Chaos in Urbanism – Harnessing Uncertainty for Successful Cities

More than ever before, people are fearful that the world is unwinding under the assault of an array of financial, social, cultural and environmental dangers. This session explores and provides insight into cities that experience high uncertainty on a daily basis; surviving and thriving in conditions many would consider untenable to supporting civilized life. Lessons learned will focus on the means for preparing our communities to possess an agile, robust capability of accepting and assimilating seriously significant change as well as designing to embrace and harness chaos.

  • Moderator: Gordon Stratford, Senior Vice President and Director of Design, HOK
  • Robert FreedmanChairman and Urban Design Consultant, Council for Canadian Urbanism
  • Lisa Fulford-Roy, Senior Vice President, Client Strategy for Workplace, Strategic Accounts and Consulting, HOK
  • Evan Savage, Bit-Manipulator Extraordinaire


Gordon Stratford

Good afternoon everybody. Thank you very much for joining us. I’m not going to put the timer on you. You should have seen us here a minute ago trying to figure out how to stop the timer and actually turned this thing on. So we’re evolving our technology skills as we speak.

Thank you very much. We appreciate you spending some time with us this afternoon and our topic is ëChaos in Urbanism’ which sounds like a high and very mighty topic. But we hope to bring it down to the ground and really have a great time talking this afternoon. In terms of the time we’re spending together, I’ll be honest; it’s going to be like speed dating for the next 60 minutes. I’m going to start with an introduction and then move into setting the context for why we have this topic and why it matters. And then we’re going to move to Lisa and Robert and Evan, and they are going to talk about their individual points of view which should take about 15 minutes total. And then we hope to spend about 35 minutes really just getting into discussion, any questions, comments…anything that you have. We’ll be honest, we don’t know everything. We can probably learn from you and we’d love to do that. So please be prepared.

In terms of introduction, the main goal of our conversation is that…and you’ve heard it this morning…that cities, they work to a certain degree, but they could work a lot better. So we hope that by the time we finish our 60 minutes together today that we’ve had the chance to really think about how to make cities more agile and more robust, how to make them actually work. And our contention is that chaos is either the thing that can hinder and destroy a city or enable it and make it survive and thrive. And we want to talk about that.

Now, in terms of our resource team members, we have three of these team members with me this afternoon. We have Lisa and Robert and Evan. And Robert is… his world is the blue world and he comes from a law and planning perspective, and his knowledge is about the entire city. So that yellow blob that you see there with those outliers is actually a city. His point of view is whole city, and the star in the middle is the notion of City Hall. He’s worked with city halls and he knows what it’s like in terms of how they work and how they don’t work.

Lisa’s world is a very unique world that fits into the bigger picture as well. She has been very involved in the visioning and the programming and the enabling of organizations that occupy cities. Basically it’s places where people work, and it’s going to be a very interesting commentary that she makes this afternoon because there’s something that we can learn from those organizations, both public and private.

Evan in purple, he is our young, hip, cool, a bit manipulator extraordinaire…we’re just human beings the rest of us. And his world is a whole other perspective. I’m not picking on him. A whole other perspective that we really want to bring, not only an overview in terms of age but also in terms of points of view. So we hope the discussion will be very, very rich.

Well, why this subject? I’m supposed to set up the context. Why are we talking about this to begin with? And the whole notion here…and I think it’s an understatement to say that we live in an age of uncertainty, that when countries that never should appear on a map like this in the past from a GDP growth, are, and the world is turning inside out and upside down. We go from the tragedy of Detroit to the possible rebirth of Detroit. We have gone through some very interesting times. And the old ways have a very difficult time coping with this. The challenges have evolved and our perspective this afternoon is from a design point of view, whether it’s virtual or built environment. You have the usual culprits…and that’s not to take away the seriousness of them. But really, what we’re finding is that it’s more complex and it’s a much wilier situation that we’re facing these days, and it ticks us in a numbers of different ways.

For us, it’s designed for focus people, a city that is successful, balances culture, social, environmental and economic factors. These are for us the four pillars for the success of a sustaining city. And what’s happened in the past six years, I think we can all agree it’s been a pretty wild time, and the whole idea here is that we’re living it times of even sharper contrast than ever before. One of the constants is the word ëchaos’ and humans love to take a big, messy thing and find one word and say ëThere it is’. But chaos is certainly been a constant but it’s also something that is a very relative thing. You have Ottawa, you have Mumbai. One man’s hell may be another’s paradise. People living in Mumbai may say, ‘There’s beautiful order here; I could never live in a city like Ottawa’. And vice versa. So in terms of what happens to the four pillars, the chaos that we see as design oriented people can be both disruptive and also highly beneficial. And this happens in many different ways. This just sort of gives an example, cultural, social, environmental and economic…you could say that the Euro meltdown and the instability of countries in Europe has had a huge ripple effect around the world from an economic point of view. It means we’re no longer isolated. Cities cannot just act alone; they have to think about the overall world. From a cultural point of view you could say that a massive hackathon has gone from being a simple social gathering to be a cultural phenomenon that we should really seriously pay attention to. Chaos comes in a creeping form as well. Work…life. It used to be called balance and then it moved to blend, I’d like to call it a Mixmaster. It affects all of us. And we live in a world of stress, which is a quiet chaos, but it has an impact on us because we live in cities.

