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.


What is a Metronaut? 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.

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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?

Transit blogger Steve Munro Celebrates Two Years

For TransitCampers out there, here’s a shout out to the prolific and knowledgeable transit blogger Steve Munro at

January 31, 2006 saw the first post on this blog, a retrospective of my Film Festival reviews from years past. That was something just to get the wheels turning, and the reviews took a back seat to transit right from the start.

Over two years, this site became an important venue for discussions about many aspects of transit planning, operations and funding, not to mention the odd flight of fancy. All of this could not happen without the readers and contributors to the site.

[From Steve Munro’s Web Site » Blog Archive » Two Years]

Harvard Business Review Breakthrough Idea: Toronto TransitCamp


Along with my co-authors Jay Goldman and Eli Singer, I am proud to announce the publication of our article titled Sick Transit Gloria in the February issue of Harvard Business Review. The article shares the story of Toronto TransitCamp with a general business audience and is included in the 2008 edition of HBR’s annual The HBR List: Breakthrough Ideas section. There are many great ideas in there, so do yourself a favour and pick up a copy. (TransitCamp is also nominated by BlogTO in the Best of Independent Toronto Survey. Vote here!)

This short piece tells the tale of a community and a public agency coming together to solve problems in an innovative new way, using social web technology, social media and design methods together with the Barcamp unconference framework. The approach helped to shift the relationship between the organization and its customers and community stakeholders. That organization was the Toronto Transit Commission and the event and the open creative community that emerged from it was called Toronto TransitCamp. You can read the article in Harvard Business Review, or visit this wiki page for links that provide a comprehensive overview of the background, the design, the experience, the media coverage, the conceptual foundations and the influence of TransitCamp.

The authors want to make clear that while our names may appear in the byline of the article, the ideas and the event itself come from a community of participants and peers. We were also inspired by many talented global thought leaders. We would like to acknowledge these contributions and inspirations here: Continue reading “Harvard Business Review Breakthrough Idea: Toronto TransitCamp”

Nominated! Best Tech/Web Evangelist & TransitCamp, Best Unconference

I am honoured (and a little tickled, to be honest) to be nominated in BlogTO’s “Best of Independent Toronto” survey in the category Best Web or Tech Evangelist!

Being considered in the company of Toronto tech luminaries AmberMac, David Crow, Joey Devilla, Eli Singer, Will Pate is unexpected and humbling. If you’re looking for sparks, I am NOT going to be actively campaigning against my colleagues and dear friends, will NOT engage in Clinton-style slash and burn. I argue for a new kind of tech politics, an end to Swiftboating and Rovian dirty tricks. I argue for a new web evangelism of HOPE! promising CHANGE! through UNITY! (Did I mention David Crow’s unnatural fascination for women’s shoes?)

At the same time, I would be humbled and grateful if you chose to support my insurgent campaign as the Dennis Kucinich of this crowd of well recognized tech gurus. (Oh wait, he withdrew!)

But I WILL campaign vigourously in these final days for TransitCamp for Best Unconference. I am very proud of what our community did there, how we jumped out of our tech niches and into the mainstream discourse of city-building. Lucky for TransitCamp, the BarCamp mothership wasn’t nominated in competition.

So vote early and vote often!

Vancouver TransitCamp

Well, it looks like the TransitCamp meme we launched in Toronto back in February has gone round the globe and landed right back in Canada with Vancouver TransitCamp coming up fast on December 8th. Congratulations to Karen (Quinn) for surviving the existential angst and politically charged atmosphere just getting to launch. Karen was at the first TransitCamp in Toronto and has been passionate about bringing it back to her home city of Vancouver ever since.
Vancouver Transit Camp
When David registered the domain last year, we envisioned that maybe someday many subdomains might propagate for cities around the world that wanted to look at transit and community in a new way. I’m really glad to see someone has taken the ball and run with it.

