Every summer, terrible urban warfare breaks out on the streets of downtown Stratford, where local residents are pitched in mortal combat against theatre goers and tourists, each aiming to gain the upper hand in a brutal contest for a rare and coveted prize – parking spots.

On Wednesday afternoon, near-real time reports from that very field of battle were flowing in and projected onto a giant screen at the Communitech Data Hub. The grim reality: for the entire hour between noon and 1 p.m., 95 per cent of Stratford’s downtown parking spots were filled.

Good luck getting to your theatre seat on time.

And with that you have the rationale behind Stratford’s Smart Parking pilot project, the subject of a lunchtime panel discussion Wednesday featuring the project’s key partners: the City of Stratford, ODX (Canada’s Open Data Exchange) and two Waterloo Region technology companies, eleven-x and FoxNet.

The gist of the project is this: Every summer Stratford runs into parking issues. But solving the problem requires hard data. And so last autumn, the city began installing small “pucks,” or sensors, under 78 of the city’s downtown parking spots. The sensors were connected to a network and as of Tuesday the real-time results were available for all to see: a website now displays each parking spot and whether it’s filled – or not. The data – how often a vehicle parked in each spot and how long it is parked there – is captured by city staff, who will use it to eventually recommend solutions to the city’s elected officials.

A side benefit is residents and visitors can access the data for their own use from a smartphone or computer.

“Now we’ll have the data and we can make decisions on that data,” explains Naeem Khan, Stratford’s Manager of IT and Business Systems.

The $100,000 pilot project, 50 per cent of which was funded by ODX, will continue until the end of the year, said ODX Managing Director Kevin Tuer.

“What I liked about this particular project is I see this an opportunity to build a business case for creation and use of open data starting from a problem, as opposed to here’s some data, let’s throw it up on a web portal and see who consumes it,” said Tuer.

Stratford’s project is an example of the rollout of data-based IoT solutions that are increasingly connecting and benefiting urban populations. It’s easy to imagine the network in Stratford being expanded to solve other problems: perhaps the sensor measures and reports the amount of snow that has accumulated, or condition of the asphalt, triggering a response from city staff.

And the infrastructure and data is now available for others to build upon.

Said John Chiappetta, head of IoT in North America for FoxNet: “We want to raise the quality of life for [a city’s] citizens. We want to improve economic development. And we want to provide efficiencies. Those three things resonate across all municipalities.”

For Tuer, the project demonstrates “the power of ecosystem.” In this case, various players with complementary skills came together to solve a problem.

“Each one of the players were hungry,” he said. “Every member of the consortium is extracting value from the experience.

“To me, it’s a fascinating system integration effort – emerging technologies and capabilities that are delivering value.

“People are hungry to know: how can I use IoT for my business, or for my city? This is a great place place to build from. It creates the fuel, the data, to spur the next innovation.”