Skip to main content

City installs new cameras in Victoria Park to track how busy it is

Share

People in Kitchener’s Victoria Park may have noticed new cameras installed this week as part of a project meant to track how many people are using the area.

The city says no personal data is being collected and no video is being saved but it is raising questions over whether this is the best approach to accomplish the city’s goals.

The cameras will capture video that will be used to count how many people are entering and exiting the park, the direction they are heading, and their modes of transportation.

Karen Leasa, a landscape architect and project manager with the city, said that information could be used in a number of ways.

“It could improve our understanding of accessibility for pedestrians throughout the space. Connectivity, especially from places like Gaukel Block and other access points to the park, because there are quite a few,” Leasa said “Also understanding how we might reimagine underutilized spaces in the park, specifically in the back end of the park and how that might look in the future, and also understanding how intensification in the downtown core will really impact the park in the future.”

An integrated computer processes the video stream in real time to gather the data.

Fifteen camera stations are being installed, mainly at entrances and exits to the park, but also near popular areas like the pavilion and Roos Island.

“So we’ll have a really good grasp of the entire park itself and the major areas of activity,” Leasa explained.

Michael McGuire, President of Ramudden Digital, the company providing the technology, said cameras can provide detailed data. It can identify if users are adults or children, if they’re coming with a dog or a stroller, and their mode of transportation.

“Video gives you the opportunity to differentiate between all those very discrete users. And so without video, you wouldn’t be able to tell an e-scooter user from a bicycle user,” McGuire said.

While city staff have the option to view the video in real time, they say they are just looking for the data.

“It’s basically a very large spreadsheet with a count for each classification type,” McGuire said. “And at each 15 minutes, we kind of provide a count of the different mix of modes of people entering the park and how many were coming in and how many were going out.”

With so many residential areas surrounding the park, McGuire notes that the cameras can be set up so any sensitive areas can be masked and blacked out so they can’t be seen on live video.

McGuire said this is part of an evolving industry where cameras are not just surveillance tools, but rather sensors collecting detailed data that can be used to help make decisions.

Still, some are raising questions over whether the use of cameras really is the best approach.

 

“I think it’s an important question. How exactly is surveillance going to improve park services for residents?” said Krystle Shore, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of sociology and legal studies at the University of Waterloo.

Shore said new applications of technology can be tempting, but it is important to consider the cost, the cons and what other options could be used instead.

“There’s broader social costs to think about too,” Shore said. “Do we really want to be increasing the amount of surveillance that’s embedded in our everyday lives? Is that the community we’re building here?”

Shore said this is an important juncture at which to ask questions.

“We live in a world where surveillance is absolutely everywhere and it's becoming such a normalized expected part of our every facet of our daily lives. But I think that makes it all the more critical that we take the time here to challenge the assumptions that we have about whether surveillance is an effective solution to some sort of problem and what are the costs of the surveillance.”

The project’s manager sees it differently, saying the technology is not being used for surveillance of any kind. Leasa noted that because video is not being saved, in the event a crime was committed near one of the cameras, they would not be able to provide video to police.

Some people visiting Victoria Park are not concerned about the new cameras.

“I think it’s a great idea if it’s going to help the park improve, make it better for more people to come and see the beauty that the park does have to offer,” said one park user.

“I think as long as everyone’s privacy is being upheld and the data isn’t being stored as they say, then I think it’s a good idea,” said another.

The city will be using the cameras to collect data for a year, in order to capture all four seasons.

Installing the technology cost about $22,000 and the system plus the year of data collection is another $278,000.

While city councillors approved the Victoria Park Master Plan as a whole, including this data gathering and analysis phase, they did not need to specifically vote on the use of camera technology in the park.

The project manager said the city went through an intensive process to ensure this plan meets all privacy requirements.

Anyone with concerns can contact the city at the email dedicated to the Victoria Park Master Plan. 

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

Who is Usha Vance, the wife of Trump's running mate?

JD Vance has had several introductions to the American people: as the author of a memoir on what ails the White working class, as a newly elected Republican senator in his home state of Ohio and, on Monday, as his party’s nominee for vice president. His wife, Usha, has been by his side through it all.

Stay Connected