How can Toronto be a ‘smarter city?’

Even with new technology being revealed practically every week, the term “smart cities” remains widely undefined. When a city such as Toronto has achieved everything from economic success to cultural relevance, how does it make the jump from being just any city, to an ever-elusive smart city?

The best answer to this question is that such an expansive transition could take decades, however many would be surprised to learn that members of Toronto’s urban ecosystem have been considering these questions long before the Toronto Region Board of Trade’s first Annual Smart Cities Summit.

“I don’t really care about labels. I’m much more interested in what’s behind them. People have been talking about smart cities for more than 20 years.” said John Lung, the executive director of the intelligent community forum of Canada during a panel discussion at the Summit.

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On stage with him are Chris Dwelley, the citywide performance manger of the City of Boston, David Amborski, of Ryerson University and Harout Chitilian, of the Montreal Executive Committee.

Ahead of this panel was the first keynote speaker Mark Kleinman, the director of economic and business policy for the Mayor of London, U.K.

“One of my passions is smart cities,” he said. “I’ve been a frequent visitor to Toronto for over 10 years, but I don’t think London or any other city around the world has all the answers to this agenda.”

When most people think of a smart city, an image of Tomrrowland comes to mind, potentially featuring drones, hover jets and robot dogs.

However, a smart city refers to using data and analytics to improve the overall function of the region. This includes using automation and the internet of things to make navigating the city easy for anyone with an internet connection.

Once a city has mastered its data, it will then be able to partner with organizations developing solutions to the issues indicated through the data. However, most cities don’t know where to start.

“Cities generally don’t know what their smart assets are, or even what makes human infrastructure smart,” said Kleinman.

The cities of London, Boston, Montreal, and others making strides in this space were represented at the conference and each came with a smart accolade to their name.

Boston, for example, can be credited with an initiative known as CityScore. CityScore is an online platform designed to inform the mayor how the city ranks in several areas at any given time by aggregating metrics from across the city into a single number.

“Our work really focuses on harnessing the power of data and technology to help the city deliver better services,” said Dwelley during his time on stage. He goes on to say that CityScore was built from a existing infrastructures, meaning data that was already available.

Furthermore, Kleinman focused heavily on Tech City, a cluster of technology companies that grew from a road interchange in East London which has increased the visibility of London’s tech scene over the years.

Where most cities are starting with this initiative is mobility, as Torontonians have observed with bated breath in our own city over the past few years. Not only has the city braved the acceptance and regulation of disruptive technologies like Uber, but it’s struggled to modernize its own transit systems.

However, as Kleinman articulated during his presentation, this kind of “productive” dialogue between the public and private sectors is inevitable.

“Yes, the governance is all wrong. Please just get over it. The governance is always wrong. Where do you want to be in five years?” said Kleinman indicating that  innovation will always be ahead of the government because you can’t regulate something that doesn’t yet exist.

What about when something exists, but only a small portion of the population has access to it? That question is why the Board of Trade brought in some unexpected guests to share their insights about the digital divide.

When people think of innovation, disruptive technology, artificial intelligence and the internet of things, the Toronto Public Library doesn’t typically come to mind.

Toronto Reference Library

Toronto Reference Library

It would surprise many to find that Toronto’s well-established learning hub is also a bridge to some of the city’s most innovative technologies for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access them.

In a discussion about the global evolution of smart cities and the role of startups, scale-ups and city officials on facilitating that development, the digital divide was mentioned a grand total of two times. One of the questions facing city officials all over the world is, how can we ensure that everyone can participate in and benefit from these changes?

As Vickery Bowles, a city librarian at the Toronto Public Library, will tell you, a city where only a portion of the population has access to the latest technologies isn’t that smart.

Therefore, the Toronto Public Library announced last December that, funded by the City of Toronto, it would begin piloting a Lendable Hotspot program.

