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.

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A City that thinks like the Web

The City of Toronto’s Web 2.0 Summit held November 26th and 27th will go down in history as the moment that Government 2.0 landed in Toronto.  The truly historical moment was Mark Surman’s keynote at lunch, with an audience that included Mayor David Miller.  Surman posed three challenges to the City:

  1. Open our data. transit. library catalogues. community centre schedules. maps. 311. expose it all so the people of Toronto can use it to make a better city. do it now.
  2. Crowdsource info gathering that helps the city.  somebody would have up and running in a week if the Mayor promised to listen. encourage it.
  3. Ask for help creating a city that thinks like the web. copy Washington, DC’s contest strategy. launch it at BarCamp.

The Mayor responded immediately by pre-announcing that TTC routing data would be opened up in Google Transit format in June of 2009, and said that, while he couldn’t promise that the City would be ready to process the output, that Toronto’s web geeks should go ahead and do a Toronto version of FixMyStreet and that City would listen. This is huge.

The moment was the culmination of a lot of our hopes and dreams for a city that understands the power of open, the meaning of participation and a signal of a more effective and responsive government of and for the people of Toronto. Will Pate and I have offered our assistance to make this vision a reality and we hope others will join us.

Mark’s presentation was excellent and highly recommended.  I have embedded the slides here, but you should go to Mark’s blog for the full audio presentation (and audio of Mayor Miller’s response) for the full effect.

How to participate in TVO AgendaCamp from your couch

Sunday is the first TVO AgendaCamp, taking place at the Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor’s jewel overlooking the beautiful riverside walk and the Detroit skyline. A stunning location for an innovative new format in citizen-powered exploration and social-media enhanced journalism.

Creative facilitator-ninja Dan Rose and I will be helping to run a 3-ring circus of citizen journalism and economic policy thinking.  Linking social media, a BarCamp-inspired unconference and one of Canada’s premier public issues broadcast journalism platforms is a very exciting opportunity for me. The topic – Ontario’s changing economy with a focus on the manufacturing sector and places like Windsor that depend upon it – couldn’t be more relevant or timely.

For those of you who can’t make it to Windsor, will be the place to be from 10:00 am Sunday until 4:30pm. Arm-chair policy wonks and social media junkies can follow along as video is streamed live, as citizen-journalist YouTube videos and Flickr images are uploaded, the Wiki is populated with content and the whole event is live-blogged and Twittered. Use and follow the tag: AgendaCamp. We have MacBooks and FlipVideo cameras available on-site for participants, plus pro equipment and staff from TVO helping to capture the content and stories.

The strategy and platform for this was built by’s great production team, helped along with insight and guidance from Sean Howard.

We have a great platform, an amazing group of on-site participants, a bunch of technology and a beautiful and inspiring venue. I really can’t wait! I hope you can join us online and help us start an important new conversation.

AgendaCamp: Citizen-driven economic intelligence

The global economy is undergoing what appears to be the finance equivalent of a heart attack, the circulatory system of credit now frozen.  The policy response looks like shock therapy. $700 billion in public bailouts (or is that ‘investment’) hanging in the balance, $630 billion in new money being printed by the Federal Reserve together with central banks around the world and sudden and frightening drops in global stock markets. Meanwhile, news that talks on Canada-EU economic integration are due to begin mere days after the Canadian federal election has gone largely unnoticed. It is clear that we are not living in normal times.

How will this instability in the system affect citizens and businesses in the places they call home?  Even before the Wall Street meltdown, Ontario’s local and regional economies were under stress and changing rapidly. The current crisis appears likely to accelerate and exacerbate these changes.

It is said that all politics are local. What about economies?

Dan Dunsky, Executive Producer of TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin, believes that we need to think about Ontario’s economies in the plural and his team has identified that major sectors of Ontario’s economy correspond to our geographic landscape and its people in specific places. How do these places and people adapt to global forces that are largely outside of their control? How can we get ahead of the change curve and make our regions more resilient and adaptable to accelerating change?

To tackle this critically important question about our future well-being, TVO is launching an innovative new project that brings together collaborative events and social media together with premier broadcast journalism and expert inquiry.  I am advising and supporting TVO for this project, “The Agenda with Steve Paikin: on the Road” & AgendaCamp.

We’re looking for participants – like you. More after the jump…

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Boom, Bust, Echo and gas price sensitivity

Cross-posted from
The Cost of Gas Today by Will Gotshall-Maxon

Friday’s Globe and Mail featured a prediction by Jeffrey Rubin, the CIBC World Markets economist, that damage from Hurricane Gustav and other intense storms this season could cause a sudden spike in gas prices to $1.75 a litre.

Every time there is a price spike, the media runs to the local gas station to cover the “pain at the pumps”. But does that pain translate into a change in behaviour? How much of an impact do gas prices have on the commuting public in the GTA? Do increasing gas prices cause people to make different personal transportation decisions, or are households just absorbing the extra costs?

