Tag Archives: Toronto

West vs. East

So I’m in Toronto for 24 hours of meetings. I love Toronto, lots of excitement and energy in this town which is why I love coming here so much (trust me when I say I’m putting my Vancouverite cred at risk for saying this publicly).

That said, I landed and it was raining. Odd, I’m always getting mocked out east for having weather like this at home…

So, with a bit of a wry smile, I’ll admit I did get just the tiniest bit of enjoyment reading this piece.

Especially when, out in Vancouver, we are enjoying weather like this.

Come out west, we’ve got a hot patio with some cool beers waiting for you.

Bottled Water haters have it wrong

A friend of mine recently directed me to thinkwater.ca to highlight the evils of bottled water. Watching the video I couldn’t help but get frustrated. It is a classic example of progressives misunderstanding the market, and in turn misdiagnosing the problem and engaging in counterproductive strategies.

Check out the thinkwater video below:

The ad correctly argues that tap water is both more stringently regulated (and thus safer) than bottled water, as well as less expensive (pennies a litre vs. $3 a litre). As the kind man in the ad says: “You are actually paying a lot more money for something that is not as good for you.”

The ad is premised on the assumption that people are misinformed and, if they only knew the truth, they’d change their behaviour. In reality the piece completely misunderstands why people buy bottled water: while there are admittedly some people who mistakenly believe bottled water is safer than tap water, the vast majority of bottled water bought in stores is bought because it is convenient.


Consequently this and other campaigns that target the safety and cost of bottled water completely miss the point and are unlikely to impact peoples behaviour.

To better understand, let’s dissect the piece’s two arguments.

Is tap water cheaper? Absolutely, but it doesn’t come in a container you can take anywhere and then dispose of when you are done. For many people keeping track of a container is – quite frankly – a drag. They don’t want to have to keep remembering where it is and carting it around with them everywhere they go. Bottled water is simply easy. Consequently, they aren’t paying $1.50 for the water – they are paying $1.50 for the convenience of being able to drink a healthy beverage and then dispose of the container.

This accounts for why Vancouver and Toronto’s campaigns to hand out drinking containers – in effort to encourage people to drink city water – were misguided and had little to no impact. People don’t want containers – their lives are already cluttered with stuff. The perceived benefit of a owning $1 container is a lot lower then the mental cost of constantly tracking it.

Is tap water safer? Absolutely. But absolute safety is irrelevant. The real question is, is bottled water safe enough to drink? The answer to this is obviously yes (do you know anyone whose ever gotten sick drinking bottled water?). The marginal benefit of water that is imperceptibly cleaner is basically zero.

Indeed, many people who are drinking bottled water are choosing it over a soda, a slushy, or some other cocktail that truly is filled with obnoxious chemicals and far too much sugar. The health risks of a population drinking bottled water is likely a lot lower than those of a population drinking coke. In this context, raising the specter of health risks around bottled water feels both disingenuous and counter productive. More importantly, your listeners can agree with you, while simultaneously not having it impact their decision making process.

discarded bottles 2Am I defending bottled water? Definitely not. Discarded empty water bottles make up an astonishing amount of waste. However, a population that is drinking water – as opposed to soda and pop – is a good thing. More importantly, people seem to place significant value on the convenience of bottled water – devising a solution that meets this need, rather than fights it, is probably paramount.

Consequently there are a few things that could be done.

First, water bottles could be standardized – like soda cans and some beer bottles – so that they are more easily recycled. While you are at it, why not slap deposit on those bottles to encourage people to return then to be recycled.

Second, create and enforce the law that restaurants and other establishments serve tap water. Often people feel they have no choice but to buy water. Making it clear that you can order tap water would at least give people some choice.

Third, why not have the city contract out the right to bottle and sell water? This would reduce green house gas emissions (water would be bottled locally as opposed to being shipped in from who knows where) as well as place tap water on a par with brands like Evian and Dasani. The city could also set a far lower price which would reduce the cost to consumers. (Although if tap water is actually “better” you should be able to charge a premium). Better still, since most cities control their recycling programs it would be easier to ensure that the bottles were washed, recycled and used again, significantly reducing the amount of waste.

These three options feel far more likely to be effective than the current strategy – persuading people bottled water is unsafe (it clearly is safe enough to drink) and too expensive (people are obviously willing to pay for the convenience). I would be interested to hear if anyone else has additional ideas…


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)

Flying Porter

I was lucky enough to fly Porter Airlines today out of Toronto yesterday.

With yesterday morning’s snowstorm wrecking havoc everybody was struggling to get planes into Ottawa and Montreal – Porter however was running a mere 30 minutes behind schedule. A fact that shared and updated on their website. This allowed me to delay leaving for the airport.