Earlier this year, I spent some time putting together a webinar and over the past few years, as a designer, I’ve had a good fortune to visit a number of different countries and really look at what’s happening. A few years ago if I did this research, most of the cities would be on the other side of the world; today I’m finding that they are on their own continent, which is interesting in itself. In the study, what I was looking at, just out of natural curiosity, was a series of places. These are not all of them, but from Toronto to Detroit to Silicon Valley to New Orleans to Ahmadabad to Hamilton, Ontario, which, if you’d never been there, you should go there as soon as you finish this conference. But also, at the same time, looking at people. Cities, in the end, they are all about people. If people aren’t there, they just aren’t cities. So for us, from a design point of view, it’s looking at, ëWell, how do people cope with accommodation in New York City?’ Well it’s a 15 meter2 hallway apartment, so you can afford it. It’s the man and his dog waiting on the roof of his house to be rescued in New Orleans. People are resilient and we can learn in terms of not only looking at the buildings but looking at the people that inhabit them. Out of this I really see two design challenges: built environment and what I used to call governance, but frankly governance doesn’t do it; it is attitude. The attitude has to change in cities.

From a built environment perspective, and I’m not going to give you all of these, and you look at them and go ëso what? Some cities do this’. The truth of the matter though is that I haven’t found one yet that does them all at the same time, and if they don’t do them all at the same time, a city is not going to make progress. So, size matters in many different things but it also matters in terms of cities. My perspective from a design point of view is that what we really need to start doing is borrow what the city of San Diego has been trying to do in terms of city of villages and really create a city of villages. You look at it and you think ëWell, how can that happen?’ Well, the notion of it is that I would argue that maybe a village should be about 15000 people. If you start organizing things from a social point of view, infrastructure point of view, everything else, things start to happen that I think could really start to make a difference. You only have to look at the neighborhoods of Toronto to start to see the beginnings of it because each neighborhood brings the DNA of the history and the geography of the area that the city has grown in.

Another one is that density is good. It may be Toronto, it may be Berlin, but I would say that it has to be community-first focused. And quite honestly, a lot of cities don’t do that. Because the people across the bottom of that slide need some place to live and it needs to be a good place. With that there should be ubiquitous public realm; I would say that there should be a law in each city that demands that high quality, high quantity open space, a formula that relates to the amount of density that then can be allowed into a city. It can be tall, it can be short. And that open space may be urban garden, garden like in Detroit, it could be storm water management; it could be protection of the Bruce…not the Bruce trail, but the escarpment in Hamilton Ontario…or it could be the beautiful squares of downtown Savannah. As part of that, the whole notion of country in the city. And really it’s the lungs; it’s the digestive system in a sense of a city as connective tissue, and as part of public realm that it also counterbalances density, and I can be learning from Berlin; it can be learning from Detroit; it can be learning from a number of different places where it’s already happening.

I really believe that highly, highly catalytic higher education and culture is essential for a city to rebound from chaos. You could just go to Hamilton and see that as a classic case. I won’t say anything more. You have to go there and experience it for yourself. Or Savannah, where the Savannah College of Art and Design is the downtown; it has become one with the city. This all leads to the idea of moving away from the big box sort of categories of certain parts of town only doing certain things, and really moving to that harnessing chaos diagram that you see where you actually start to blend these across the city. Resilience is a word that has been used often in this conference. And then also, finally, think about afterlife planning as not only what will our city be when it grows but what would happen if it died? What would happen if we were Detroit? What would happen if we were flooded out, which we were? And start to really plan for those scenarios. And then pretty soon, I think, we’d start to understand chaos and how to deal with it.

Leapfrogging without mercy; look at Portland, Oregon; Greensburg, Kansas; Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin; Gainsborough, Florida; and Boulder, Colorado. They’re considered towns, cities or villages that have leapfrogged over significant chaos to come out the other side. Are they doing everything? No, but there’s something to be learned. Attitude as a change in terms of how to approach this…frankly, the guy with the beard on the left is old city. The only thing that these two people share is facial hair. That other guy on the right really represents the new city. And there’s something that cities, as an organization, need to learn and they need to learn it fast because they’re obsolete. There are many organizations, and I would contend that most cities are in fact overwhelmed by chaos and change and the falter. If you can get all of that chaos and change behind you, you can use it to propel yourself forward. And by doing that you need to look at other organizations. Lisa is going to talk about this in a minute, and so will Robert and Evan.

There is something about healthcare, and believe it or not, for many years all of our health and wellness depended on warring factions of health sciences individuals. That’s not a good scenario. So there is something about cities looking at this now because healthcare is going through a groundswell revolutionary change in terms of collaboration, integration and transformation of how we are kept well. At the same time cities need to adopt that upstart attitude that nothing is precious. And we as citizens need to accept that that will happen. Imagine if your city hall had those three posters that are in the bottom corner there, ëDone as better than perfect’, ëWhat would you do if you weren’t afraid?’ and ëMove fast and break things’. If cities did that, it might be painful but it would get us where we need to be. And really get together, I mean really get together. My experience with working with cities is that city organizations don’t do that, and as a result they’re sort of like healthcare has been but it’s transforming itself.

It’s funny to put ëVision focused’ on a slide to describe what needs to be done with cities. Cities do have vision but they don’t have consistent and committed application of it from beginning to end, and that really needs to happen. Along with that we need to borrow from Japan which has living national treasures, people who carry the DNA of the intent of what that country is about. Those people need to be hired and embedded within city halls and be given the title of proactive catalyst that carry that vision through, as painful as it may be. All ending in the whole notion of loose fit-long life. The cities then become flexible, agile and adaptable. Lisa.

Lisa Fulford-Roy

Thank you. That was a great segue to what I wanted to talk about. We’re seeing in workplace and business and the way businesses are adapting, largely businesses are adapting or not adapting or living chaos or embracing chaos, largely because of the technology that’s being introduced within their organizations. And that sounds really simplistic. But if you think about the technology you used five years ago for example, and the technology you use today just to conduct very simple day to day personal tasks, you can understand how that technology can impact businesses and how businesses operate.

