The concept behind 15-Minute Cities, a neighbourhood/town within a larger metropolitan, is that you have amenities and services located within a 15-20 minute walking/cycling area.

In its 2021 Official Plan, Ottawa proposed 15-minute neighbourhoods – “compact, well-connected places with a clustering of a diverse mix of land-uses; this includes a range of housing types, shops, services, local access to food, schools and day care facilities, employment, greenspaces, parks and pathways.”

“We are very different, we don’t have that type of high density,” said Gilvesy.

On the Government of Canada Smart Cities web page, it states “A ‘Smart’ city collects and analyses data interactions with, and usage of, public infrastructure in order to improve service delivery and user experience. This data is collected through connected sensors and individual devices which are part of centralized networks that manage service delivery.” Article content

The misinformation seems to stem directly from the Smart Cities Challenge, a federal competition introduced by Infrastructure Canada in 2017, which Gilvesy says has been taken out of context.

Oxford County, with its lower tier municipalities, was among 225 Canadian municipalities applying to ‘win’ prizes of $5-50 million.

In January 2018, Jay Heaman, Oxford County’s manager of strategic initiatives, said the challenge was designed to encourage communities to think outside the box and to come up with meaningful ways to improve quality of life through innovation, data and connected technology.

Heaman said Oxford’s submission would draw from various community-driven initiatives that stem from the Future Oxford Community Sustainability Plan including Zero Waste, Zero Poverty, hybrid ambulances, affordable housing to Passivehouse standard and a net-zero energy administration building. Article content

“Tillsonburg, as you may be aware, has high fibre cable everywhere,” noted Gilvesy. “It was actually one of the first communities in Ontario to be so connected through data. And that is what this program, this contest, was about.”

Gilvesy said the contest closed in 2019 and winners received funds. Oxford County was not a finalist in the $10-million prize category for communities with less than 500,000 people.

“However, there is a map floating around this town and on social media that has Tillsonburg with a ‘star’ on it – identified as a Smart City. This was done in 2017 for the contest. I can assure you this council is extremely transparent and we have not discussed it. No other application has been made since that time. So if you are receiving a map, I hope to encourage you to look to the context behind it, read the information on the website. Please be assured, we are not planning on restricting your movement or your travel.” Article content

Last month, about 50 residents of Olds, Alberta, attended a council meeting fearing their town, which also entered the Smart Cities Challenge, would become a Smart City or 15-Minute City.

“I would never be a proponent of something like this, ever,” said Gilvesy. “I don’t want my movement restricted, so I get that. The community can trust that I would stand up for them in this regard. I would never accept something like this. Since I have been on council, we have never even had this discussion. Never. People are truly fearful of this and I don’t blame them. I am trying to set the record straight. This is why I talked about it twice at council.

Although Tillsonburg, population 18,000, is not officially a 15-Minute City, you can drive from South Ridge Public School in the northwest to THK Rhythm Automotive Canada in the southeast in 15 minutes.

A healthy downtown core is integral to the community, said Gilvesy.

“We are so reliant on people to come in from surrounding communities to fill the role of jobs and services in town.

“So I hope that we can clear this up and stop this from circulating around. There is a lot of rumours. If you do want to reach out to me, please reach out to me. I am asking that people do be respectful though because there is a lot of misinformation in the community about this.”

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Chris Abbott

Quelle/Source: The Brantford Expositor, 07.03.2023

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