In February, TransitCamp returns to BarCamp ground zero at Bay Area TransitCamp. We heard some rumblings from Australia, Boston and Washington DC. Time will tell if they surface. If you need advice on organizing a TransitCamp in your city, just send an email. And, hopefully, Toronto TransitCamp ’08 will be bigger and better.

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Is Traditional Activism a Dead Medium?

Or “How I Stopped Kvetching and Learned to Engage with the World.”

Kevin and Lori of Newmindspace are two of my favourite Gen-Y Facebook friends. When I met them at CaseCamp and again at TransitCamp, I immediately recognized their ability to combine fun and frivolity with keen organizational skills, grassroots guerilla marketing smarts, passion and thoughtfulness about the importance of public space in society. Subway parties, pillow fights and capture the flag, it turns out, are serious business.


Eye Weekly just published a piece by Liz Worth titled Is the Movement for Sale?, that raised the spectre that Newmindspace’s unique form of public space activism is being co-opted by corporate shills. Kevin brought to my attention several errors in the article, including Worth’s report that he and Lori had decided to “sign on to work for a marketing company” and her claim that Newmindspace had “inked a deal with Cundari Integrated Advertising”, thereby connecting them with such corporate evildoers as “BMW and Tim Hortons”.

For the record, Kevin clarified that they are doing some work for AMP, a new media think tank that has one Cundari employee on the board, and are focusing on campaigns for the nonprofit sector like what they did for the World Wildlife Fund. Newmindspace will never take a corporate sponsorship, nor will they market products to their community – knowing full well that the community would have none of it if they tried.

Also for the record, Cundari SFP (their proper name) was a $300 sponsor of Toronto TransitCamp, and Eli Singer was one of the organizers of that event. So sue me.

I’m glad we cleared that up.

How Many Angry Activists Does It Take to Create Something New?

I am sensitive to this kind of criticism myself, and can sympathize. I see myself as a social entrepreneur, a business person with a social mission that guides my activities. My methods mix social goals with entrepreneurial methods. Entrepreneurs, social or otherwise, are opportunity seekers and use strategy to achieve their goals.

TransitCamp received criticism from some in the established transit activist community who accused us for being outsiders to the cause who were giving the TTC a free pass on past egregious sins. We, of course, saw it differently. We saw an opportunity to use culture, creativity, fun and openness in an attempt to help transform the relationship between the TTC and its community, and we were successful in doing so. It should not be a surprise that Newmindspace, TransitCamp and BarCamp have some common inspirations and methods, as they are all about activating people’s passions and creating an open space for play.

I was not able to attend CampaignCamp, which was an attempt to bring activists, techies and communications people together to collaborate on new social activism campaigns. I heard reports that some individuals within the activist community were angry and antagonistic towards the marketers gathered together to help their cause. This saddens me. WTF is going on here? Why so much anger? Why bother?

Co-creation is the New Black

I fear that some in the activist community, just as many in the corporate world, are stuck in an old paradigm of thinking. Civil society and corporations are co-creating a new set of governance structures, what C.K. Prahalad calls a “New Social Compact“. In the context of global capitalism, with states in relative decline or receding from legitimate regulatory authority, private actors are increasingly placed in a position to create public goods and solve collective action problems that our governments are unwilling or unable to act upon. This is a characteristic of the new global reality, and the social mission sector and the corporate sector are quickly learning that it is a new world for them both.

I am not arguing that activism itself is dead. Far from it. I am arguing that in order to advance the social goals activist groups hold dear, they need to realize both the opportunity and the responsibility to engage with the private sector as legitimate partners in creating our shared world. The social sector must commit itself to engaging the creative imaginations of the public at large and must become strategic “norm entrepreneurs”, acting to transmit civil society values into the DNA of the multinational corporation.

For their part, corporations need to embrace the idea that cultural and normative values held in civil society are important inputs to production – as important to the bottom line as the customers, employees and investors who hold those values.

To withdraw from such engagement is to put our collective futures at even greater risk.