So I wanted to start by really impressing upon you this whole notion of chaos being both positive and negative within business and how technology is either an enabler or an impediment to that. And certainly [inaudible 14:10] Company has been writing a couple of articles just in the last year about chaos in the workplace, the modern business is pure chaos, how do we manage in a time of chaos and generation influx. So there are a lot of moving parts and because of that, and to Gordon’s last slide, the agility and the ability to adapt, change, reinvent a business within three to five years window is absolutely imperative for them to do well, to compete in the marketplace. And so, what we see if we’re looking at parallels to the city…and just before I get into this diagram…is, if we think of the workplace as a microcosm of the city, a miniature city within a city, and then we have communities within that microcosm, that’s where collaboration occurs. That’s where the nimbleness occurs. So in order for organizations to remain nimble and to remain competitive and to innovate without fear and move business challenges forward into solutions, they really need, regardless of how large the company is, they really need to think of themselves as mini-communities within a larger community. At the end of the day we’re trying to motivate human beings to do their best work. So how do we support that within organizations? And how is that done through technology? Businesses as well as cities are competing on brand, businesses as well as cities are competing to attract and retain talent, they’re competing to attract and retain finances so they can reinvest. The challenges are very similar, yet businesses are far ahead in terms of the integration of technology, which is why we’re seeing some really positive outcomes in how to navigate chaos, navigate change, and adapt.

So if you look at this diagram here, at the very top is what we would call a conventional, traditional hierarchy that most of us have experienced. I don’t see too many young people in the room here. The traditional hierarchy was great when you had an employer driven culture and employer driven decision making matrix. But because we’re now moving to accessibility to knowledge, accessibility to data, knowledge-worker matrix of organization, there used to be decision making capability, empowerment and autonomy across the entire organization and in every section of the organization in order for that organization to keep pace with the demands of business and the change of technology and the change in ways we’re working. And so the matrix that you see, or the diagram that you see on the bottom here, in very simplistic terms, is a lot more representative of how people are working today, how they’re interacting, how they’re solving problems and how they’re moving business demands to solution.

What that brings us to is the mobile work and distributed work models. They are gaining momentum by the minute. I think when mobile work was first introduced that meant work from home. But mobile work is what you’re all doing today. Today you’re here at this conference and you are working and perhaps your desk chair or your office chair is sitting empty. So we’re all mobile working all the time. And as Gordon suggested that blurred line between work…live…play is something that we’re all living. How many of you have your cell phone on your night stand and are checking it right before you go to bed? There is really no definition between when work starts and ends anymore for many of us.

So the distributed work model has really come out of the need to build flexibility and to serve our clients. And what’s really important with distributed work and mobile work is understanding what the goal of the business is. If we can define what the goal of the business is and be very clear about that, you can develop a new system and a new infrastructure to support that. What I mean by that is, I have two examples. One is Google, which many of you would know, and Google is focused on peer to peer collaboration to drive innovation for their business. So Google is investing differently in real-estate than other organizations. Google is investing in bricks and mortar, and Google is investing in campuses, and the reason they’re doing that is that they understand that the casual collisions between colleagues and coworkers is critically important to meet that business goal. So Google has a one to one ratio, one seat to one employee ratio which many distributed models move away from that ratio. On the other hand, if you look at Accenture for example, Accenture is really focused on a client-centric model, customer service with the client, employee with the client meeting face to face. So their model is a third bricks and mortar that they’re investing in; they’ve got one seat for every eight employees. The two thirds of investment that they make is for third places. Third places are places that you and I are both aware of, where people work in cafes, in airports; we’re working here, we’re working in liquid space, which is short-term bookable space. We’re co-working with colleagues; we’re working in our client’s locations.

So Accenture, understanding their business model, took a very different approach of how they integrate technology to support mobile work in a very different way than Google. But none the less both of them are highly supported by technology, both of them are looking for a maximum collaboration between client and employee or peer to peer, both of them are trying to find ways for parallel conversations that are complementary so that they can find interesting intersections between the client and the employee or the peer to peer discussions to innovate and bring new ideas to their business model.

A really good example of that, if I move ahead here… This is where you can see how each of those business models can be very, very different for different companies. So again it’s going back to really defining what the business need is and then developing a structure around that. And if we parallel that to cities, are cities really trying to work differently within an old structure? Or are they really trying to reinvent the structure and then bring best practices back into a new structure? So that’s the question that we like to raise. I don’t work for the city so I can’t make that parallel, but certainly, when we look at the speed to which you can access information, the speed of decisions, one would argue that there is a lot of room for technology to enable cities to move faster and innovate more and engage employees. Another example here of different systems and infrastructure.

So an interesting story with Boeing. They had two facilities in Seattle. One was the manufacturing facility where they actually assembled planes; the other was their corporate office facility which was about 200,000 feet2. And at the time of chaos, when they faced an environmental disaster, they went through an earthquake which completely damaged their corporate office facility, but work had to go on. So they moved all of their employees to the manufacturing facility. And here’s an interesting photo of that where you can see the collocation of work space. This just happens to be cafÈ meeting space adjacent to the assembly floor. In doing that they took the opportunity and ceased this opportunity of chaos to collocate the engineers who designed the airplanes with the engineers who assembled the airplanes, and those conversations started to merge and each of them started to understand what each other did. Prior to that there was no conversation or communication. It was literally the handoff of a baton, ëHere are the engineering drawings, go build it’. And what happened with that is, in a highly competitive industry where speed is everything and highly costly, they were able to reduce the assembly and the production of these airplanes by 50%. They went from a 22-day period to assemble these planes to an 11-day period to successfully design these planes. And all of that was through the convergence of conversation, social interaction, in this case technology being on the end-user side of the actual product. So the convergence of all three of those is critically important. And I would say, if we tie that back to cities, it’s really about understanding what is the business need and each of the city challenges and how do we create new systems and ecosystems to support that business need.

