By: Lyle Hewitt
Nothing could make John Lee happier than the anticipation of hundreds of leaders and experts converging on Regina with one thing on their minds: infrastructure. Lee is the President of Saskatchewan’s Communities of Tomorrow, a public/private partnership devoted to the development of innovative products and services in the municipal infrastructure field. All those people are headed for the second National Infrastructure Summit, to be held September 10-12, 2012.
“While properly functioning infrastructure is absolutely critical to our economy and our communities, it isn’t something people really talk about at the water cooler,” says Lee. “The summit is an outstanding opportunity to bring the issues around infrastructure to the forefront and get people engaged in a dialogue about new solutions.”
Lee and his team are out to position Saskatchewan as a global leader in the field of infrastructure innovation. They have been building a collaborative network of companies, municipalities, research organizations and other stakeholders to find and develop new, smarter, infrastructure solutions.
“The demand to repair and replace aging infrastructure is global,” says John Lee. “Around the world there will literally be trillions of dollars spent on these systems. And everyone making those investments is looking for more value by decreasing maintenance costs and increasing the effective life of their infrastructure.”
Communities of Tomorrow was involved in the first National Infrastructure Summit in 2011, and once again is taking a sponsorship and contributor’s role in the 2012 summit. The summit has been championed by Regina Mayor Pat Fiacco and Regina City Council. The emphasis for 2012 is moving the discussion from the theoretical sphere to practical applications of innovations that are being tried, tested, and are proving successful.
“This is right in our wheel house, in terms of the mission of Communities of Tomorrow,” says John Lee. “We have been working closely with the Municipal Innovation Network we’ve built in Saskatchewan to get innovative infrastructure ideas out of the lab and into the street for field-testing and eventually commercialization. Our municipal partners provide what we call living labs to allow testing and development of new applied technologies.”
Lee points to a new approach of recycling asphalt and concrete in roads as just one of the successful projects his organization has been involved in. They have also been working with a number of communities on a new system that vastly reduces the excavation required to replace domestic water and sewer lines and are even looking at the application of robotics.
“Much of this work is not very sexy-and not necessarily about completely new inventions,” says Lee. “It is about incremental changes that result in cost-savings or increased service life, which increase the value of municipal investments in infrastructure.”
Communities of Tomorrow is also involved in a partnership with the Canada West Foundation entitled Let’s TOC – Transforming Our Communities (www.letstoc.ca), a web-based platform to facilitate dialogue about infrastructure issues. The site features blogs by the Canada West Foundation’s Senior Policy Analyst Casey Vander Ploeg, as well as guest contributors from municipal government, industry and other stakeholders in the infrastructure sector. The project will be the subject of a report by Casey at the National Infrastructure Summit.
Registration for the summit is still available at www.nissummit2012.ca. You might even get a personal welcome to Regina from John Lee.