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Transit in Toronto: Social Media and the Politics of Transit Funding

There’s been big news in the world of Toronto public transit since our successful Toronto TransitCamp on February 4th. First there was the funding announcement for the $2 billion subway expansion to York University and into York Region. Now plans are ready for a $6 billion network of suburban light-rail crisscrossing the under-served suburban communities in our mega-city. (See Steve Munro’s blog for more detailed comments.)

Show me the money.
TTC Tokens

So, where is the money to pay for this plan? And what can social-media-enabled citizens do about it? First you can sign the petition for Mayor Miller’s “one cent solution”: That was easy. But is that enough?

In order to continue investing at the level required to meet anticipated current and future needs, we need a more stable and sustainable source of funding than the fickle whims of senior levels of government. I am a proponent of a congestion charge for the downtown core, like the one used in London. It has been very successful there, with demonstrable results.

There have also been some protests and issues with implementing the congestion charge, as you might imagine. Thankfully we can learn from the London experience and do things better, using technology developed right in our own backyard.

Skymeter is a startup company that resides in the incubator at Mars and has the technology to efficiently implement pretty much any congestion charge pricing scheme a policy wonk might imagine. See Peter Evans’ post discussing Skymeter’s disruptive potential and its listing as one of Business 2.0’s top disruptive companies.

The model exists, the technology exists, the need exists. So what’s missing?

Political will.

“Tolls” have been the political 3rd rail in Toronto since 2003 when then-candidate Miller mused about their usefulness to meet the transportation challenges of the future. What can the Toronto blogging community do to make a congestion charge to fund transit a viable alternative on the policy and political agenda.

So, my fellow blogosphere citizens, let’s start a conversation:

Can a congestion charge for downtown Toronto reduce congestion in the core, improve travel times AND help fund transit expansion at the same time? If not, why not? If so, why is nobody talking about it?

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Essay: What is an Open Creative Community?

Three weeks ago, I coined a new term in my attempt to understand and communicate some of the ideas under the surface of Toronto Transit Camp. I referred to Transit Camp and BarCamp as open creative communities. It was a vague notion founded on my intuitions about what I have been observing in places as diverse and apparently disconnected as BarCamp to CaseCamp to NewMindSpace to Burning Man.

So what do marketers and tech geeks have in common with half-naked neo-tribal bohemians in the desert?

Alive, originally uploaded by Thomas Hawk.

These are communities of interest, practice, proximity and values.

These communities live in a hybrid virtual- and place-based geography. They are hyper-creative and produce some phenomenal artifacts of human ingenuity and culture. They are open, in that the barrier to entry is not a membership fee or a geographic line in the sand or a common ethnicity. The barrier to entry is creative citizenship, and you are either a citizen and a participant or you are not, based on your individual relationship to that community’s interests, practices, proximity and values.

They are communities with both global and local dimensions. And they are self-organizing at an increasingly rapid rate, in the most unexpected places. (more after the jump)

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Tales of the Unexpected: Transit Camp inspires ChurchCamp!

I’m not making this up. Read the inspiration here. Pastor Chuck Warnock of Chatham Baptist Church, Virginia saw something in the Transit Camp model that he felt was needed in the Church. In particular, the BarCamp principles as we outlined them:

Bar Camp Principles Apply:

  1. We are equal individuals in an open community.
  2. Leadership can emerge from anywhere.
  3. We are all participants.

Pastor Warnock apparently saw a need for openness, self-organization and participation in the Church:

I just think this is amazing. Here we have a self-organized group of transit evangelists who are getting together on their own to help the transit system improve and they have principles that any church should be shouting from the rooftops — equal individuals in open community, leaders emerge from anywhere, and all are participants.

Maybe we ought to let non-church members organize churches for us.

Warnock’s ChurchCamp wiki is up, a solutions playground for the church, with the 3 principles given prominence of place, like a wikified version of Luther’s 95 Theses.

If we needed proof about the amazing hunger in the world outside tech for the methods and tools for openness, participation and community being developed in the BarCamp community laboratory, we need look no further.

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