Gordon Stratford

Thank you Lisa. Next we’ll have Robert provide his point of view.

Robert Freedman

Great, thank you. So Gordon told me five minutes, I’ll have to be a little manic to get through this in five minutes. What I have is not so much a presentation as a bunch of images that I hope will stimulate discussion as we go through. That’s about 20 slides, most of them on Toronto and Detroit. Toronto city I know well having grown up here and having worked as the Director of Urban Design for the city of Toronto for ten years, as well. Detroit, a city I know a little bit through work and also just what I’ve been reading in the press lately. Those are two cities that are struggling to deal with chaos in different ways, and Gordon asked me to have a point of view, so my point of view is that I think Toronto in many ways is essentially been ignoring the chaos going on around it. It’s been dealt a very good set of cards, very good hand of cards, and we’ve just been rolling with it. Detroit has been dealt a very bad hand of cards and I think it’s been living things very proactively. We’ll get into that.

So just some things that Torono…to show Toronto is thriving despite of all the chaos around it, many may be aware, if you’re not from here, having seen all the cranes up and around the city, actually the greatest number in the western world right now, in more than those five American cities combined. A couple of the stats down in the bottom: in our best years we’re cranking up about 15000 condo units a year, which is a pretty staggering number. And just to give you a bird’s eye view of that, here’s a view from the CN Tower looking west. This photo was taken a couple of years after I came back to Toronto. Keep your eye on that little warehouse building there in the middle. Again, this is about 2004. This is an image from about eight years later. So not fully up to date and there’s even more buildings there from the last two or three years. So just a staggering pace. Not that these neighborhoods are without criticism. They’re doing some things well; they’re doing other things not so well. But just the sheer pace and scale of development is really quite staggering.

A little bit on population and how large Toronto is. You heard different numbers, it’s often just because of different areas that are being measured. Toronto itself 2.7 million, the GTA 6.2, the Greater Golden Horseshoe, because it looks from a plane at night like a horseshoe shape…we have there around 9. So again, a huge area. What’s driving all of this growth? And we are growing at quite a staggering pace. Immigration. So the Canadian government, through the immigration policy, about 260…270 thousand people a year coming to Canada, roughly one third of those end up in the Greater Toronto Area and roughly one third of those end up in Toronto. So again, that’s what is fueling this impressive growth. People are coming from all over the world. If you’ve had the chance, again if you’re not from here, to look around, to ride the subway, you hear a huge number of languages being spoken. The newspaper clipping from the Globe and Mail on the right there; the small circle bottom left the year I was born, 1961, the little colored portion there shows visible minorities at that time. So a very homogeneous city when I was growing up. And look at the large circle today and the visible minorities represented by the colored lines. So also very impressive, bringing its share of chaos with it. Just in the downtown…again, the conferences tend to spend most of your time downtown…staggering amount of growth. Close to 100,000 people added to the downtown in the last 30 years.

This is actually a rendering. This doesn’t actually exist quite yet. This is a rendering done by a private young citizen who is interested in these things where they’ve actually photoshoped all of the images of all the buildings that have been approved, some of them just starting construction, others not even off the drawing board. But probably in the next four, five years you’ll see an image like this if you come back to the city. So those are some of the things that show how the city is growing and thriving. It’s not without pain. This is again, I think, from the Globe and Mail, article showing the kind of conflicts that come when you get this unprecedented rate of growth. And another interesting fact is that the city, through it official plan is pinpointing or focusing growth only on certain areas. If you actually look at the maps, it’s only about 7% of the land area of the city where we’re focusing growth. So where you get these areas of intensification coming up against stable residential neighborhoods, you get this kind of a reaction. And much of my time at the city…and Gordon in the design [inaudible 29:25] spent mediating those conflicts.

A word on how the city is governed; many of you may know because it was making international press. About 1998 the city was put through a forced amalgamation of cities in Ontario in Canada, a creature of the provincial government, so it was from on high, despite the fact that the majority of citizens did not want amalgamation. It created a huge amalgamated or megacity, about 275 miles2, which has in many people’s opinion made local government a tough thing with a city of that size. There were [even more 30:08] councilors when the city was first amalgamated, now 44. Council meetings go on for days and days, very minute issues being discussed council-wide. The 44 councilors each in charge of their own little fiefdom; the Mayor, the only council member elected at large. It’s not a strong mayor system like many American cities, so the mayor actually doesn’t have very much power. I’m not sure actually why anyone would want to be mayor of the city of Toronto. It’s a lightning rod for blame and not very much power that goes with it.

Maybe it’s a little bit of the rose-colored glasses, but again, when I was growing up, Toronto had the reputation, was known internationally as the city that works, also known as New York run by the Swiss. But part of that had to do with the fact that there was a government system that was put in place, where in fact same geography now as the amalgamated city, only it was a series of smaller cities each with their own government, but then also a metropolitan government elected at large that dealt with large issues such as transportation, water, sewer, that sort of thing. A system that seemed to work much better than the present system.

Something that I just wanted to touch on: growing income disparity. This isn’t something that is in crisis yet, but certainly the numbers are pointing that way. The yellow…sort of looks white on the screen…are middle class neighborhoods in 1970; the blue is higher income; the red is lower income. So keep your eye on what happened to the middle class in the 30 some odd years since then…almost a complete change; shrinking middle class, increasing poverty on the fringes and the older suburban parts of the city. Another thing that is chaotic in the city is the civil service. Just an example, in my work at the city we’ve dealt a lot with the public realm, but if you ask people within city hall who is in charge of the public realm, sidewalk, street trees, that sort of thing, many different divisions would put up their hands…quite a chaotic situation. So that’s a little bit on Toronto.

