JWR Articles: Commentary - CityAge: Toronto, 2017 - Day 2 (Featured speaker: Howard Eng) - November 30, 2017
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CityAge: Toronto, 2017 - Day 2

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The perils and rewards of building the future with innovation

Day 2 of CityAge in Toronto built steadily upon the learnings of Day 1 and came full circle in the second-last session when Don Manlapaz (VP Development, Forgestone Capital) beat the drum again for Mayor John Tory’s vow to “reject the status quo (as with most cities, those happy with their status and situation will go to great lengths to keep newcomers in their place and certainly out of their own). And three cheers to MC Ralph Benmergui for deftly highlighting the issues while keeping the trains running on time.

Here are ten important findings/lessons from the wide variety of presenters.

  1. “Humans are the vector for the [cyber] attack”; cyber warfare rests on “taking down the adversary’s [personal, corporate, nation-state] ability to function.” This from Ray Boisvert, Provincial Security Advisor, Government of Ontario during the Securing Smart Cities Session.
  2. In reaction to the question, “What is your worst nightmare [about the growing success of hackers large and small]?” the OPP’s Paul Beesley didn’t hesitate: “The moment when quantum computers [realizing their potential] destroy all encryption.
  3. The newly minted Canada Infrastructure Bank (with $35 billion in the pipeline over 12 years) will largely invest in revenue-generating infrastructure projects. If the model works as expected, money “out the door” will return dividends and profits over time.
  4. The next generation of architects, as represented on this occasion by Partisans’ Alexander Josephson (his “Let’s do something incredible” was at one with Day 1’s “Bold and How” mantra), want to become serious disruptors of the white men/grey hair establishment and—literally—build question marks in the sky: What the Fuck Tower being a prime example of not thinking outside of the box, but removing it altogether.
  5. The seemingly obvious notion that the “airport is not our final destination” from Howard Eng (President & CEO, Greater Toronto Airport Authority) deftly set the stage for the ongoing discussion about Toronto Pearson Regional Transit Centre. How difficult might it be for the various municipalities to start singing from the same “cross-boundary” transit solution song sheet? (see status quo, above)
  6. Thanks to the enormous economic upside of becoming the winning bid for Amazon’s HQ2 location, “collaboration [amongst 13 GTA municipalities] was finally seen as a necessity,” according to Neptis Foundation Executive Director, Marcy Burchfield.
  7. “The best transportation plan is a good land-use plan,” according to Guy Akester Translink’s (Vancouver) Director of Real Estate Programs and Partnerships. The before-and-after photos of Burnaby’s Brentwood Station spoke volumes about the benefits of developing transit around people rather than cars.
  8. Forget about Autonomous Vehicles, it will be Shared Autonomous Vehicles that cities ought to be planning for if gridlock will become a distant memory and cities finally become active-transport friendly—at least if Stantec consultant Dea van Lierop is reading the innovation tea leaves correctly.
  9. In order to build inclusive cities, Manlapaz stated the somewhat self-evident goal of building projects where “people [can] get and afford here.” Given the aforementioned inertia in many municipal Planning/Zoning departments, that objective seems as elusive as ever.
  10. That point was taken up by Habon Ali (Urban Planner, Urban Strategies): “Flexibility is paramount to [updating/removing] antiquated zoning by-laws which prevent intensification.” It appears overcoming the generational divide may well take more time than it should (letting nature clear the obstinate decks) before significant inclusion becomes the norm rather than the exception.

Is there really a light at the end of the Smart City tunnel? Only time will tell, but thanks to CityAge providing a forum to even have many of these discussions, one can only hope that municipalities large and small will see the value of responding to the needs, wants and desires of all their citizens: not just those who elect them. JWR

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Featured speaker - Howard Eng
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