It appears that gas prices are affecting vehicle purchasing decisions (sorry GM), but are consumers switching from private vehicles to other modes of transportation? I would love to see the research on that. (Perhaps our friends at Metrolinx have some sources they can share? If readers know of recent research on this question, please leave a link in the comments.)

Surely demographic factors influence gas price sensitivity and the substitution of one mode of transportation for another. It makes sense that household incomes will affect price sensitivity, with the working poor being hit hardest. At the same time, many service workers need to use private vehicles to get to or perform their work (i.e. not the GO train Bay Street crowd) and have few alternatives. This creates a political problem that will bring calls for action.

But I also believe that there is a relationship to a another familiar demographic trend with political and policy implications: Boomer parents versus their Gen Y children.

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The Politics of the End of Suburbia

Cross-posted from

The economic conditions that supported the tremendous growth of North American suburbs during the last half of the 20th century – cheap energy and the modern industrial production system – appear to be undergoing a sharp reversal. What do these signals of the future mean for the suburbs and the demands that will be placed on politicians asked to respond to these changes?

You don’t have to be a peak oil theorist to recognize – as James Smith, CEO of Shell UK has – that “the era of easy oil is over”. The reality that we are not going to ever return to an age of cheap oil is just starting to sink into the consciousness of the marketplace, electorate and policy-makers. Scenarios of a serious supply crunch and $200 a barrel oil are no longer on the fringe.

The Freakonomics blog at NY Times recently held a quorum inviting a small group of smart and opinionated experts to imagine the future of American suburbia in 40 years time. The responses vary from James Kunstler’s “the suburbs have three destinies, none of them exclusive: as materials salvage, as slums, and as ruins” to the more hopeful “Suburbia will be flexible, it will be smarter, and it will be hybrid” of John Archer.

What about in the Toronto region?

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Accelerating the TransitCamp community!

Pleased with the validation of having our TransitCamp article published in Harvard Business Review (co-authored by Eli, Jay and I), we were looking for ways to continue to develop the TransitCamp community from that first event exactly 1 year ago. We wanted to spread the idea far and wide. Well, it looks like we’ll have our wish – and on a bigger scale than we were imagining.

On the anniversary of the first TransitCamp, I am excited to announce that Remarkk! Consulting, working with a stellar cast from the TransitCamp and OpenCities communities, has been engaged by Metrolinx (aka, the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority) in order to adapt and extend the TransitCamp community across the vast city-region of the GTA and Hamilton and from transit into all aspects of integrated regional mobility, including roads, bike routes and pedestrian experiences.

What is TransitCamp?

TransitCamp is a solutions playground, not a complaints department. TransitCamp is an open creative community.

As described in the Harvard Business Review article [Sick Transit Gloria], we will use open source tools (including unconferences) to bring together community members from across the GTA and Hamilton to participate in intense, participatory and fun face-to-face and online happenings to reimagine the future of the region’s transportation system. This will be, above all, a community-led experience. While we are helping to build the platforms, it is people passionate about transit and transportation issues in the region who will provide the content.

We were delighted to discover that Rob MacIsaac, Chair of Metrolinx and the Metrolinx planning and communications staff are open to new ideas and approaches. The community will have an unprecedented opportunity to contribute to the future of the region in a very tangible way. Metrolinx is responsible for developing an integrated Regional Transportation Plan in 2008 and is the Ontario government agency responsible for deploying at least $17 billion in new capital to projects across the region.

But this is a Camp, so it’s not all serious. We’re also going to have a lot of Campy fun. There will be accordions and chickens and other mayhem.

When is the next TransitCamp?

No date has been set just yet, but we would like to have the next TransitCamp in March. Watch this space! We are planning a series of TransitCamps across the GTA, so we can look forward to doing more than just one event over the coming months.

How do you get involved?

  1. Join the TransitCamp Google Group. You will receive updates from the organizers, and also be able to join the discussion and participate in the design of the unconference experience. (Twitterers can follow here. You can also join the Facebook group.)
  2. Read about the original TransitCamp experience from February 2007. There are many links of interest on this wiki page.
  3. Check out the Regional Transportation Plan papers on the Metrolinx site and start imagining the future.
  4. Participate!

What does participation mean?

Help us design the events and the online community spaces and help fill them with your aspirations, ideas and passions. Tell us what you would like to do together as a community.

You can leave comments on this blog post, or start a thread on the Google Group, or blog about it, share videos, photos – express yourself! (tag: transitcamp).

If TransitCamp is a solutions playground, every game on the playground needs basic rules so that the participants can have the best play possible. What kinds of games would you design?

Who is already involved?

Eli Singer; Jay Goldman; Sean Howard; Misha Glouberman; Michele Perras; Daniel Rose; David Eaves; Mark Surman; David Crow; Jed Kilbourn (don’t worry, we’ll get him a blog soon); and soon many others….

FAQ Links:

What is an unconference?

Why “unconferences” are fun conferences

What is a wiki?