About four slides on Detroit, again the city I’ve been researching lately. Many people, I think, through the chaos that you’re hearing about in the newspapers would write Detroit off, largest American city ever to declare bankruptcy. It’s lost about two thirds of its population, 80,000 housing units have been abandoned. It seems like it’s a city without hope. And yet there is a whole other side in the downtown core right now that seems to be driven by some entrepreneurs who are coming. Quicken Loans, the CEO of that company has invested a billion dollars in about 20 buildings downtown, bringing in young workers, creating an incredible vibrancy. So there’s this incredible I would say harnessing of the chaos that’s going on in that city to kind of bring parts of it back. Operate privately funded LRT system is about to go into place. Another thing that is interesting is that the city, in the places that are emptying out or the places with the abandoned housing, large swath of the city with very little population; parts of the city being shut down, some of it being converted to agriculture and the growing of food in the city. Much of that supported by people who were interested in knowing where the food comes from and sourcing it close to home.

Also something that’s been happening through the kind of passion of the people who are moving into downtown of Detroit, which is its grassroots movement prior to this election coming up in November. Detroit had been voting its councilors at large, all representing all parts of the city. Grassroots movement that got an awards system put into place. Whether that is the right move or the wrong move it’s almost irrelevant. It’s just the fact that a grassroots movement could have that kind of power to move that forward. I won’t really focus on this, but New York City, I think that there are some lessons to be learned from the community board system there. Pittsburgh, one of the cities that keep going up and down, but it’s almost the anti-amalgamation model, kind of interesting food for thought. And then Vancouver, a city where I also studied and lived for a number of years, where they elect the council at large, so there are some lessons from there. Not sure if that was five minutes but I’ll stop.

Gordon Stratford

Sounds pretty good. Thank you very much Robert. Okay, and last but not least, Evan. And then we’ll be moving into discussion and questions.

Evan Savage

This is what it’s like to be a digital native. A magazine is an iPod that doesn’t work. We expect to be able to communicate and interact with everything around us and we experience real frustration when that expectation is not met. We’re going to talk about interactive governance, which is governance that meets this expectation. It’s defined by two things: interactions that feel immediate and reciprocal communication. To companies like Facebook and Google it’s come up several times, milliseconds matter, a second is an eternity. This is the speed that digital natives are growing up with. Google found through some of its user research that in web design delays of as little as 100 milliseconds are palpable. The human brain can process visual change at about 24 frames per second, every 40 milliseconds. So yes, again, this is the speed that we’re accustomed to, there’s a sense of continual progress. In 2012 the city of Toronto received about 1800 freedom of information requests. And this chart shows how long it took them to respond. The average is 25 and a half days. Way over there, on the right side, the longest time it took was 85 days, which is a full eight order of magnitude longer than this perceptual frame rate of 40 milliseconds. So to a digital native the freedom of inter-information act is a search engine that doesn’t work.

It is not all about speed. Two-way communication, reciprocal communication is important as well. We interact with the world and devices and a number of services and we expect them to interact back with us. For example I saw this screen outside a toilet in Singapore’s Changi Airport which asked users to rate their toilet experience. And it seems like a silly example and it is kind of like a silly example, but there is a sincere attempt here to engage the user, to get their feedback, to make them feel wanted in this process and use that hopefully to improve the future experience of toilet users in Singapore’s airports. And this is a good thing because iterative design depends upon feedback. Feedback is built upon data. Data is the buzz word of our day. We’ve heard it several times in the opening sessions. And governments are seeing this, we see a growing number of open data initiatives including in Toronto. That’s also a good thing. Without that I can’t show you wonderful graphs like this. But it’s just a start. Data isn’t just a resource; it’s not a static thing. It’s a conversation starter; it’s a flash point for interaction. Data have human dimensions, real world implications; they’re part of an ongoing process of communication. Organizations are getting this. Detroit’s Data Collective, which is an organization looking at trying to advocate for better open data services in Detroit, this is their vision for open data, and the first thing you notice about it is these two big feedback cycles. Feedback cycles are central to this vision. The other thing you notice is that the entire left half of this diagram is given over to the community. People from the community bring their own data, their own insights, observations, experiences to this process, to this conversation; whereas most open data initiatives focus exclusively on this right half. They get the data the government has.

So how do we get there? There is no doubt that interactive governance entails a number of tricky challenges. What tools do we need? How do we learn? Not even just how to communicate but how do we learn to communicate with an increasingly diverse set of data owners? And finally, what I think is the most important, how do we assemble talented teams to work on these problems? Because at the end of the day interactive governance is about technology but it’s ultimately about people more than it is about technology. It’s about opening conversations, it’s about building community around issues, it’s about engaging everyone in a process of problem solving. It’s about creating and then tightening these feedback loops so that we can actually respond to the unexpected. I think if we can do that then we will be in a much better position to meet chaos head-on. Thank you.

Gordon Stratford

Thank you very much. So you’ve heard very different points of view and we’d love to start hearing from you. I’m going to start off with a question to our three resource team members. And while I’m doing that, please, I want the next question after that, and all the ones after that to come from you assembled. And I’m going to start, it’s really one for all three of you but I’m going to start with Evan in a sense and I think Robert as well. We’ve certainly talked about creative chaos. Evan, you have, I believe, lived a life of creative chaos in your short life so far. I’m curious about large organizations and creative chaos and whether the two can actually mix. So I’d like you to talk a little bit about that. And then Robert, you have lived in a large organization. And I forget how many people are in the city of Toronto. Is it 40,000? Okay, so between 25 to 40 thousand. So if you could think of that from a scale the company size, I’m curious Evan, is it possible in either examples of that that cities could learn from?

