Toronto, Stratford finalists in global contest

The country’s biggest city and a municipality best known for its Shakespeare festival are among the seven finalists in the annual international intelligent community of the year contest.

Toronto and Stratford, Ont. were named Wednesday by the Intelligent Community Forum as finalists chosen by a group of academics. The winner will be announced in June.

Others selected from a group of 21 semi-finalists are Columbus, Ohio; Taoyuan County, Taiwan; Taichung City, Taiwan; Oulu, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia.

The last time a Canadian city won the title was Waterloo, Ont. in 2007. Calgary and Seoul, South Korea tied in 2002.

Both Toronto and Stratford have been on the finalist list in the past.

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.

Winning “would be a great opportunity tell our story more broadly than we have,” said Stratford mayor Dan Mathieson.

“The top7 communities of 2013 have made innovation – based on information and communications technology –the cornerstone of their economies and fostered economic growth through high-quality employment, while increasing the quality of life of their citizens,” Lou Zacharilla , co-founder of the forum, said in announcing the finalists.

John Jung, the other co-founder of the forum who is also CEO of Canada’s Technology Triangle (a development agency which encompasses the Kitchener-Waterloo area) said he wants to stay neutral about the fact that two Canadian cities are among the finalists.

But, he added, “as a Canadian I’m proud of those cities and know they worked really hard.”

Jung was in Toronto, where he spoke at a smart cities conference. He is fond of saying that there’s more to being an intelligent city than infrastructure – it also includes transforming the community at every level. But, he says, technology – particularly fast broadband – is the ante that gets a community into the game.

By coincidence, Stratford mayor Don Mathieson also spoke at the conference, but before the finalists were announced.

“In the future development of communities we need to look at broadband connectivity as becoming the underlying factor in all economic sectors,” he said. “It’s no longer a silo or a vertical, it’s a foundation

“More communities need to understand broadband connectivity is going to be part of the infrastructure that every community is going need to survive going forward.”

In an interview after he learned Stratford had made the final cut for the third year in a row Mathieson said to be a finalist means “we continue to compete very well on the world stage against much larger communities”

Among the reasons Stratford was a finalist is that it has a city-owned hydro utility that built out a 70-km open access fiber network with a WiFi overlay. The University of Waterloo also recently opened a digital media campus in the city.

Toronto is a finalist in part because of its fledgling Waterfront Toronto urban renewal project, which is building a lakeshore community with 40,000 residential units and commercial space served by a 1 Gbps fibre to the premise network.

Some parts are already occupied – such as George Brown College’s waterfront campus for a number of health sciences departments. The first residential high-rise condo building has started to sell units.

The project will be built over 25 years.

There’s global race for communities to become “smart cities” or “intelligent communities,” which has spawned a mini-industry of how-to conferences.

Wednesday’s two-day Smart Cities Canada conference in Toronto, staged by the Strategy Institute, attracted politicians and bureaucrats from a number of municipalities including a three-person delegation from Surry, B.C. led by councillor Bruce Hayne.

A member of the city’s investment and innovation committee, he’d also been at a an international smart cities conference in Barcelona several months ago.

A suburb of Vancouver with a population of 400,000 and growing, Haynes said the intelligent community competition is “certainly something we want to get involved in.”

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