According to the Toronto Star, approximately 27 percent of city residents don’t have broadband internet access in their homes, meaning that “hot spots are a commodity.” Whether this has to do with the rising prices of broadband coverage or spotty coverage in under-serviced areas, it’s been made clear that a smart city that includes only a portion of the population isn’t living up to its name.

“Access to information and pathways to learning has been the great equalizer of the 20th century, but in the 21st century, access to technology is just as important,” said Bowles.

The Toronto Public Libraries are currently running three digital innovation hubs at the Toronto Reference Library, Fort York and the Scarborough Civic Centre, where citizens can conduct research for entrepreneurial ventures and explore ideas that they would be able to otherwise.

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While it seems as if the internet has been around forever, it’s really only been 20 years since it began to significantly impact the world. It wouldn’t’ be reasonable for governments and populations to begin seeing internet access as a human right in what amounts to maybe 100 years in legislative time (we all know how slow institutional change can be).

That’s why city officials have set their sights on the internet first – so the city of Toronto can take advantage of its smart assets when the time is right. Eventually, should we have the resources, a smart city could mean vehicle to infrastructure communication, real-time business analytics, and essentially, knowing about issues before they manifest themselves in breakages, leaks and car accidents. In order for that to happen however, everyone needs to be connected to the internet.

The second mention of the digital divide came from Kristina Verner, the Director of Intelligent Communities at Waterfront Toronto. Intelligent Communities is the innovative division of Waterfront Toronto that offers Canada’s first open access, high speed broadband community network.

Verner emphasized the affordable and reliable nature of the coverage offered in the community, which will be operated by the Toronto-based telecommunications firm, Beanfield Metroconnect.

“Oftentimes in a smart city environment, you end up with an even bigger divide between the have and the have-nots. We’re making sure no one gets left behind.”

Initiatives other than the public library in Toronto that are attempting to involve citizens in their own wireless infrastructure include IdeaSpaceTO, a platform City officials seek feedback from the population about the challenges they’d like to overcome and Better Budget Toronto, an online outlet where citizens can access information about the city’s budget.

In the past few years, it’s become clear that megacities, rather than national governments, are going to be the most influential sources of change in the future. While Toronto may not be in the top five, it’s certainly in the top ten. By 2030, two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, meaning they’ll need to find a way to accommodate their growing populations.

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Based on the information available, it’s clear Toronto isn’t yet equipped to do this, seeing as the city’s maximized capacity was mentioned over and over again over the course of the summit.

However, the municipal government has made it clear that it’s having this conversation across several channels in an effort to keep up with its population and with its surrounding super-cities, which is definitely a start.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for a smarter Toronto after all.

Image credit: Wikicommons – Chris McPhee

Comments

  • Mo Dabbas

    “How can Toronto be a ‘smarter city?’” — By getting rid of Drake and getting the Raptors to win an NBA title even with the crappy refs who were clearly against them.

    • Omis

      Move to Vancouver

    • ciderrules

      Only thing worse than people in Toronto who think they’re the center of the universe is listening to the people in Vancouver with their inferiority complex constantly whine about it.

    • Omis

      I’m from Toronto. 😉

    • Mo Dabbas

      why?

    • MoYeung

      Move to USA

    • Omis

      No it said smarter not dumber.

    • MoYeung

      1.2 to 1.4 million Canadians currently work and live in USA permanently.

    • Crosseyedmofo

      there are at least 900,000 americans that currently live and work in canada permanently, considering population differences which number is more substantial?

    • MoYeung

      Oh really? Where and how did you get that figure from?

      My number comes from a reputable research firm.

    • MoYeung

      With 35 per cent of male newcomers returning home and a growing middle class in developing countries less inclined to migrate, an internal government review is calling the future of Canadian immigration into question.

      The report by Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada also points to the challenge of reconfiguring an immigrant-selection system in a rapidly changing labour market where a growing number of jobs are temporary and there’s “increasing mismatch” of available skills and the skills in demand.

