ConnectIT: Global Knowledge Cities

Yesterday, I participated in a panel discussion at the ConnectIT conference, entitled Global Knowledge Cities: Does Toronto make the cut?:

Among other factors, powerful global corporations, emergence of Web 2.0 technologies, and the increased ease of information displacement have changed our social landscapes. In light of this shift, how will cities, like Toronto, be using technology to gain a competitive advantage in the changing global landscape? Are they improving the quality of life for its residents? What defines a fully developed/knowledge city? Where does Toronto stand?

Diane Francis with her blackberry at Connect I.T. on TwitPicThe panel was moderated by the engaging James Norrie, Associate Dean of the Ted Rogers School of Management with fellow esteemed panelists Dave Wallace, CIO – City of Toronto, John Cannon, CIO – Toronto Transit Commission and Diane Francis, Editor-at-Large, National Post. The panel was introduced by our Twitter-obsessed Mayor David Miller (@mayormiller), who likes to tweet photos of journalists, clearly feeling empowered and tickled by the opportunity to turn the camera on the press.

It was a wide-ranging conversation, and provided a great opportunity for the City of Toronto to tell the audience of Ryerson Information Technology Management students, alumni, faculty and members of the technology community and industry about the City’s initiatives and vision for the future.

Congratulations to organizers, Matthew Merritt, Dimitry Sapon and Jaime Sorgente (@jsorgent) for a very pro-style conference. As a tech conference created by students for the wider Ryerson and Toronto community I was very impressed with their professionalism and attention to detail.

There was a lot of audience interest in the TTC’s new information initiatives, include next bus/train information, and the upcoming trip planner and Google Transit integration. Dave Wallace shared an update about the City’s 311 program, spoke about the important lessons they learned at the Web 2.0 Summit about fast, iterative web development approaches and listening to the community. He is also clearly excited to be a leader in municipal open data and is working out some of the difficult issues around privacy, standards and industry and community collaboration. He did drop a little mention about dark fibre in the city which I had hoped we could follow-up, but we ran out of time. Diane Francis opened the panel discussion with a high-level overview of Toronto’s natural advantages as a global financial capital and reviewed the current state of the imploding media industry and the radical transformation underway in this important sector of Toronto’s economy. Read her very insightful piece, It’s not about AIG, stupid…, about the massive global financial system bailout happening with AIG as a conduit.

I was there to bring a provocation about the creative city, the importance of social technology and place, the future of community and the responsibility and opportunity for students and graduates to get involved in co-creating our future city. I was pleased that both the Mayor and Dave Wallace recognized ChangeCamp as an important forum for exploring future community collaboration, and that John Cannon also recognized the impact of TransitCamp in helping inform the future direction of and it’s customer information initiatives.

I am excited by the growing momentum we have in Toronto right now towards open, participatory, creative and effective government that recognizes how technology can enable a transformation in our city. 2009 is looking very promising!

Below the jump are my full prepared remarks for the panel discussion. Enjoy.


  • Many in this room are familiar with the work of Richard Florida, who wrote “Rise of the Creative Class”
  • Richard Florida has been warmly welcomed and celebrated across the City of Toronto for choosing us among all creative cities to live and do his work.
  • Richard’s selection of Toronto as his home base is absolutely an honour and a signal of Toronto’s stature in the global pantheon of creative cities
  • It is also a sign of the importance that our political class is giving to his theories
  • However, his presence is also mostly meaningless in terms of the reality we experience on the ground and how we will together build the true future of Toronto as a global knowledge city.
  • Florida’s argument is that creative talent drives future prosperity, that global creative talent is attracted to vibrant, livable, tolerant places with high concentrations of technology, bohemians and artists.


