City beats out Winnipeg, Kingston and four others

If you don’t succeed, try, try again, goes a saying.

It worked for Toronto, which on its third attempt has been named the Intelligent City of the Year.

The announcement was made Thursday evening at the annual Intelligent Community Summit, held this year in New York City. The contest is run by the Intelligent Community Forum.

Toronto was selected after a year-long evaluation that included an analysis of data on the city, site inspections by co-founders of the Intelligent Community Forum, and the votes of an international jury of 200  made up primarily of non-Canadians.

In its submission the city cited the many start-ups coming from tech incubators and places like the Digital Media Zone at Ryerson University, the fledgling Waterfront development with a fibre optic network offering the potential of 1 Gbps speeds to every residence, innovations and research for the film and media industry from Pinewood Studios and the recovery and artistic output of the Regent Park public housing district.

“This has been a ten-year journey,” John Campbell, president and CEO of Waterfront Toronto, told IT World Canada. Waterfront Toronto is the public stewardship body set up by all three levels of government to manage the revitalization of the city’s waterfront lands through partnerships with the private sector.

“I think Toronto is really feeling its oats,” Campbell said. “We survived the recession really well, we’ve had a cultural renaissance, and we were able to show the ICF all the innovation that’s going on. Winning this recognition isn’t an end point for us; it’s a new starting point to launch us into the future.”

Waterfront Toronto incorporates mixed-use development that accommodates affordable housing units. Photo: Waterfront Toronto
Toronto’s mixed-use waterfront development includes a 1 Gbps public-access network. (Image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.)

The city“proved that in a democracy an Intelligent Community can move forward despite challenges to the quality of its leadership and its image,” Lou Zacharilla, co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, said in a statement, apparently referring to controversial mayor Rob Ford. “It is why democracies thrive, even in difficult times. Toronto was selected because it performed impressively against a set of diverse criteria and focused its academic, creative and private sectors, as well as its city council leadership on the work and continued success of the entire community.”

In an interview he said judges not only look at the digital infrastructure –which he said makes a smart city — but also the growth of knowledge workers, quality of life, post-secondary education, creativity in the arts and other factors that combine to make an intelligent community that will create the type of jobs needed in the 21st Century.

That makes the award sound remote from the perspective of a corporate CIO or IT manager. But Zacharilla noted that winning intelligent communities and finalists from around the world have to leverage their IT local infrastructure. “CTOs are really where the rubber meets the road at the outset,” he said. “Most of the intelligent communities we study begin executing on their strategies from the CTO’s office. There’s a lot to learn if you’re a CTO from how cities break out of their silos.”

John Campbell added that a big contributor to Toronto’s success is having a true public-private partnership, something that’s not always easy to achieve. “In the private sector it’s a challenge when you have long-term projects that don’t pay off quickly,” he said. “But we’ve got great private-sector partners. They get that this is a long-term game, not a matter of getting a quick turnaround in the next quarter.  They’ve bought into the vision.”

This year’s finalists included Winnipeg, Kingston, Ont., Arlington County, U.S.; Columbus, Ohio; Hsinchu City, Taiwan; and New Taipei City, Taiwan.

Last year’s winner was  Taichung City, Taiwan.

The last Canadian winner was Waterloo, Ont. in 2007. Calgary and Seoul, South Korea tied in 2002.

The winning community only gets bragging rights. However, the hope is the publicity it gains will help influence investment and will be noticed by talented people who may want to move there.

 

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