My comment to John Tory’s post at The Star #YourCityMyCity

Mr. Tory, thank you for taking on this important question about the state of our public discourse. I share your concerns. I believe that if we wait for our politicians to change, then we will be waiting a long time. I second your call for citizens…

Mr. Tory, thank you for taking on this important question about the state of our public discourse. I share your concerns. I believe that if we wait for our politicians to change, then we will be waiting a long time. I second your call for citizens to ENGAGE EACH OTHER, and by doing so, to shift the context within which our politicians do their work.

In our communities and neighbourhoods, we are too often separated. Politeness in Toronto has all too often meant disengagement with each other, respect made easy by social distance. Our problems and their possible solutions have become increasingly complex, intertwined and dependent upon each other, but our governments, our politics and our social norms have worked to keep us apart and unaware of each other. So how will we change the conversation we have about this city we share?

I believe that we have methods and technologies to help change this. We can democratize the process of public dialogue. We can enable citizens to host each other in meaningful conversations. We can connect those conversations and those people to one another across time and space in a vast and diverse city.

In a city as large and diverse as Toronto, we need to become leaders in the world in terms our ability as a society to engage one another meaningfully. This requires a new kind of civic leadership, where citizens take ownership and initiative to convene their neighbours in important conversations about our shared future.

Thank you for raising this issue and opportunity. The ChangeCamp community is working to take up your challenge. We are working to develop a toolkit and program for citizen-led civic engagement in the weeks leading up to the October elections and beyond, and we would welcome your active participation in the project.

I think the ChangeCamp community and project could have a strong potential ally in Mr. Tory and the Toronto City Summit Alliance. What do you think?

Remembering David Pecaut and his love of Toronto

As I look at the future of Toronto, I am as excited as I have ever been about what the 5 million people here have to offer the world. To me the potential of Toronto lies not so much within its architectural or economic or social possibilities as i…

As I look at the future of Toronto, I am as excited as I have ever been about what the 5 million people here have to offer the world. To me the potential of Toronto lies not so much within its architectural or economic or social possibilities as in what it could represent to the world as a place where amazing things get done because this city is full of conveners, of civic entrepreneurs, of people who understand in their collective DNA how to bring all the parts of civil society around a table to solve problems, seize opportunities, and make great things happen.

It is this capacity of social mobilization that can be Toronto’s greatest gift to the world. We should stop worrying about global rankings and focus on what will make us truly special – which is that we can be the best in the world at collective leadership.

We can be a city where collective leadership is the norm. A city where civic entrepreneurs are everywhere and the process of bringing all the parts of civil society together to solve a problem is really how the city defines its uniqueness – a city where this quality is the essence of what makes Toronto so special.

In that sense, Toronto’s gift to the world could be this unique and powerful model of city building that comes from collective leadership.

This letter, published by Spacing shortly after his death, is must-read.

I feel myself profoundly saddened by David Pecaut’s passing, a man I never had the opportunity to meet but who has been described as “the best mayor Toronto never had”. His impact and his legacy is very much alive. My thoughts today go to all of those who are feeling his profound absence today and in the days to come. Now the work begins.

A design ethnography tour of Malvern?

I was writing up a funding proposal to take ChangeCamp hyper-local in Toronto in 2010, when I realized I know very little about how people outside my hyper-connected core use social technology and web connected devices. I thought about Malvern, a …

I was writing up a funding proposal to take ChangeCamp hyper-local in Toronto in 2010, when I realized I know very little about how people outside my hyper-connected core use social technology and web connected devices. I thought about Malvern, a neighbourhood in northeast Scarborough. Malvern has a lot of young people, a high numbers of visible minorities and newcomers and lots of tall apartment towers separated by vast stretches of suburban sprawl and is also close to some beautiful green spaces.

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Malvern feels pretty far away from the Twittering, iPhone waving, Macbook swaddled, Dark Horse sipping, social media hive I occupy at Queen and Spadina. I know almost nothing about life in Malvern, nor do most of my downtown peers. If I were trying to engage young people and newcomers in this neighbourhood, what would be the channels I would choose? What are their social technology habits? What devices do they have? How much time do they spend online? How do they talk? What are their public spaces?

