A city that thinks like the web, slides + audio

Thanks to everyone who pitched in with comments and ideas for my City of Toronto 2.0 Web Summit talk yesterday. The idea that we can create a ‘city that thinks like the web’ — and that Toronto can learn from projects like Mozilla — seemed to go over well. Here are the slides:

… and the audio:

As outlined in my call for ideas last week, the talk ended with three simple challenges to City Hall. They went something like this:

  1. Open our data. transit. library catalogues. community centre schedules. maps. 311. expose it all so the people of Toronto can use it to make a better city. do it now.
  2. Crowdsource info gathering that helps the city.  somebody would have FixMyStreet.to up and running in a week if the Mayor promised to listen. encourage it.
  3. Ask for help creating a city that thinks like the web. copy Washington, DC’s contest strategy. launch it at BarCamp.

I also made off the cuff encouragements for the city to open source the software it produces and put Firefox on every desktop. Didn’t want to push these, but had to at least mention ;).

A fun story: the mayor was in the front row for the whole talk. Every time I’d say something challenging or controversial, he’d start typing madly on his his Blackberry. I thought he was taking notes. Turns out he was emailing people on his staff with questions about opening TTC data for Google Transit, open sourcing city-made code, and so on.

When my talk finished, the mayor came back immediately with ” … I’ve been emailing people about your challenges. Open data for Google Transit is coming by next June, and I don’t see what we shouldn’t open source the software Toronto creates.” He also said “I promise the City will listen” if Torontonians set up a site like FixMyStreet.com. Great news, and hopefully real encouragement for TransitCampers and open web geeks into Toronto start hacking away at online tools that make our city better. I’ve uploaded audio of the mayor’s remarks here:

The one challenge the mayor didn’t address directly: doing an Apps For Democracy-style contest like the one done in Washington, DC. I still think this is a super and low cost idea. I talked to Tonya, Mark K and Will P about it after the Summit, and all said they want to make something like this happen. In fact, Tonya offered to host a Toronto Social Innovation Camp (geeks gather to sprint on solutions to a problem) where people hack on ‘make Toronto better’ web projects. This could totally blend in with the contest idea. All we need is for City Hall to is open up some data and pitch in the prize money. Fun times ahead.

One the talk itself: a little longer than I’d hoped (40 mins) and got a few Mozilla facts wrong (ooops), but overall think it was okay. Comments on how to improve for similar talks welcome.


  1. Christine Prefontaine replied on | Reply

    Mark, thanks for posting this. I love you whole open approach and the way you’ve reached out and involved others in the process of thinking through these issues and creating your presentation. I was able to take come of your calls to participate and send them on to folks in my network, and happy to see that some responded! I am hoping that other business and social leaders will see the benefit of working this way and copy your methods. For now I can point them to your blog and say “you see!” :)

  2. Christine Prefontaine replied on | Reply

    Hahaha! That should say “I love YOUR whole open approach” — although you know I’m a fan :)

  3. Aaron Train replied on | Reply


    I gave your presentation a listen to online and found it very interesting. As a citizen of Toronto I hope to see the city change for the better in the future by embracing the ideas you spoke of.

    Good work :)

    Aaron Train

  4. David Humphrey replied on | Reply

    Great stuff, Mark. I love the story about Miller on his Blackberry. It’s great that you’re getting this sort of audience for your ideas about open cities and the web. Thanks for giving us the update.

  5. Mark Kuznicki replied on | Reply

    I’m very happy to have been in the audience the day that the open meme landed in the City of Toronto. Truly a job well done, this shows that the ideas and methods of Mozilla have a lot to give to the world outside the browser.

    I’ve raised my hand to help, and I will do my part to get the word out to others who want to be part of this new movement towards a better city: http://remarkk.com/2008/11/28/a-city-that-thinks-like-the-web/

  6. Michael Lewkowitz replied on | Reply

    Mark – great presentation and promising outcmoes. Nicely done!

  7. Chris Taggart replied on | Reply

    Great to hear the city of Toronto is open to opening up Mark. If you know anyone that wants a head start on the FixMyStreet app for Toronto, we’ve got the very same app we’re just about to Open Source that the City of Ottawa will be using over at OpenOttawa.org. It’s built on PHP + CodeIgniter and Google Maps.

  8. Sameer Vasta replied on | Reply

    I’ll say it again: amazing presentation Mark. What’s even more amazing is that it spurred the mayor into taking action. Now, we all just have to keep him accountable.

    (And thanks for the shout out again. I’m blushing.)

  9. Peter Corbett replied on | Reply

    Mark, thank you for using Apps for Democracy as an example at #TO20! We’re really excited by the innovation we’re seeing in our city at the hands of the talented citizens that live here. We’re currently noodling on what a round two of this would look like and would love to sync up with you to discuss what you might think we could do better and if the Mozilla Foundation would like to be involved somehow.

    Also, if anyone from Toronto wants to pick my brain about how to get this off the ground I’ll be happy to share what we learned along the way in creating #apps08.

    He’s a summary post about the contest if anyone’s interested in learning more:


    -Peter Corbett

    P.S. Apps for Democracy was a 30 day contest!

  10. Greg Elin replied on | Reply

    Mark, also really enjoyed your post. I especially liked the slides showing the growth in participation around Firefox, and the circles of participation and impact.

  11. Kate Kus replied on | Reply

    Tonya, I blog with Mark K – if you are interested in setting up a Toronto Social Innovation Camp, I would love to help.

  12. Tom Steinberg replied on | Reply

    Just to let you know, mySociety launched the next stage in FixMyStreet today, the iPhone version. Now you can snap problems, and upload them with GPS coordinates from the street.


  13. Christine Prefontaine replied on | Reply

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