      “What changes, if any, does Canada want to make to its current ‘managed migration,’ ” asked the 23-page study, titled Medium-Term Policy: Balanced Immigration and stamped “for internal discussion only.” “To what extent is the current overall immigration level appropriate and/or necessary?”

      Google this article from Toronto Star newspaper.

    • brent

      I Agree to getting rid of that Poser Drake, but come on man , I’m so damn sick and tired of Raps Fans crying about officiating.. GIVE ME A BREAK… they were spanked by 114 points in their 4 losses to the CAVS. It wasn’t the REF’s Fault, and there is no conspiracy by the NBA to keep the Raps out of the finals…. This is the reason I hate Raps fans, biggest bunch of whiners and cry babies on the planet.. How about you team just got beat by a clearly superior team? end of story

    • Mo Dabbas

      Lol, ya it’s true about game 1,2 and 6. Raps didn’t even play. But the game I watched the refs were doing so many bad calls against the raptors (I think it was game 3).

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  • redheadednomad

    Step 1 in making a Smarter Toronto, and helping break down the barrier to information access faced by large segments of the population, would be the installation of free public wifi. It’s pretty embarrassing that Toronto still can’t offer reliable wifi access within the downtown core (unless you’re riding the Yonge-University line); something that smaller cities like Boston have had for years.

    • Eluder

      Look at NYC, they’ve got Wifi on their streets now (or at least in beta). This city thinks it’s world class, but sadly it’s gone down the crapper over the years.

  • Canada

    Who cares?

  • Daniel Bader

    This was an absolute pleasure to read. Really accessible, with lots of food for thought.

  • MoYeung

    When a city such as Toronto has achieved everything from economic success to cultural relevance…

    SOMEBODY PLEASE CALL THE psychiatric hospital.

    Toronto is even only a 2nd/3rd-tier city within USA and Canada (North America)

    • thomas nguyen

      and how did you come to that conclusion?

    • MoYeung

      Some international agencies publish yearly report on city/country ranking.

    • rgl168

      Mercer Quality of Living Report 2016:

      1 Vienna Austria
      2 Zurich Switzerland
      3 Auckland New Zealand
      4 Munich Germany
      5 Vancouver Canada
      6 Dusseldorf Germany
      7 Frankfurt Germany
      8 Geneva Switzerland
      9 Copenhagen Denmark
      10 Sydney Australia
      11 Amsterdam Netherlands
      12 Wellington New Zealand
      13 Berlin Germany
      14 Bern Switzerland
      15 Toronto Canada
      15 Melbourne Australia
      17 Ottawa Canada
      18 Hamburg Germany
      19 Luxembourg Luxembourg
      19 Stockholm Sweden
      21 Brussels Belgium
      21 Perth Australia
      23 Montreal Canada
      24 Stuttgart Germany
      24 Nurnberg Germany
      26 Singapore Singapore
      27 Adelaide Australia
      28 San Francisco United States

      Toronto is ranked 2nd among cities in North America – only Vancouver is ahead. And four Canadian cities appear ahead on Mercer’s list prior to any US cities (San Fran).

    • MoYeung

      Quality of living not equivalent to economic success … Vienna is like a travel resort town. People would take New York city any day.

    • rgl168

      After coming back from NYC – for a visit – yes; to live there – umm… no.

      Thomas N and I would like to see your source to indicate Toronto is a 2nd/3rd-tier city.

    • MoYeung

      I just googled bill gates net worth was estimated 79.4 billion USD in 2015, while Warren Buffett was estimated 63.3 billion USD in 2015.

      If you still think Toronto is almost like New York city based on your analogy, you are deluding yourself and misleading everyone who see this.

    • rgl168

      You are the one that’s misleading. I’ve never said “Toronto is almost like New York City” (although a number of movie directors would think otherwise). I am (as well as ThomasN) disputing your statement “Toronto is even only a 2nd-to-3rd-tier city within USA and Canada”, even when various rankings and reports show Toronto is successful in its own right – just like Warren Buffett is successful in its own right even though his net worth is less than BIll Gates. Are there room for improvement for Toronto? Of course! However, that does not make Toronto a 2nd/3rd tier city like you’ve said. Are there room for improvement for NYC? London? Paris? Hong Kong? Certainly – for all of them!