Evan Savage

So you talk about the company size. I’ll tell you about the size of 40000 people. Now, that’s not unheard of. Google has 40000 people. Microsoft, which many people predicted the demise of about ten years ago, has 40000 people and has been enormously successful in revitalizing its research division. So I don’t think it’s a question of scale. Smaller companies even struggle with this problem of encouraging creativity and confronting chaos. It seems like it’s almost a problem of culture and of finding and maintaining this pool of talent. I’ve noticed through working with larger companies and smaller companies like that, as a company gets larger the tendency seems to be to go for people who are highly specialized at a task. You want to find someone who knows this technology better than anyone else because they can work on it ten times faster. That’s great, but on the other hand the small companies go for the generalists. It’s economic reality, they can hire fewer of them. And as you move more and more towards something that is entirely build of specialists, the specialists work at the function level, the technical level, and lose the project idea level that you see prominentlyÖ Apple’s success would not have existed without a broader vision for instance. You need that broader vision somewhere. So finding ways to keep that and then sort of permeate the culture with that is important.

Gordon Stratford

Great. Robert, do you think that what Evan has described, would a city like Toronto be able to [inaudible 42:00]?

Robert Freedman

Yeah, it’s an excellent question. I think my shorter answer would be no. That’s a little too pessimistic. The city of Toronto, and I think it’s somewhere in other large municipalities, it’s a bit of a dinosaur in terms of the way it’s organized. It’s very hierarchical; there’s a CEO at the top, a bureaucrat, then three people under that person, and then few people under each of those, and it’s very much like the diagram that Lisa showed at the beginning, very much a pyramid. Management is not unionized, all the workers below management are unionized, so there’s that to throw into the mix. Amalgamation, which was supposed to originally reduce the overall number of employees in the city compared to the former municipalities combined, I believe that that has actually not come to pass. I think it did originally; 12 years after amalgamation city of Toronto has added more people so that in fact you need a larger workforce than prior to.

So I think it’s a huge uphill battle for an organization like the city of Toronto to actually become, to emulate what is going on in the business world, to restructure just the office environment, like some of the exciting things you hear about in some of the larger tech companies. Completely foreign to how the city is set up right now. So a little bit tongue in cheek when I say no. I think it could happen; it would be a huge undertaking. I’m not sure anyone is working on it right now.

Gordon Stratford

That’s okay. Lisa, your thoughts?

Lisa Fulford-Roy

I certainly agree with both of you. I think I see the opportunity and I just touched on it briefly, it’s about building smaller communities to remain nimble. And part of that is you’re building collaborative trust. You’re surrounding yourself with a whole series of knowledge workers that all bring different areas of specialty and different areas of generalisms so that every opportunity to solve a problem for business can be done through these smaller communities of cross functional teams. Looking at things in new ways, not assuming that each one of us could possibly come up with the answer alone. I think that for the city, and you talked about this even earlier today, is…does the city, can the city reach out …let’s say for transportation if we want to choose an example…can the city reach out to not only city employees and specialists and generalists, but also reach out to alliance partners in the community who are working with those issues day to day, reach out to the community itself and understand their issues, and create a more holistic and comprehensive understanding of all of the issues as a baseline of understanding before we even try to solve it? And it’s about defining the problem more clearly and more holistically. How you do that, and how you build a structure around it can be done if it’s done in small moves rather than looking at the city itself as one large organization and trying to solve that with one system.

Gordon Stratford

Thank you. Now, what I’d like to do is, I’d like the rest of our time to really be more about questions and comments that come from you. And we’ll start in the corner and if you could just indicate your name and where you’re from and then go at it.

Speaker 1

My name [inaudible 45:38] I’m from London and I run a research and strategy practice [inaudible] the environment. And I’d like to come back to you Gordon and [inaudible 45:50] consistency in your presentation. So you did talk about national treasures, and you did talk about consistent [inaudible] each of them, but at the same time you had a very powerful research and then nothing precious, and I [inaudible] latter half of the morning, about the assumption that the only rational decision and choice that people should make is the choice for efficiency. So I would like to ask if anybody has read or remembers one of [inaudible] and diversity and competitive democracy. And I would like to complete my intervention. Let me talk about the toilet experience in Asia. I don’t knowÖ.[inaudible]

Gordon Stratford

I like that. Thank you. No, I don’t want it to be just the four of us actually answering that. Any comments to that from anybody around the table? Yes.

[inaudible 47:45]

Gordon Stratford

I can do that, yes. We have strangely enough one microphone, which I will bring down to you. There you go. I need the exercise.

Speaker 2

Great. I just wanted to make a little comment, sort of following up on that, because we heard a lot today about we need to connect everybody. But a lot of the projects that I’ve worked with the EU and the UN around some of these projects, and we put a lot of boxes in, for lack of a better word, to connect everybody, but we don’t understand why we’re connecting people. So a lot of these projects don’t end up working because it’s about putting the connections in but we don’t actually understand why we’re connecting people. So there’s no reason for the connection.

You’re putting technology sometimes in place for the sake of technology. It’s like we look at buildings, we have great buildings that they put a lot of technology in but if they don’t do simple little things like cleaning filters and cleaning sensors the technology doesn’t work. Or people think that, because there’s technology in place, it will take care of itself. It doesn’t. There’s still a lot of things that needs to be done. So one of the things we need to look back at is why do we want to connect people. Do I really need to have my fridge connected to the internet? I don’t know. But it’s available. Just because it’s available though, doesn’t mean that there’s actually any value in that connection.

