Tag Archives: OpenCities

TransitCamp

Want to say congratulations to Jay Goldman, Eli Singer and Mark Kuznicki. Their article on TransitCamp has been published in the February 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of an unconference – like TransitCamp or the opencities unconference we put on last year – the article is a great starting point.

It’s a wonderful example about how citizens can be engaged in a truly meaningful way. As the website states: TransitCamp was – and will continue to be – a solution playground, not a complaints department. It is as much a celebration of transit as it is a place where people gather to figure out how to make it better.

Much like a NFL game is as much about the tailgating, social/community oriented party in the stadium parking lot as it is about the serious game going on inside the stadium, TransitCamp is as much about celebrating and uniting the transit community as it is about the serious work of figuring out how to make the TTC better.

And, to top it all off, it was a place where ideas get to flourish and are not subjected to consensus and other lowest common denominator approaches.

This, and all sorts of other good reasons, is why HBR made it a breakthrough idea for 2008.

(BTW: Go Pats Go)

Open Cities – A Success…

Finally beginning to relax after a hectic week of speeches, work and helping out with the Open Cities unconference.

Open Cities was dynamite – it attracted an interesting cross section of people from the arts, publishing, IT, non-profit and policy sectors (to name a few). This was my first unconference and so the most interesting take away was seeing how an openly conducted (un)conference – one with virtually no agenda or predetermined speakers – can work so well. Indeed, it worked better than most conferences I’ve been to. (Of course, it helps when it is being expertly facilitated by someone like Misha G.)

Here’s a picture chart of the agenda coming together mid-morning (thank you to enigmatix1 for the photos)

There was no shortage of panels convened by the participants. I know Mark K. is working on getting details from each of them up on the Open Cities wiki as quickly as possible. Hopefully these can be organized more succinctly in the near future (did I just volunteer myself?).

There were several conversation I enjoyed – hope to share more on them over the coming days – but wanted to start with the idea of helping grow the Torontopedia. The conversation was prompted by several people asking why Toronto does not have its own wiki (it does). Fortunately, Himy S. – who is creating the aforementioned Torontopedia – was on hand to share in the conversation.

A Toronto wiki – particularly one that leverages Google Maps’ functionality could provide an endless array of interesting content. Indeed the conversation about what information could be on such a wiki forked many times over. Two ideas seemed particularly interesting:

The first idea revolved around getting the city’s history up on a wiki. This seemed like an interesting starting point. Such information, geographically plotted using Google Maps, would be a treasure trove for tourists, students and interested citizens. More importantly, there is a huge base of public domain content, hidden away in the city’s archives, that could kick start such a wiki. The ramp up costs could be kept remarkably low. The software is open sourced and the servers would not be that expensive. I’m sure an army of volunteer citizens would emerge to help transfer the images, stories and other media online. Indeed I’d wage a $100,000 grant from the Trillium Foundation, in connection with the City Archives, Historica and/or the Dominion Institute, as well as some local historical societies could bring the necessary pieces together. What a small price to pay to give citizens unrestricted access to, and the opportunity to add to, they stories and history of their city.

The interesting part about such a wiki is that it wouldn’t have to be limited to historical data. Using tags, any information about the city could be submitted. As a result, the second idea for the wiki was to get development applications and proposals online so citizens can learn about how or if their neighborhoods will be changing and how they have evolved.

Over the the course of this discussion I was stunned to learn that a great deal of this information is kept hidden by what – in comparison to Vancouver at least – is a shockingly secretive City Hall. In Vancouver, development applications are searchable online and printed out on giant billboards (see photo) and posted on the relevant buildings.Development application According to one participant, Toronto has no such requirements! To learn anything about a development proposal you must first learn about it (unclear how this happens) and then go down to City Hall to look at a physical copy of the proposal (it isn’t online?). Oh, and you are forbidden to photocopy or photograph any documents. Heaven forbid people learn about how their neighbourhood might change…

Clearly a wiki won’t solve this problem in its entirety – as long as Toronto City Hall refuses to open up access to its development applications. However, collecting the combined knowledge of citizens on a given development will help get more informed and hopefully enable citizens to better participate in decisions about how their neighbourhood will evolve. It may also create pressure on Toronto City Hall to start sharing this information more freely.

To see more photo’s go to flickr and search the tags for “open cities.”

Open Cities Unconference tomorrow

Great news! Open Cities has maxed out capacity (at 90 people). Big thank you to The Centre for Social Innovation who’ve been kind enough to host us…

There has been some good media coverage for our humble event… BlogTO talks about here as well as shares Will Pate’s and my thoughts,and Boing Boing gave us a shout out.

For those unable to participate (cause you’re busy during the day or are on the waiting list) come join us afterwords for a little BBQ at Fort York in Toronto.  The BBQ will likely get going around 5pm.

Looking forward to share more about the event after the weekend…

OpenCities

Last week I had a great time at a planning session for the upcoming Toronto OpenCities event. Interested in helping out? Check out the webpage.

During the initial discussion people shared their notions of what Open City means. During the conversation Kevin B. noted the Wikipedia definition of Open City:

“In war, in the event of the imminent capture of a city, the government/military structure of the country that controls the city will sometimes declare it an open city, thus announcing that they have abandoned all defensive efforts. The attacking armies of the opposing military will then be expected not to bomb or otherwise attack the city, but simply to march in. The concept aims at protecting the historic landmarks and civilians who dwell in the city from an unnecessary battle.”

This definition may seem so divorced from the OpenCities project so as to be unhelpful. However, I think the opposite may be true. City governments and city infrastructure (public transit, urban planning, etc…) have, for too long, treated their own citizens as enemy armies – a force to be kept at bay, to be controlled and kept out of the cities inner workings. Open Cities is about tearing down a city’s last defense – its own operating system – and opening it up to let us all contribute.

What does that mean? Whose knows. But Open Cities is about figuring it out. Hope you check it out.

[tags]OpenCities, Opensource, Toronto, Centre for Social Innovation[/tags]