Let’s say somebody asked you to spend $9 billion to make a once-in-a-century improvement in your nation’s biggest city. What would you do with it?
For the past 10 years, answering that question has been the job of a gentleman named John Campbell, CEO of Waterfront Toronto (WT). John and his Director of Intelligent Communities, Kristina Verner, were my hosts for a mid-April Top7 site visit to Canada’s financial and media capital and its largest metro area by population.
Nobody handed John (pictured right) a $9 billion check and told him to get to work. The Federal, Provincial and city government joined force to provide $1.5 bn in funding. Private developers have invested another $2.5 bn to date. The team he leads today will still be doing deals, raising money and plowing it back into the waterfront thirty years from now.
Like most older waterfront cities, Toronto located its heavy industries at lakeside. The fading of manufacturing from the local economy left a vast brownfield site separating the heart of the city from the lake. WT is an independent agency tasked with redeveloping 800 hectares of brownfield land to provide 40,000 residential units and one million square meters of commercial space. A total of $3.7 bn has already gone into the ground, which is why there are more construction cranes on the WT site than any other location in North America.
I have to say that projects like this do not ordinarily impress me. They are big, they are imaginative, they are glittery. But all too often, they turn out to be enormous investments of resource that benefit a small number of people. You know the people I mean: the elite by income, occupation and personal wealth.
Smart this new urban center will definitely be. But – unlike so many efforts to create instant Smart Cities or make already-successful urban centers a little smarter – the Waterfront has the potential to make Toronto truly intelligent.