Toronto wins some smart city award or other

Lists and awards for cities are absolutely everywhere these days and the Smart City concept is no exception. More often than not, there are all kinds of bullshit and hidden (or completely bogus) methodologies and criteria involved, some of which make the process of awarding of the FIFA World Cup look almost accountable and transparent by comparison.

Toronto Waterfront
Toronto Waterfront

Anyway, this is all a prelude to noting that Toronto has been named the ‘Intelligent Community of the Year’ by the Intelligent Community Forum (one of a proliferation of similarly-named think-tanks and boosters). The basis for the award is not, surprisingly, the smart qualities of the current (rehabbing) Mayor, Rob Ford, but the widely criticised and apparently never-ending Waterfront district development. It may be soul-less and have zero concern for genuine inclusivity, good urban design and sustainability but, hey, it’s got great broadband:

“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.”

This really doesn’t give me much confidence in the concept of ‘intelligence’ or ‘smartness’ that is embodied in such awards and assessments, however it does help to confirm that Toronto will be the Canadian case-study for my new research project on smart cities.


Fortress Toronto for G20 summit

There is an interesting article yesterday in the Toronto Star that does a good job of describing what will happen when the G20 arrives in town in June this year.

Of course, it will be accompanied by all the security and surveillance that these days comes as part and parcel of these ‘mega-events‘ (see also: here and here) whether they be sporting, economic or political – with the added hyper-security around world leaders. Rather like the peripatetic monarch’s court that used to be a feature of high mediaeval European societies, the travelling circus of global governance brings with it, its own security norms, creating locked-down ‘islands’ within cities, temporarily removing the rights and liberties of residents, and moving out and on those people seen to be ‘out-of place’ (the homeless, street vendors, protestors and so on). In many cases, ordinary people are suddenly potential troublemakers, and residents are harassed in advance by intelligence services who check profiles, backgrounds, political affiliations and so on. Business within the zone are usually negatively affected – even if the case is made, as it normally is, that there will be some nebulous ‘economic benefit’, which (oh, so conveniently) happens to cover the costs of security. The events are often also ‘test-beds’ for new technologies of surveillance and security – last year at the Pittsburgh G20 summit, we saw the use of sonic weapons on protestors for example.

Why do cities put up with this? Well, it’s all about inter-urban competition. For urban authorities these mega-events reinforce the global status of the city, or allow it to climb the ever-incrasing numbers of rankings of ‘world cities’ of ‘global cities’.  Toronto, like so many other cities in the second or third rank of global cities, is obsessed with appearing to be world class, and the local government will put up with almost any kind of inconvenience to its citizens that is seen to benefit the city’s global status.

I’ll be keeping an eye on developments, but if I was a Toronto resident, and if I could, I’d just leave town for a couple of weeks before and during the event…