  • But while Richard Florida and the Martin Prosperity Institute are busy counting patent applications and measuring relative concentrations of artists & designers, the technology that is truly transforming global creative hubs like Toronto is social technology and we’re not paying it enough attention
  • Because of social technologies like Twitter, Facebook and wikis, communities of talented, knowledgeable and creative people are finding each other and discovering their shared passions.
  • These are not “virtual communities”, they are very real.
  • Creative people are interacting and meeting one another using social web tools at an accelerating rate
  • They are discovering their shared passions and are choosing to meet in physical face-to-face meetups and unconference-like gatherings to share knowledge, expertise and to build community together.
  • For those who are unfamiliar, an unconference is an event for knowledge sharing where the participants create the content.
  • It is a free and open structure for self-organizing a knowledge community.
  • Since the first BarCamp, an unconference for technologists, landed in Toronto in the fall of 2005, these communities have been growing and propagating at an accelerating rate.
  • BarCamp spored to create DemoCamp, PodCamp, EnterpriseCamp, SustainabilityCamp, FacebookCamp, SciBarCamp, StartupCamp, TransitCamp and ChangeCamp


  • Toronto’s ‘Camp communities are signals from the future.
  • They are examples of what I call open creative communities.
  • An open creative community is a community that forms around shared practices, interests, values or geographic proximity.
  • They are creative, in that their members are engaged in the collaborative creation and sharing of original and meaningful new ideas.
  • They are open in that anyone can join, there is no professional accreditation process, no membership fee.
  • These communities are NOT democratic, they are meritocratic.
  • Status exists and is earned and lost in a free-market of reputational authority.
  • These communities are becoming distributed and decentralized laboratories of technological, business and social innovation.
  • They are figuring out how to create value outside of organizational structures and without heavy overhead or hard infrastructure.
  • They are forming new business and personal relationships and people are leaving traditional corporations to become free agents and forming distributed networks of capability.
  • They are building an internal economy based on values, passion, creativity, trust and personal reputation.


  • So what does this all mean to Toronto as a global knowledge city?
  • We need to pay attention to these new forms of self-organization that are made possible by the social web.
  • People in positions of power need to realize that there are huge, growing and increasingly organized and self-aware creative communities that are ready to be engaged, to solve the most pressing and challenging problems of the day.
  • We are facing the greatest transformational crisis in the global economy since the 1930’s.
  • The world is not going to be the same. We can’t put the genie back in the bottle.
  • The bailouts are buying time, not solving the problem.
  • Toronto has one of the most vibrant, connected, creative and diverse set of innovators and problem-solvers in the world.
  • We are arguably the most advanced global city in the world in terms of our adoption of social technology and the thought leaders and practitioners that are using these enabling technologies to create new models for creating value.
  • What we lack is a leadership class that truly understands the transformation that is happening now, just below the threshold of our shared day-to-day awareness.
  • Government, academia and the not-for-profit sectors need to realize that global corporations (and all our major corporations are global) are increasingly disconnected from their communities, are organized globally and therefore with little interest in investing in local communities in real ways.
  • Our citizens, however, are invested.
  • We are invested in the place we call home, in the social relationships we have formed and in our shared future.
  • If we can engage one another as citizens again, if we can get people out of their corporate and organizational silos and re-invigorate the public sphere, we can release a huge amount of creative energy for change, for resilience, for innovation and adaptation.
  • That means work. Hard work. By all of us. In this room. Now.

3 thoughts on “ConnectIT: Global Knowledge Cities”

  1. Thank you very much for your generous comments Bill! Coming from one of Canada’s technology industry leaders, it means a lot to me.

    I hope that we can look forward to working together on transformative change, creating connected communities through the use of leading edge technology infrastructure and our great talent pool in Toronto and across the country.

  2. As a citizen of Toronto, I’m glad to have you taking part in these community, collaboration change projects. ChangeCamp and TransitCamp are what excite me about the potential that technology shows in connecting people and ideas. I love to see the infusion of ideas, personalities that emerge out of these meetings and am excited to see the change start to grow from these events.

    Keep up the great work!
    Rob Fraser

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