      BTW you still haven’t provided any source that back up your claims.

    • MoYeung

      Well, just do some random googling, many people have expressed the notion that Toronto is a 2nd-tier city, at best, within USA and Canada.

      I don’t understand why it is so hard for you to accept reality. You are in denial.

      Toronto is not in the same league as New York, Los Angeles… Does it hurt your pride this much?

    • rgl168

      Yes it hurts – it hurts me from laughing so hard at your comments!

      First in your previous statement, you claim that “Some international agencies publish yearly report on city/country ranking” justifies your position. Yet, now others ask you to provide the source, you couldn’t name even one, but instead resorting to “random googling” for any Joe Blow’s comment. That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard today – I must say.

      And I don’t need to deny anything. Metropolis Magazine (NY-based BTW) named TO “#1 Most Livable City” in 2015. Economist EIU: “Toronto (8) in Canada is a consistent performer across the five other indexes, putting it top overall.”

    • MoYeung

      If you still think you belong to the same grouping called “alpha” city, so be it.

      A+++, A++, A+, A, A-, A–

      It makes you feel important.

    • rgl168

      It doesn’t matter what I (or you, or any other person) feels about Toronto. What’s more important is you keep contradicting yourself and unable to backup your argument with facts, resorting to personal attacks and “random googling” when you said there are “international agencies publish yearly report on city/country ranking”.

    • MoYeung

      Dude, get over it. Toronto is 2ND-tier, deal with it.

    • rgl168

      Sure – 2nd-tier for MoYeung. And the world evolves around you.

      Metropolis and Economist say you are wrong – deal with it. If you are that good, publish your own magazine in the same league as Economist.

    • MoYeung

      Are you Emperor of Toronto? I am sorry, your majesty, your castle is not as grand as you would think.

    • rgl168

      I’m sorry, MoYeung. I supposed when you can’t back up your claims with facts, using straw-man tactics is as grand as you can get.

      You are wrong, you can’t back up your claims, and you can’t put forward an argument – deal with it.

    • MoYeung

      You don’t want to face reality; there’s nothing anyone can do.

    • rgl168

      Mercer, Metropolis, Economist. Those reports must be wrong and MoYeung must right.

      Take your reality and put it where the sun doesn’t shine.

    • rgl168

      You said I don’t want to face reality. But your conversation goes both ways – why should I accept your version of reality when you don’t accept the reality from the studies of Economists, Metropolis and other organizations?

    • MoYeung

      Problem is there is only one reality, the reality MOST PEOPLE agree on … or you end up in a mental hospital.

    • rgl168

      I’ll tell you about a reality: from the various comments regarding your reposnses, MOST PEOPLE have indicated that they disagree with your viewpoints. So you should heed your own advice by checking into a mental hospital yourself.

    • MoYeung

      Let’s convene the grand jury.

    • MoYeung

      How many people in total in New York city and Los Angeles, then Toronto?

      How many people would agree with me?

    • rgl168

      Agree that you need to check into a mental hospital? I think their reponses will be unanimous.

    • MoYeung

      You are a medical doctor now? Do you still have coverage in malpractice insurance?

    • rgl168

      No malpractice applied as you check into the mental hospital yourself based on the criteria you yourself has outlined.

    • MoYeung

      You sound agitated. I don’t blame you. Your Toronto “castle” is 2ND rate, but why don’t you accept it and move on?

    • rgl168

      You sound delusional. Toronto is ranked favorably amoung various organizations – you typed them yourself in your other posting. Why don’t you accept that and move on?

