Despite the international media circus created by Mayor Rob Ford, Toronto has been named the 2014 Intelligent Community of the Year.
The award was announced in June by the Intelligent Community Forum at the conclusion of the annual Intelligent Community Summit in New York.
According to a press release, Toronto was selected following a year-long evaluation that included quantitative analysis of extensive data on the community, site inspections by co-founders of the Intelligent Community Forum, and the votes of an international jury made up primarily of non-Canadians.
Toronto, which reached the finals in 2005 and 2013, is the first Canadian city to capture the global award since Waterloo garnered the recognition in 2007. The other 2014 finalists were: Arlington County and Columbus in the U.S.; Hsinchu City and New Taipei City in Taiwan; and Kingston and Winnipeg in Canada.
“Toronto certainly earned its place as the 2014 Intelligent Community of the Year,” said Lou Zacharilla, co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum. “It proved that in a democracy an Intelligent Community can move forward despite challenges to the quality of its leadership and its image. It is why democracies thrive, even in difficult times. Toronto was selected because it performed impressively against a set of diverse criteria and focused its academic, creative and private sectors, as well as its City Council leadership on the work and continued success of the entire community.”
Zacharilla noted the waves of Toronto start-up companies in the tech sector and the role of incubators such as the Digital Media Zone at Ryerson University, innovations and research for the film and media industry from Pinewood Studios, the recovery and artistic output of Regent Park and the city’s sustainable new Waterfront development.
“In our view, Toronto offers a glimpse of how to flourish in the new economy and of how to adjust to the changes of the digital era,” he said.
The forum acknowledge the challenges created by Toronto’s controversial mayor, but said the city had nonetheless achieved economic growth. In particular, it pointed to the city’s Prosperity Agenda, a plan built around a single vision. “It is a call to action for a renewed level of investment in the city, as well as cooperation among industry, labor, educators and orders of government to enhance competitiveness and stimulate sustained economic growth for the benefit of all. And, despite the fact that the labor workforce and population have both grown year over year, the unemployment rate in Toronto is at its lowest since 2008.”
Toronto’s population density and diversity have been the source of both its strengths and weaknesses. High quality broadband and multiple major universities and colleges have contributed to a well connected and educated workforce, but that density has led to a high cost of living and transportation gridlock that is among the worst in the developed world. Despite the flight to neighbouring suburban communities, Toronto has invested significantly on “the value of a dense, superbly equipped and culturally rich urban experience.” The forum pointed to Waterfront Toronto as a centrepiece of this.