The University of Alberta and the City of Edmonton are one step away from entering an agreement to support urban innovation and research.
On October 24, a recommendation for the U of A and the City of Edmonton to enter into the MetroLab Network passed at city council. The network was launched in 2016 in the United States as a strategic partnership between municipal governments and universities to guarantee better collaboration on projects involving multidisciplinary research and future public projects, ranging from transit planning to infrastructure. The network is active in five countries around the world with 44 universities involved.
The proposal now requires a formal memorandum of understanding signed between the city and the university. If signed, the U of A would become the first Canadian institution to become a part of the MetroLab Network. To be a member, the city and the U of A would split the $6,000 fee.
Matthias Ruth, U of A vice-president (research), said the goal of this project is to ensure the university directly supports City of Edmonton initiatives with concrete research support on future projects.
Ruth added that he previously worked at the University of Boston, which is a member of the MetroLab Network.
“It really shaped how the city operates,” Ruth said. “These projects become vehicles of all kinds of other things that we may not have imagined… There are a lot of opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students and researchers.”
While the recommendation was up for debate at city council, some councillors had concerns over joining the MetroLab partnership. Councilor Sarah Hamilton expressed concern over potential intellectual property rights and royalties generated through implemented projects.
Ruth said the university and the city are ready for these situations if they arise. He said legal counsel on both sides will work to ensure all questions will be addressed.
“We give equal access of rights to partners [involved],” Ruth said. “Researchers hold intellectual property [rights]… in partnerships, these are shared with detailed agreements.”
The U of A has been exploring formalizing the relationship it has with the city through membership in the MetroLab Network since May of this year.
Once a member of the network, both the City of Edmonton and the U of A could access data and research that is being conducted by other cities and their university partners while sharing successful innovative U of A solutions.
“We are getting on the international radar,” Ruth said. “[This shows] we take the relationships with our city very seriously.”
Norman Mendoza, the City of Edmonton open city and technology manager, said the new MetroLab initiative will allow the city to be more data-driven and innovative.
“The City of Edmonton is excited about the opportunity to develop connections with other members of the MetroLab Network, which will allow us to learn best practices while sharing the great work being done by the City and the U of A,” Mendoza said.
The university has already worked with the city on numerous projects including autonomous vehicles and environmentally-friendly smart condos. Ruth said that through the MetroLab agreement the city would see these projects continue and the door opened to future ones.
“The philosophy really is to see the city as a laboratory for some of the research that is being done,” Ruth said. “To generate research that is directly useful and usable in communities.”