Meet Canada’s Smart21 Communities of 2021: Regional Municipality of Durham, Ontario

The Durham Region is part of the Greater Toronto Area, located to the east of Toronto with a population of about 700,000 people. While the northern part of the Durham Region is mostly rural, with a thriving agriculture sector, and home to the Oak Ridges Moraine, its southern area contains several Lakeshore communities with substantial urban development and a diverse employment base. While the region itself is listed for the very first time as part of ICF’s SMART21 list, two of its 8 cities and townships, Pickering and Oshawa, have previously been recognized as SMART21 communities.

Durham Regional Council adopted its Regional Broadband Strategy in 2019 based on extensive community outreach, envisioning a 700 km of fibre optic cable with off-ramps into each community, which will be of special importance to the more rural communities within the Durham Region. Accordingly, the Region has directed funding to develop 35km of backbone fibre trunk through a portion of its rural areas, to be augmented by provincial and federal government support for the remainder of the network. It is anticipated that partnerships with utility companies will deliver last mile solutions to these rural communities. One of the goals of the strategic plan under its Social Investment Pillar is to demonstrate leadership in poverty prevention. The Canada Learning Bond (CLB) is one way to ensure that low income residents have increased access to post secondary education. The Region has been working with its partners to increase local uptake of the CLB through a digital platform to connect low income families with the information they need about RESPs and the CLB, helping over 300 families and more than 500 eligible children in 2019 alone.  Among other initiatives in the Region, it has also profiled a Seniors Citizens Centre Digital Inclusion Program in Oshawa where more than 3,000 participants have benefited from computer / technology courses focused on digital literacy. More recently, a collaboration with Ontario Tech University has introduced seniors to social robots who can provide digital support and help seniors to live independently longer. More about the Regional Municipality of Durham will be developed for the ICF’s profiles of its Intelligent Communities in the coming months.

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