    • MoYeung

      I am watching “hotel hell” on tv; you are worse than that town’s Innkeeper who is ignorant, oblivious and delusional. Since you are just copying and repeating every point I made, I don’t want to reply to you anymore.

    • rgl168

      I guess you don’t like the taste of your own words?

      If expressing an opinion supported by results of studies from leading agencies is ignorant and delusional (yes, remember the very same “international agencies publish yearly report on city/country ranking” that you mentioned?), then denial of these studies and name calling must be realistic and truthful.

      There is no point in continuing this conversation. Have a nice night.

    • MoYeung

      I agree no point in continuing.

    • rgl168

      So you go from “international agencies publish yearly report on city/country ranking”, to “random googling”, to people count.

      Any others methods: Drawing straws? Rolling dices?

      Go knock on the doors of Mercer, Economists, Metropolis, and other agencies. Tell them they need to toss away their current city ranking system from what they currently have to a simple public opinion vote. They’ll have the cops check you into mental hospital for sure.

    • MoYeung

      Did you read my post on research data and ranking by other agencies (Google books)? Not showing up on your computer?

      I answered your “alpha” CITIES argument before; you are still in denial and COPYING every point I made. If you have else to offer, just go away, man.

    • rgl168

      Denial that there are plenty of influential organizations that rank Toronto highly (PwC, EIU, Mercer, Metropolis, KPMG) that completely refute your claim “Toronto is even only a 2nd-to-3rd-tier city within USA and Canada “? If it makes you happy, sure – deny the studies from those organizations.

      But didn’t you say there is only one version of reality?

      Enjoy your time at your mental institution’s ward.

    • MoYeung

      PwC, EIU, Mercer, Metropolis, KPMG… I see company names, i don’t see them saying Toronto is 1st tier city.

    • rgl168

      You need help in reading and comprehension? Go to school and learn how to read instead of making a fool out of yourself in forums.

  • thomas nguyen

    how can “insert city name” be a smarter city. I think this can be generalized! 😀
    Though Toronto, I think is the leader in leading edge technology when compared to what the other current Canadian cities offers.

    • MoYeung

      Compared to rural, small h-i-c-k towns? There are millions of them across North America…

  • Smanny

    They could install more WiFi on light poles. They could even install more cameras on those same poles to help out with security around the city. Those two things alone would make any city smarter, and make those living in it, feel more secure. Two birds with one stone. You can buy 360 cameras for as little as $200, and a good WiFi router for as little as $100. So a city block might need 6 cameras and routers ($1800). If you buy a ton of them, then naturally you would get much better pricing. I know this does not include the the installation or on going maintenance fees. The police could have instant access to those cameras.

    • brent

      I can tell you are not in I.T LOL yes a decent home wireless router is 100 bucks.. But you don’t just stick a random home router on a pole and magically have internet access.. Setting up a Proper meshed Wifi network is very Expensive! my company has a guest WIFI network setup with 10 High End Ruckus Wireless POE Access Points at a cost of 1200 per AP. We then connect those AP’s to two POE (Power over Ethernet) switches. ( approx 800 per switch). Throw a cisco Router in the mix (about $1000) and connect that to a dedicated 100mps in both directions All-Stream business internet connection and you have a reliable fast Wifi network.. Our office has about 160 employees and is a 2 storey office building. Do the math and our Wifi Network setup cost us around 15G’s!! not including the ongoing 400 a month for the 100mbps internet service. So you can imagine the cost of setting up WIFI City Wide.

    • thomas nguyen

      definitely easier said than done, and your assessment is far from practical in a real environment unfortunately.

  • Marc Palumbo

    By investing in the education system, maybe?

    TL;DR

    • Eluder

      Education isn’t the problem here, industry is. There is a serious lack of solid, well paying jobs in Canada’s economic hub. Well educated people struggle to find good jobs, and because the cost of living her (namely housing) is so ridiculous, people are severely in debt trying to stay here. The job market in the US for educated people is so much better than here. Even living in expensive cities like NYC or SF is possible if you are well educated because you’ll be making a killing. I know a few folks that left to NYC and SF and they’re doing much better than they were here.

