Toronto cracks winner's circle in Smart City competition

Waterfront development district wows judges with high-speed internetworking among businesses and residences


New York City

Toronto, Canada’s largest city, was named `Intelligent Community of the Year’ last week at the annual Intelligent Community Forum. This was the third try for the Toronto mega-region, home to 175,000 Information and Communication Technology workers in 11,500 companies.

The region has an additional 230,000 financial services employees, making it the fastest growing financial sector in North America. Lou Zacharilla, co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum think tank, dubbed the Canadian winner “New York City with manners.” In its application, the city repeatedly emphasized its culture of tolerance, diversity, collaboration, and inter-sector cooperation.

Toronto has been knocking on the door for some time. The city was an ICF Top 7 Finalist in 2005, 2013, and 2014. Judges were impressed with the city’s huge investment in Waterfront Toronto, an “innovation district” committed to attracting design and development companies and professionals.

The district is building infrastructure that will provide 12,000 new residences with 100 Mbps broadband to individual homes, and 10 Gbps networking to businesses. The sponsors say they have already tested 400 Gbps speeds, with the goal of providing design and media companies in Toronto with the highest transmission rates in the world. Accepting the award, Toronto City Councillor Michael Thompson, Chair of its Economic Development and Culture Committee, said the city’s vision is that “innovation and collaboration create inclusive societies to share the prosperity that has been achieved. Everyone benefits.”

Referring to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who is currently in rehab, Zacharilla added, “Toronto offers a glimpse of how to flourish in the new economy and of how to adjust to the changes of the digital era. It proved that in a democracy an Intelligent Community can move forward despite challenges to the quality of its leadership and its image. It is why democracies thrive, even in difficult times.”

Tuli wins Visionary of the Year award

Indian-born Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO of DataWind, a Canadian-based company building what Forbes magazine called the world’s cheapest computer, was awarded ICF’s “Visionary of the Year” for 2014. The developer of Aakash & Ubislate tablets, Data Wind says its $30 devices, which use the same processor as the original Apple iPad, “can change the game for the other four billion.’’

Tuli calls for “the disruption of the good-enough” to improve the lives of rural and urban masses alike. Noting that in 60 years of independence, India had only provided 60 million landline connections in a population of 1.3 billion people. India today has only 13 million broadband connections.

Yet India now has 900 million cellular phone subscriptions, and Tuli thinks his $30 tablets will be within reach for millions of these people, especially the young. Tuli speaks bluntly about the supposed impact of mass education in India and other underserved populations.

He cites Indian professor Sugata Mitra’s research that student achievement falls off dramatically the farther the school is from an urban area. Tuli believes that direct connection to the Internet by young people will enable them to transcend the limitations of their school environment. They will access information from global sources, if they have the technology to do it.

As an illustration, Tuli quoted the response of his own son, when he was asked who his best teacher was. His son’s answer: “You Tube.”

Tuli’s approach, as well as Toronto’s. echo the recent argument of French economist Thomas Picketty, who says, “Knowledge and skill diffusion is the key to overall productivity growth, as well as the reduction of inequality both within and between countries.”

ICF’s John Jung says: “Talented individuals are also looking at investing themselves into cities that are effective. Simply put, as a smart city, things work better. Smart cities create efficiencies, but also confidence and reputational capital as a city that delivers.”

Besides the winning city of Toronto, the complete list of 2014 intelligent community finalists includes:

• Arlington County, Virginia, for its own fiber network to boost broadband service and foster government-business-university collaboration

• Columbus, Ohio, now Ohio’s largest city and its economic powerhouse—with 20,000 more jobs currently than its last economic peak in 2007

• Hsinchu City, Taiwan, the first city in Taiwan starting e-learning platforms for students and the first to establish a science park

• Kingston, Ontario, Canada, for an innovation economy focused on environmental sustainability

• New Taipei City, Taiwan, a brand new regional city linking diverse exurbs to build a unified and dynamic knowledge economy

• Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, reimagining its agricultural foundations to build a 21st century economic environment to rebuild population and youth opportunity.

The next, 2015 Intelligent Community of the Year competition opens with nominations in July, with the deadline in fall 2014. Seven new finalists will be announced at Taichung, Taiwan, early in 2015. The winner will be named at the Intelligent Community Forum’s annual Summit in June 2015.

Gillette is professor of information and communication sciences at Ball State University and a senior research fellow at the Digital Policy Institute. He has written extensively on ICT leadership and management, and worked in academic, industry and public policy organizations.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.