Speaker 3

I think that on the same line of conversation… I work in Los Angeles. There is a very large immigrant community and I’ve been doing community work associated with urban design projects. In fact one of them is 51 miles over river which is about 120 communities. And I just won a grant to do a place making study for six communities along the stretch of the river. Most of those people, I’d say 60% of them don’t have a computer, will not have a computer in the period of time that I am working on this project. And it’s a challenge on how to… first of all it’s about education…what are the decisions they’re making, how they’re making them? But I just would say, obviously we all have to plan for the future and some form of resiliency, but culture maters and of course sensitivity matters to the place and the people. I am somewhat confused and at a loss on how toÖ since we’re so digitally focused on the future. Also how to bring people along and participate in a meaningful way and create a place that has meaning for generations to come. I personally know of a couple of my friends, their best vacation ever last year was a place they went to where there was no access, and they left all their devices behind, and it took them about a week, but they had a fabulous two weeks beyond that.

Alison Gold

Thank you. My name is Alison Gold, I work for an organization called Living Cities and I come to this from a similar world to you in the sense that my focus is on urban poverty in the United States. I think one of the things I’m very struck by…part of that conversation though is that your friends have a choice to turn off their technology. And we have a lot of people in these communities, including that great image of the gross of poverty in Toronto who don’t even have a choice to tap into those technologies.

Speaker 3

The first half of my conversation was of people who don’t have a choice.

Alison Gold

Right. And I think that this peace with efficiency I’m seeing that connection to because I think it’s efficiency in a lot of these systems, or what we’ve called efficiency that has produced these types of outcomes in places. So I am intrigued about how are we using technology to… Evan’s point as a starting point for naming that problem but then actually using it as a place for the conversation to expand to. How are we going to solve those problems and give people access and opportunity in to these systems? And my hunch is the stage of getting people back in is not an efficient process. It is a chaotic process. I am intrigued about what other people think about that idea.

Gordon Stratford

Great, thank you. Comments or other questions? Okay. We’ll go down to the end and then the gentleman in blue.

Bill MacGowan

Hi, Bill MacGowan [spelling] from Cisco. We’re engaged heavily with the internet of everything, so I firmly believe that refrigerator to the cappuccino machine to the cow would give you a better latte. So we’ll get to the value prop in another discussion. But I wanted just to ask Lisa and the group that is it possible to get your arms around harnessing creative chaos to drive repeatable business outcomes? And the example of Boeing going from 22 to 11 days, was that an objective that was clearly sought after or did it just happen? Just a comment on that Lisa.

Lisa Fulford-Roy

I think over time [inaudible 53:32] no one really thought that they could reduce the time to that degree. That example is really driven out of the filter of human interconnection and human interaction enabling different technologies and different systems to achieve a business result versus it being driven out of technology first and people creating a solution around the need. So I think technology sort of tethers in everywhere, but in some cases it’s the baseline of the conversation, to begin the conversation, in other cases it’s part of the solution. And sometimes, as Evan said, it’s about a continuous loop of data and information. But it doesn’t necessarily solve, it only continues to inform us of systems, processes, or repeatable patterns that are happening that are either good or bad. And if they’re not working and they’re repeatable, what do we do to change those? In that really comes through interconnection of ideas and people and coming to the table to solve the problems. I don’t think technology is solving that for us. It’s just one element that seems to find its way into the mix of every conversation. Thank you.


Hi. My name is Tim and I’m struck a bit by the chaos piece, when you referenced about the technology, but I think we’re missing a piece in that the chaos allows more data. Like there’s actually more things to track and look at and explore and investigate and understand, and there is more opportunity for more users to give us their feedback so we have a better answer in the end by actually looking at what is involved in the data. I have a peer who had a younger employee and she wanted the person to look up a small town, the local phone number for a florist and call the florist and see when they were open. And the person didn’t do it, and staff person was starting to get a bit of frustrated, saying, ëI’ve asked you to do that’. And the younger person turned and said, ëYou want me to do that?’ She said, ëYes, I asked you to do it’, sort of that hierarchical thing; and she said, ëWell, why wouldn’t I just look it up on the web when they’re open?’ For the older person that wasn’t even a thought that you would go that way. So I think a lot of times right now some of that chaos is that there are just so many new opportunities for information and we are not all on the same page on how to access it and understand it.

Speaker 4

[inaudible 56:45] Toronto for an agency of the government of Ontario. We had certain [inaudible] the old school way [inaudible] is a similar experience to what I’m living through. And what I wanted to know, and I’m actually throwing it over to the whole group, is…I agree with you that it seems so slow at the very best to change that hierarchical culture? I loved the comment earlier [inaudible]. So how do I do it? [inaudible]

Robert Freedman

When I kind of tongue in cheek said that there is no way of changing it, I think, to be fair, some things are changing and they’re kind of bubbling up from the bottom. We’ve had a conversation just among the four of us the other day and I was lamenting about the fact that when I was with the city they provide electronic devices only to management and the people who actually are really out there using these devices to the best of what they can do are the people who are 35 and under, and they are not provided. So many of them now are just using their own devices. So it’s a kind of bubbling up from underneath are really incredible changes. The other thing is that I have an architecture background. I do believe that physical design has a huge impact as well. So many of the buildings in the way the staff are organized, and that’s probably the same at Metrolinx…staff are in dispersed locations, the buildings are not set up to…people bump into each other, civil servants are not allowed to have coffee because that’s a waste of taxpayer’s money. There’s a whole series of things that are done that are extremely old school, that I think are interfering with some of the communication that would happen naturally if we were set up more like these newer corporations.

