An Intelligent City with a Prosperous Future (to the Tune of Billions)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

On Thursday, June 5, 2014, the Intelligent Community Forum, a New York City-based organization of thought leaders who focus on high tech and community development, named Toronto “Intelligent City of the Year.” According to journalist Howard Solomon of ITWorld Canada, “Toronto was selected after a year-long evaluation that included an analysis of data on the city, site inspections by co-founders of the Intelligent Community Forum, and the votes of an international jury of 200, made up primarily of non-Canadians.”

This is a major honour for our city, being recognized as a hub of new-age technology, commerce and employment. The effects of this honour could benefit hundreds of thousands of lives on profound financial and social levels. Yet this honour didn’t receive 1/1000th of the play that the daily coverage of the Ford circus does.

Some of the individual achievements that contributed to the nomination and award were “the Digital Media Zone at Ryerson University, the fledgling Waterfront development with a fibre optic network offering the potential of 1 Gbps speeds to every residence, innovations and research for the film and media industry from Pinewood Studios and the recovery and artistic output of the Regent Park public housing district.”

This award follows quickly on the heels of the announcement made by Cisco Systems back in March of this year, that they would be setting up a $100 million “Internet of Everything” innovation lab in Toronto, one of only four in the world, and the only one in North America. The others are in Songdo, South Korea; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Germany. The Toronto Innovation Centre will be located in the Oxford Properties’ new RBC WaterPark Place, scheduled for completion in spring 2015.

This is an amazing development for Toronto. The cities that stand to prosper in the coming two decades are those that embrace an proactive approach to technology, efficiency and innovation, and to see that Toronto not only has won a place in the race, but has also been recognized for its achievements to date is truly something to be proud of.

Accolades are not the only item of interest here. Cisco’s initial $100 million investment is only the beginning. The technology that this centre will be focusing on is collectively called the “Internet of Everything,” and according to Rob Lloyd, president of Cisco’s development and sales division, “it represents a US$19 trillion global opportunity over the next decade, including almost $500 billion available to Canadian private and public sector organizations.” Yes, that’s billion with a “B”.

Cisco has promised to spend up to $4 billion to expand its operations in Toronto and create up to 1,700 new jobs along the way. This is a promise with real credibility. It is being made by a real company rather than as a “get me elected” campaign promise from any particular Mayoral candidate.

This is what real, not pretend, progress is made of. This is a promise that is based in reality. This is what furthers Toronto.

Now, you would think that the above news would be as familiar to Torontonians as any new sad development out of Fordville. Yet, as I alluded to earlier, you likely didn’t hear about Cisco’s announcement and endorsement of Toronto as a major player in the new age of business. One reason is because our mayor, Mr. Ford, was not invited to the opening. Due to his denials and then admissions of various illegal activities, Cisco invited Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly instead. Mr. Ford was further miffed that no-one at Cisco thought to thank him for personally and single-handedly creating an attractive environment for their investment, and that is, of course because he did not create said environment. The other Mayoral candidates seem also to have remained remain silent on this, perhaps because they, too, had nothing to do with its creation.

The growth of this city is planned and managed over decades – extending (thank goodness) beyond the tenure of any single mayor. In fact there is only one thing mayors are really good at when it comes to generating business opportunities: they make the city look attractive, vibrant and stable: a great place for private enterprise to set up shop. They are the face and philosophy of the city and that face and philosophy matter, more than ever, in our competitive world.

The Cisco announcement is a major deal, even for people not too familiar or even interested in high-tech terminology. It means jobs, it means investment, and when one big player sets up shop, others tend to follow. The money these days is in high-tech. Our futures may be in high-tech, and every entrepreneurial business owner and investor understands the revenue implications of this.

No, the Ford brothers cannot take credit for a multi-billion dollar deal that was already in the works before they moved together into the Mayor’s chair. What they should take stock of, however, is how many other global businesses may have quietly struck Toronto off their short-list of potential business sites, not so much because of a substance abuse problem, but more significantly because of a constant negative attitude towards progress, investment, and innovation: their desire to drag the city back to a poured concrete, car dominated 1970’s style city, rather than a green, digital, mobile world centre.

Such Luddite thinking is not attractive to companies or their investors. The Fords may claim, ad nauseum, using their own skewed mathematics, that they have saved the taxpayers millions of dollars, but in so doing – even if it were true, which it most certainly is not – how much have they cost the city with their creation of a toxic, confused, and immature marketplace?

The truth is, the Fords belong back on a high school football field circa 1981, with their big cars, 8-track tapes and wild hair. They do not understand what a modern city must become to thrive. It is over their heads. Speaking financially and strategically, Oscar Wilde’s description works best here: they are both men who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

I, for one truly appreciate the investment that Cisco is making in this city, and the confidence in us that they are displaying. This will make Toronto thrive far more than a short, localized subway ever will. This is our future. Yours and mine.

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