By Samuel Greengard
Urban redevelopment is a complex and data-intensive process. There are investment issues to address, land and real estate challenges to manage, and an array of practical considerations to oversee. Waterfront Toronto, an agency that manages approximately 2,000 acres of land located adjacent to the City of Toronto’s central business district, is taking a decidedly high-tech approach to urban planning.
“We are heavily driven by a public policy agenda that attempts to minimize sprawl, promote transit, support sustainability and address quality-of-life issues,” says John Campbell, president and CEO for Waterfront Toronto, which is funded by three levels of Canadian government and has a budget of C$35 billion. “The goal is to help Toronto remain economically competitive and attract the brightest and best people.”
Waterfront Toronto strives to build a viable long-term community. Over the next 30 to 40 years, the organization expects to create 40,000 residential units, as well as businesses and parks.
“We’re not here to merely peddle real estate and build an enclave for the super rich,” Campbell explains. “The goal is to build a well-planned and highly livable city environment.”
About 90 percent of the land the organization oversees is publicly owned. As a result, coordinating the initiative across public and private sector players is at the center of success.
Information technology is defining the district’s future. Waterfront Toronto provides an open-access fiber broadband network that delivers 1 gigabit of bandwidth for residential users and up to 10 gigabits for commercial users with no data caps. There’s also ubiquitous WiFi.
In addition, the organization has teamed up with IBM and solutions provider Element Blue to build an intelligent operations center for the community, Campbell notes. The software-as-a-service (SaaS) approach offers a faster and more flexible framework for IT development. “It allows us to bring applications online quickly so that we can respond in a more innovative way,” Campbell says.
In fact, the IBM Smart Cities platform supports an array of next-generation IT capabilities revolving around e-education, e-health, energy management, water management, public safety and security. The system will run mission-critical software and provide insights and oversight for a diverse array of functions. It also delivers advanced analytics tools.
The organization recently launched a portal and information platform that integrates multiple data sources and delivers real-time visualizations and maps, along with next-generation social collaboration tools. Businesses and residents can use the portal and the tools to connect with neighbors, other businesses and service providers in the surrounding area. The portal also provides simple ways to view citywide data on mobile or desktop devices, and it allows residents to tune into events, news and activity across the growing community.
In addition, the software will assist city officials in understanding permit patterns, predicting problems and providing city services. It also will aid in developing budget forecasts and unified plans for important capital improvements, and will use efficiency analytics to enhance the performance of water systems.
The end goal, Campbell says, is to “to enhance quality of life and drive economic opportunity. …The technology provides capabilities that lead to a more livable community.”