The Toronto Waterfront project, a multilevel effort to revitalize the city’s industrial shipping port, is a great example of how cities can integrate technology and infrastructure to make more efficient communities with social interactions readily available 24/7 for residents.
The project represents a $1.5 billion investment by the City of Toronto and the governments of Ontario and Canada to undo a history of environmental contamination from its industrial shipping past and bring a multi-use zoning model to the area that combines commercial, retail and residential space. Beyond those physical improvements, incredibly sophisticated data collection, analysis and dashboard-style portals were used, making the Toronto Waterfront a prime example of how technology can take municipalities to the bleeding edge of innovation.
A project of this scope and scale required a massive foundational effort. The first 10 years of development were dedicated to laying out and building the physical space required to support the number of mixed-use structures – and the human population that would be living and working in them – that were in the ambitious blueprints. Over the course of nearly a decade, excavation crews dug new foundations, installed new plumbing systems and laid the groundwork for a light rail transportation system.
As a result, the Canadian economy saw a $1.9 billion return on its investment in terms of job creation and ripple-effect spending. A quick glance at the Explore Projects page on the Waterfront Toronto website gives insight into the various zones that were created, and allows visitors to explore the projects still underway in the area.
After the physical infrastructure foundation was completed, the technology components that separate the Toronto Waterfront project from other urban revitalization efforts were put in place. First came a 100 Mb, high-speed internet connection guaranteed for every condo and office in the waterfront district, available at competitive rates. City planners quickly recognized the population they were likely to attract to properties on the revitalized waterfront would be technologically savvy, and would benefit from an online collaboration portal focused on creating a more engaged community.
Project managers approached Element Blue to guide this process based on our experience with IBM’s Intelligent Operations Center (IOC) and our approach to data analysis, and our experience as one of the original providers in this market space. We also had a legacy of creating portal collaboration and the type of interactive web experience that defines what came to be known as Toronto’s Community Hubs, intelligent online communities built around collaborative forums and social media. At Element Blue, we essentially created this system that harnessed social media to provide residents with interactive experiences in real time.
The Toronto Community Hubs platform, with its collaborative portals and interactive capabilities, is a model for how cities and companies alike can achieve their goals of engaging constituents and increasing interactivity and collaboration. Inherent in the platform is the potential for growth; the architecture is built to allow for the easy dissemination of content across multiple sites. That capability gives an online community’s “champions”, or social influences, the ability to share their enthusiasm. It also gives residents the ability to collaborate on quality-of-life improvements in their communities.
As the world continues to move online for information and social engagement, integrating these communities into city planning simply makes sense. Investments that city governments like Toronto are making will pay off with vibrant, engaged communities.