The vision for the ChangeCampTO 2010 project I have proposed is to enable ChangeCamp style events in all 44 of Toronto’s wards with a particular focus on engaging residents in Toronto’s disconnected periphery, the inner suburbs and so-called “priority neighbourhoods” that are of such concern related to issues from community economic development, education, social inclusion, gun violence and systemic poverty. This project will not be successful by simply taking a downtown, white privileged, Twitterati dominated model and exporting it. It needs to be a model that people can make their own, adapt as they need to and that reflects local flavour.

So I am proposing a small group design ethnography tour one weekend day in December. Six design-thinker types armed with digital recording devices, their eyes, curiosity and a sense of adventure pile into a van. What happens next?

Call to Action: Join the Toronto Open Data Community

Community members with an interest in open civic data in Toronto have a unique opportunity to engage City government, to learn about what the City is planning and to participate in a meaningful way in helping to shape the future of Toronto as a “city that thinks like the web”.

Toronto Open Data Lab, part of the Toronto Innovations Showcase
Monday, November 2nd, 2009
1:00 – 4:30pm
City Hall Council Chamber and Members Lounge

Special Guest Speaker: Peter Corbett, iStrategy Labs and AppsforDemocracy.org

The Open Data Lab is an opportunity to explore the innovation possibilities of open civic data in Toronto. Join City subject matter and technology experts, community stakeholders and talented members of Toronto’s vibrant technology and design communities in an interactive and collaborative afternoon imagining commercial, social and civic applications of the City’s newly launched open data program.

This extended series of sessions kicks off with an aspirational talk about the Future of Open Cities from Peter Corbett, one of the open data leaders behind AppsforDemocracy.org and the success of Washington DC’s open data program. We will also hear from City of Toronto CIO Dave Wallace about the launch of Toronto.ca/Open and the future direction of Toronto’s open data program, and invited guests from the community will have an opportunity to inspire us with their open data dreams.

Participants will then have the opportunity to explore the first datasets to be released to the public from Toronto’s open data program. Facilitated by ChangeCamp organizer Mark Kuznicki, this is a unique opportunity that organizers hope will generate much interest and spark some ideas for new applications that will demonstrate the kind of value that open data can create for the City government and the community at large.

If you don’t want to miss this, or if you have an Ignite-style presentation proposal on the theme My Open Data Dream App, please let me know using this form:

Backgrounder

In April of this year, Mayor David Miller announced at the Mesh Conference [iTunes] [Podcast] that the City would open the vaults of its vast data and publish an initial number of City datasets in machine-readable open access format through a new home on the web at Toronto.ca/Open in fall of this year.

It was an announcement that was highly anticipated, from the challenge posed by Mozilla’s Mark Surman at the City’s Web 2.0 Summit in the fall of 2008, through the very popular session on open data hosted by Senior Advisor to the Mayor Ryan Merkeley at ChangeCampTO in January of this year, momentum had been built up towards the Mayor’s announcement.

Continue reading “Call to Action: Join the Toronto Open Data Community”

Toronto queers use Twitter to organize for social change

Reposted from Xtra.ca. Queers and beers has been an age-old model for social events in the gay community, but now, it’s also a group phenomenon sweeping Toronto Twitter users. Born in June 2009, Twitter group Queers and Beers started as a way to b…

Reposted from Xtra.ca.

Queers and beers has been an age-old model for social events in the gay community, but now, it’s also a group phenomenon sweeping Toronto Twitter users.

Born in June 2009, Twitter group Queers and Beers started as a way to bring together tech-savvy queer folk and their supporters to discuss social issues.

Local public relations entrepreneur Jaime Woo conceived the group in order to harness the power of social media to unite a community.

“It’s about finding people with the same passion as you do and using technology so the queer community can get their message out and define their role in the tech world,” says Woo.

With the fast-paced lifestyle of many Torontonians, it can be difficult to set aside a moment to consider social issues facing the world.

“I think this is a fun way for people to come together and think about good causes,” says Woo.

The group has already had three real-life meet-ups and will hold its fourth this coming Tue, Sep 29 at a backyard barbecue.

Each event takes place in a different space in order to spur different states of mind. The goal of the get-togethers is to stimulate different conversations, connections and to draw out different types of people.

 

Justin Stayshyn, a Queers and Beers member and emerging social media consultant, says that the group is as important online as offline.

