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In Focus: Toronto Named World’s “Most Intelligent” Community

Lou Zacharilla, Co-founder, Intelligent Community Forum (Location Canada 2014)
In 2010, Location Canada magazine noted that Canada was the “home of Intelligent Communities.” The publication quoted me as saying that the nation was developing an educated workforce, a collaborative attitude, and that its cities were reinventing themselves to compete in the new economy. At that time, Canada had 15 communities that had achieved Intelligent Community status. Today the number has risen to 21, the most of any nation. To put this in context, there are 126 “intelligent communities” worldwide.

And, for 2014, Toronto actually earns the top spot — becoming the third Canadian community in the past 15 years to be selected as the world’s “most intelligent,” joining Waterloo (2007) and Calgary (2002). Given the image Toronto has gained, courtesy of Mayor Rob Ford, some were surprised or disagreed with the choice made by 200 international judges and an independent research firm in India. Nonetheless, Toronto, with its diverse population, emerging waterfront development, and “cultural confidence” represented the best model of a forward-looking, balanced community. It also represented two things deemed vital to 21st century community success: the adaptation of information technology to the economic and social infrastructure and the assurance that despite political challenges a democracy must reinvent itself to function effectively.
Louis Zacharilla is co-founder of the New York-based Intelligent Community Forum, a global think tank and foundation that studies “energized communities” for the new century. He enables communities to understand and implement best practices.


Waterfront Toronto
This was Toronto’s third attempt to break from the ranks of the final seven. This time the centerpiece of the effort was the Waterfront Toronto project. This is North America’s largest urban renewal project, which is revitalizing 800 hectares of brownfield shoreline with 40,000 residential units, parks, and one million square meters of commercial space, designed to the highest environmental standards. While broadband has become as necessary as clean water to any serious investment entity, the waterfront’s one gigabit fiber-based broadband — which is provided at no cost to the 10 percent of housing set aside for low-income residents — appealed to the ICF jury, which is mandated with looking at how communities seek to close the digital divide AND stimulate economic opportunity. Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District’s acceleration of hundreds of start-ups, along with Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone, which gives entrepreneurs a suitable ecosystem to move ideas into new jobs and industries, were also impressive.

Building Social Capital
In an era when the demand on people’s time is draining, and has resulted in less social capital, Toronto is trying to innovate ways to make it easier to allow citizens to give back — this has economic consequence and makes the quality of life better. The Centre for Social Innovation allows social innovators to blossom. I found that Toronto’s libraries, key to the revival of education systems, are used by nearly 60 percent of the population.

In intelligent communities, the debate about whether broadband and technology should become required investments is over. The discussion now is how to connect these neutral technologies to an endless natural resource: the human being. For the next 12 months Toronto will be the city that serves as the model of the Intelligent Community movement and the future.
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