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Town of Olds officials attempt to dispel 'disinformation' about surveillance, land use bylaw and a 2018 application to the federal government's Smart Cities Challenge

The Town of Olds is the latest municipality in the area to have been contacted by people concerned it might be or become a “smart city” or “15-minute city.”

It is not – and has no plans to be – either, according to a town news release issued today, Feb. 9, intended to dispel disinformation.

On social media, residents of several communities in Olds and area have raised fears that information gathered via smart city or 15-minute city processes is part of an alleged wider effort to control residents and their property.

According to Wikipedia, a smart city is an urban area that utilizes various types of electronics and sensors to collect data with a view to making its operations more efficient.

A 15-minute city is an urban planning concept to have all necessities and services accessible within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from any point in the community.

“Due to disinformation spreading in our community and on social media, we want to make it clear that the Town of Olds is not a ‘smart city,’ nor are we attempting to be a ‘15-minute city,’” the release said.

During an interview, Brent Williams, the town’s chief administrative officer, said the issue arose about two weeks ago.

Initially, he said, the town received one email and two or three visitors to the Town of Olds administration office asking about the fact that the town was listed on a federal web page as an applicant for the federal government’s Smart Cities Challenge.

That later grew to 15 to 20 phone calls or visits to the town office to raise the issue.

In 2018, after holding discussions with the public, the Town of Olds and the now-defunct Olds Institute for Community & Regional Development made a submission to the challenge hoping to win and be awarded $5 million to create an Olds Health Network. Their pitch was to make simple connections to reduce health-care costs by 30 per cent and improve mental and physical well-being for all residents. The submission didn't win.

To Williams’ knowledge, the idea went no further since then.

“What we’ve been hearing is that the Town of Olds might be part of a – what's a good word? Some type of plan between the federal government and WEF, which I believe is the World Economic Forum, to try to control people or limit their movements to some extent,” Williams said, although he stressed he personally has not seen the social media posts.

"It seems to be part of the larger conspiracy group around government mistrust and surveillance and this WEF seems to fit in there in most of the arguments. But I’m also not very familiar with that organization either,” he said.

"It seems the conversation online -- social media largely – has been towards government control and an idea that towns or cities are going to keep people in their cities and not let them out or something like that.

"It’s far-fetched, but it seems to be a concern among a small minority of the town. So the reason for the press release is to try to get some of our own information out there.”

Williams said those concerned about this issue seem to also think land use bylaws can be manipulated for the ends of the WEF and others, including the United Nations.

However, he said the provincial government has laid down strict rules of what land use bylaws can entail.

“Land use bylaws are only us giving people guidance on what they can do on their own land. So zoning is obviously a big one and fence heights and drainage, etc., etc.,” Williams said.

In fact, a land use bylaw amendment was on town council's Feb. 13 agenda, but Williams noted it's only dealing with an application to allow a daycare facility in a strip mall.

“The 15-minute city concept, which is part of some larger municipalities’ long-term plans, is not included in any part of the town’s strategic or statutory (i.e., land use) plans,” the news release said.

Williams admitted that a press release may not entirely do the job, at least among those who expressed their concerns.

“I mean, we kind of are in that post-COVID age where there’s still a lot of mistrust amongst a segment of the population,” he said.

“With everything we had with COVID, I don’t know how to repair that – or if you can – because evidence seems to be subjective these days. Facts are opinions and vice-versa, so it’s really tough to have debate.

“Some people probably don’t agree with the actual press release. That’s kind of the nature of everything in government; not just sensitive issues like this.

“But yeah, it’s something I think a lot of governments are struggling with, probably across the country, across the world too. There’s a deep level of mistrust.

“And how do we build that trust? It’s tough when facts are subjective; when people get their information from various sources that – there's no direct credibility tied to them. People can say what they want on the internet and people will believe it; some people will believe it.”

The news release addressed privacy concerns.

“Privacy around your personal information is very important to us at the town," it said. “As a local government body (as defined in the FOIP Act), we must abide by its standards.

“Standards define, among other things, how local government bodies may go about the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information.”

The release advised those who are concerned about their privacy and protecting their personal information to contact a provincial FOIP representative.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Doug Collie

Quelle/Source: Mountain View Today, 09.02.2023

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