“Twitter is about relationships and conversations. It’s revolutionary to share information with people and knowing them in real life strengthens that connection,” a link, Stayshyn says, that was missing before within the gay community.
The next meet-up will focus on issues surrounding queer homeless youth, a topic that may inspire some members to be proactive and pick a new pet cause, says Woo.
The group is now approximately 25 members strong and gains momentum through word of mouth and wireless waves. Woo says the crowd grows after each event through the flurry of social media messaging.
“There are definite benefits and obstacles to using social media, but in this case it was the fastest way to bring together a group of 20 people who were all passionate about the same thing,” says Woo.
He says he came up with the idea and within a week, the first meet-up was held thanks to the viral nature of Twitter.
As much as people say the internet is killing real-life interaction, others still disagree.
“I often have to battle against this notion that Twitter is about technology for technology’s sake, but it really isn’t,” says Mark Kuznicki, a Toronto-based social media expert and self-proclaimed change agent. “It’s about how technology can be used to make us human again.”
People now have a platform to connect in a way that spans beyond being categorized by their superficial attributes, and they are redefined through shared interests, he says.
While the bar scene continues to thrive, it is not necessarily the easiest place for gay people to find kindred spirits since it is often the luck of the draw.
“The traditional bar scene contains really coarse broad categories that we get slotted within in the community and people are more complicated than that,” says Kuznicki.
Social media, Kuznicki says, helps to break down limiting barriers and allows people to connect around things that they are passionate about, which takes some of the guesswork out of meeting new people.
Twitter is an arena that embraces an open network concept, whereas other social media sites such as Facebook, focus on a pre-existing network of friends. It’s “more about people that you should meet in the future,” says Kuznicki.
A future that Queers and Beers is changing, in 140 characters or less at a time.

For more info, follow the
#queersandbeers discussion on Twitter or join the group’s Facebook Page. The next event is Tue, Sep 29.

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 FixMyStreet.to 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.

Metronauts! Explorers of the future of urban transportation

I am proud to announce the launch of a new online community and a series of Transit Camp style events across the Greater Toronto region. The stewards are really excited to launch this new project, which builds upon the success of 2007’s Toronto Transit Camp and takes it to new places and new audiences. Join the community.

metronauts

What is a Metronaut?

Metronauts.ca is an open community of people from across the sprawling greater Toronto region who care about the future of their cities. Metronauts are explorers of the future form of our cities and the role transportation has in our lives.

Continue reading “Metronauts! Explorers of the future of urban transportation”

Mark Kingwell on Toronto, justice and fauxhemian hucksterism

A harsh critique from one of Toronto’s best public intellectuals in The Walrus. [Hat tip: Joey , BlogTO and Kelly.]

Kingwell argues that there is nothing new about Toronto as a rich source of ideas and the shift “of Canada from being a resource basket to a linked series of communications nodes held together by thought”, and continues…

But the economic and social conditions of ideas have changed, here as much as elsewhere, putting the city on the brink of a certain kind of identity, and a certain kind of success: a creative-class boom town. My suggestion is that we are thinking about this possibility in exactly the wrong way. The question for Toronto now is not whether ideas can flourish in this place, because demonstrably they do, but what consequences in justice that flourishing will entail. On the edge of new identities and possibilities, what is our idea of justice?

It’s a good read. Kingwell describes the central creative era political faultline around the question “what is the city for?”. Is the city for glory or for justice? Kingwell argues,

Though a city in pursuit of glory may neglect justice, the opposite does not hold: a truly just city is always a glorious one, because it allows greatness even as it looks to the conditions of strangeness posed by the other.

Kingwell warns against a certain “hucksterism” in the creative city agenda that sees the city as a glittering entertainment space for the bohemian bourgeois. You can see this vision being realized everyday in the horrifying marketing campaigns of downtown loft condos targeted at the nouveau-hipster-doofus.

Another great quote:

Toronto is not a city in the modern sense of a unified whole. I suspect it never will be, and probably need not try. Toronto is, instead, a linked series of towns loosely held together by the gravitational force of its downtown core and the pinned-in-place effect of the surveillance rod we call the CN Tower. Like Canada in general, that triumph of communications technology in defiance of all nationalist sense, Toronto is postmodern in both its geography and its psychogeography. There is a physical centre, in the sense of a summing of vectors like a centre of gravity, but there is no normative or mythic one, no single agora or narrative. This much is obvious, and often said. But we continue to fail in grasping its political significance.

Great food for thought, the whole piece is a must read. I’m interested in your take on it.