    • Marc Palumbo

      Well what started as a joke has taken a turn for the serious… So I adapt!

      Lack of industry here stems from Canadians who are entrepreneurs, pioneers, executives and their inability to run their business globally. Many companies from the most diverse nations sell their products internationally whereas Canadian products don’t. We tend to make it big and sell it it to a non Canadian company the second we can. Examples that come to mind are Molson, Tim Hortons, etc.

      When our largest companies sell to other larger companies and shift our jobs outside of Canada, we all suffer. Toronto is still in decent shape, but let’s not talk about my unfortunate hometown of Montreal. We’re (certainly not I) so preoccupied with language laws that we forget that many companies don’t need to adhere to them. If it’s costing them so much, we don’t come. Toronto has a fighting chance whereas anything in Quebec doesn’t, at least for the foreseeable future.

    • Eluder

      You are quite correct, that is one of the big issues, we as Canadians aren’t proud enough to keep our hard fought homegrown companies Canadian, always sell the the highest bidder, which is usually American.

      Although MTL does have a weak industry in comparison to Toronto (still a joke) because of language laws, is housing anywhere nearly as bad?
      The other thing is, MTL is a way more fun city than Toronto, much livelier and definitely has a Euro feel where Toronto lacks any kind of soul or individualism.

    • Marc Palumbo

      Toronto is Americana. As a joke, the Italo-Canadians in Montreal make fun of those in Toronto because they can’t speak the language but call themselves Italian. Most immigrants or grandchildren of immigrants speak 3 languages, which makes us impressive.

      Housing isn’t as bad as Toronto for sure, but we sure do pay higher taxes in Montreal. I’m glad that I work hard enough to keep roughly 20% of whatever I make 🙂 Damn it, I’m angry again.

      Language is definitely a problem here and causes industries and residents to leave. Our government is too preoccupied with language laws that the PQ party is entertaining the fact of Quebec Federalism. Ah yes, the lovely separatists coming to rip us apart from the rest of Canada. let’s push everyone out!

  • Jesus McDongswoggle

    Get rid of the Liberal hippy BS and have some responsible spending in government for a change. Transit should have been invested in and built up 20 years ago, not now…

    I’ve never been in a city that fears change more than Toronto, get rid of all the political cronyism and corruption holding back progress and you’ll have your smart city.

    • Adderbox76

      What exactly IS “Liberal Hippy BS”? Please enlighten me. Do you even know what you are talking about, or are you just shooting off right wing talking points hoping to sound politically savvy?

      Since 1953, the beginning of the “metro Toronto age”, 8 of 15 Toronto mayors have been conservatives. If you’re math challenged, that’s more than half and yet where is this magical conservative utopia of infrastructure building during their 53.3% of the years in office?

      Face it, the only difference between Left Wing and Right Wing spending on the whole is the talking points that they choose to propagate to the masses. The myth of Right Wing fiscal responsibility is a myth that get propagated simply because people are too apathetic and uneducated to challenge it.

  • JD

    A direct answer to that title would be Voting Wynne and her liberals out of the office.

    • rgl168

      If you think that a would-be Tim Hudak government is any better, dream on.

    • JD

      I never said libs. I just want crazy old Wynne out

    • rgl168

      Get yourself a liberal party membership and push for a leadership review

  • Stephen B Morris

    I think greener cities and smart cities go hand in hand. I for one think it would be a good idea to find a way to move things like traffic lights to solar energy during the day and then switch to regular electricity at night if/when reserves are completed. I also think TConnect should expand their WiFi to bus and streetcar stops above ground. The financial district would definitely benefit from having a WiFi blanket as well. And large public places like High Park or along the waterfront would be a good start. A WiFi eveverywhere type of philosophy.

  • rgl168

    I’d rather that they spend money on improving public transit than these so-called “smart city” ideals.