Moreover, the convenience of flying out of downtown Toronto is out of control. Rather than be stuck in traffic on a Thursday afternoon I chilled out with friends until the last moment. Better yet, Gavin informed me of the free shuttle Porter runs between Union Station and the island ferry.

This is the first step in my break up with Air Canada – with whom I’ve had a long running love/hate relationship (in short, I hate everything except the lounge and the airmiles). Air Canada recently sent me another two useless “upgrade certificates” that, as I’ve discussed, are neither a reward nor an incentive, and so only serve to make me loath them further. Since I can’t make Super Elite on Air Canada, and I’ve got plenty of miles, I’m going to give my money to as many other airlines as possible. If competition can breed more airlines like Porter – then all the more reason.

As an aside, it would appear I’m not the only one smitten with Porter. Upon getting off the plane in Ottawa, Stephan Dion, Ralph Goodale, Ken Dryden and possible a few other Liberals were getting ready to board. I know several firms that – to manage risk – cap the number of partners/executives/specialists/etc… that can be on any one flight. Interesting to note that this is not the case with the Liberal Party of Canada. One hopes that, at least, the Leader and the Deputy Leader are not allowed to share a plane.

Job Posting @ Mars

This job opportunity came through from Ross W., a very cool looking job indeed. I know the MaRS team is excited about this new development. Contact info is at the bottom. Enjoy!

Director, Social Entrepreneurship

The MaRS Discovery District is seeking a Director, Social Entrepreneurship. Reporting to the CEO, the Director will assemble and lead a team of advisors focused on helping new and emerging social entrepreneurs refine, launch and scale their innovative ideas for creating transformative social change.

S/he will also lead Social Innovation Generation @ MaRS (SiG@MaRS) – a node in a new national network linking MaRS, the McConnell Foundation, the University of Waterloo and PLAN. Finally, the successful candidate will become a member of MaRS’ senior leadership team and contribute to the development and evolution of MaRS itself.

Position Overview

The person hired for this position will leverage MaRS’ expertise and networks in supporting emerging entrepreneurs to develop a new suite of programs and services focused on social entrepreneurship.

Responsibilities will include:

  • Liaising with the other SiG nodes to develop a national social innovation network, spanning idea generation, incubation, evolution and expansion
  • Building and leading a team with the expertise to help emerging social entrepreneurs test and launch their ideas and strengthen and grow their organizations
  • Selecting and coordinating a group of external mentors and advisors to work with emerging social ventures and their leadership teams
  • Developing course material/curricula/programming content, and assembling tools and templates that support social innovation
  • Creating opportunities to connect social innovators and their commercial counterparts
  • Build strategic initiatives in financing social ventures, knowledge transfer, and enabling technology platforms for social change
  • Identifying the key organizations active in this field across the country – and internationally – and developing a partnership strategy that includes government and the private sector
  • As a young, entrepreneurial organization, everyone at MaRS is expected to be flexible; specific duties/responsibilities will evolve, and staff will be expected to contribute to various projects as needed.


  • At least 5 years of experience in the social sector, including roles that involved team formation and leadership
  • Entrepreneurial experience either creating or building an early-stage venture
  • Knowledge of public policy and a proven ability to work with public, private and third sector partners
  • Ability to work both independently and in teams
  • Exceptional communications skills, both oral and written

About MaRS

MaRS is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to maximizing the economic and social mpact of Canadian innovation. The MaRS Centre – a 700,000 sf convergence centre in downtown Toronto houses over 65 organizations, from investors and scientists to entrepreneurs and policymakers.

Contact Information

Ross Wallace – Director, Corporate Strategy (416) 673-8126 – rwallace@marsdd.com
Applications for this position must be received by July 31, 2007.

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 and Seneca College

As many of you know I’m deeply interested in Open-Source systems and so was super thrilled when David Humphrey invited me over to Seneca College for a reception at the Centre for Development of Open Technology (CDOT). Who knew such a place existed. And in Toronto no less! There is something in the air around Toronto and open-source systems… why is that?

This is exactly one of the questions those of us planning OpenCities are hoping it answers… (as our more formal blurb hints at)

What is OpenCities Toronto 2007? Our goal is to gather 80 cool people to ask how do we collaboratively add more open to the urban landscape we share? What happens when people working on open source, public space, open content, mash up art, and open business work together? How do we make Toronto a magnet for people playing with the open meme?

Registration for OpenCities starts today. If you have any questions please feel free to ask in the comment box below, or, drop me an email. I’m doubly pumped since the whole event will be taking place at the Centre for Social Innovation – I can’t imagine a better space. (If you wondering – do I live in Toronto or Vancouver, I don’t blame you, I sometimes wonder myself).


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]