Lisa Fulford-Roy

Very quick comment. So that sort of fear of losing hierarchy and control and the way things have always been done, and I don’t think anybody is really interested in abandoning a hierarchy altogether. There needs to be a new sense of order. But people who understand the data and understand human behavior and understand what motivates people, what inspires them, engages them to do better work and be productive. People at Google who have studied it and have the analytics which actually inform Google to say, ëHaving coffee at the water cooler’. Having coffee at the water cooler? ëHaving water at the water cooler’. That would be one great machine. It inspires people to engage differently, and when people engage differently they feel connected, when they feel connected they feel productive, they stay longer, they do better work. And there are many studies that indicate that it’s difficult to quantify, but if anyone can do it, Google has, and they’re building a system and a hierarchy around that to support innovation and structure for the pure goal of bringing new ideas to the table.

Evan Savage

Just to expand upon that, creating a culture where you can do this… I think a big part of it also is in places like Facebook and Google and these companies is trust, and a level of trust placed into people who are at the ground level. We saw the image of the three posters there, ëMove fast, and break things’. What amazes me about those is that they’re not a top down initiative. Those posters were created by, I think, two employees at Facebook got a printing press and made what they called the Facebook Analog Research Laboratory and just started producing these posters and putting them up around the office. And that was allowed and encouraged. So you need to have that trust. There are these different elements, and yeah, it’s a good question, how do you bring them all together at once in a place that historically has had nothing to do with those kinds of…? It’s a difficult question .

Gordon Stratford

I just found out that they’ve been holding back about ten minutes worth of time on us, so…

Speaker 5

Does that mean we have ten minutes more or ten minutes less?

Gordon Stratford

20 minutesÖ

Speaker 5

Ah, more. Okay. Truth in advertising. If you read what this workshop was about it actually isn’t about technology at all. More than ever before people are fearful that the world is unwinding under the assault of a ray of financial, social, cultural and environmental dangers. Google will not solve those problems, just to let you know. No amount of poster boards or innovation is going to solve chaos. Chaos I actually don’t think needs to be solved. I kind of thought I was coming into a presentation talking, revering chaos rather than working out how to leapfrog it. The thing I like the most about this city is the chaos. I think some complicated questions maybe for future thought are: how do you have formerly homeless people living next to people that do work at Google and make $1,000,000 and 29 and have no idea how to interact with the homeless person; how do you have bicycles going every which way with kids and cars on the same street; how do you have these elements that have natural chaos in them? Your last comment was the goal is to bring order to them. I don’t think the goal is to bring order to them, because ultimately, when we’ve traveled around as many as the people in this room have, there are many, many cities that are incredibly sterile. They lack chaos, they have a lot of order, so how you bread chaos to overcome sterility would be a question I would be interested in hearing an answer to.

Gordon Stratford

I think I can start an answer on that. I think you’re absolutely right. Our intent is not to do away with chaos, and I’ve been to some of those cities where they have done that seemingly, but it’s there below the surface. I think the thing that’s really important, and I’ll talk from a designer’s perspective, is exactly what you’ve said: how to embrace it, how to get it to work in a positive way. And for cities to not just simply go to the standard response to ëI fixed that problem’. The city will not change. And I think that we’re seeing now cities emerging which can no longer avoid that. Detroit; it’s decline in population didn’t happen overnight, it took a long time for that to happen. So there must have been some form of denial. What would happen if you really started to do something? And if you had a master plan and said ëWhat would happen if our cities start to get smaller?’ So other cities can now learn from that. So I totally agree with you. We do not want to have a world without chaos. It wouldn’t be a world, it wouldn’t be here. So, just to answer it from that perspective. Would any of the other team members like to add to that or shall we go to our next person? No, okay, we’ll go here.

Marina Tharayil

Thanks. My name is Marina Tharayil [speling], I’m a research scientist at Xerox. I’m interested in complex systems and urban intermatrix. Building on the last two conversations, I think my view is that the goal is neither chaos nor complete order everywhere. It’s not an all one-size-fit-all solution. And I love the slide that someone presented…I think it was Lisa…of the different organizations with Microsoft with the pointing guns and the very hierarchical kind of things. And the observation was that all of those are successful organizations. I think you need each of those structures. And then the question is, what is the right approach for either organization or the other? So the 40000 employee city, the implication isn’t for them to go from a hierarchical to strictly chaos. In the short term that will probably do a lot more harm than good. So where does that lie? How do you find the right fit? What is the right stage of opening up and connectivity? So thoughts on those.

Gordon Stratford

Great. Let’s start with Robert.

Robert Freedman

In response to that, Gordon you had a slide that touched on that, it was your neighborhoods slide of the city of Toronto, approximately 15000 people per neighborhood with 44 wards it’s approximately 50000 people represented by each city council. There is a movement to reduce the number of councilors so that you’d even have more people per city council. But I think within that there is this kind of magic spot where people feel that the scale is correct, where they feel there’s a connection to their local representative. Fifty thousand is probably slightly to high in my opinion, but it’s just about whether it’s through technology or through just being able to get out and meeting or pick up the phone, old school, and actually connect with someone. There is that kind of magic place where you actually, even through the chaos, you still feel like you belong. And I think that’s something that cities really need to figure out. And I think Detroit, as I mentioned now going through your presentation, council is actually representing a ward. That’s something thy are trying to find that balance.

Gordon Stratford

Great. Lisa or Evan on that one? Yes, Lisa.

Lisa Fulford-Roy

Just to respond to all those different diagrams that I’ve put up. And it really is, no…one size does not fit all, and I think often if the problem is complex we look for one solution rather than many solutions. I think that goes back again to breaking it down into smaller challenges and smaller problems to solve. To respond to your question about…how do I start, how do I integrate that culture into the organization? Choose a problem, surround yourself with a team of really broad-based thinkers and even do it offline over lunch. Just to see what you can brainstorm. That’s what I would suggest as a starting point. Don’t wait for the internal go-ahead necessarily and present some fun ideas, food for thought. And I think that’s what really sort of engages people in coming up with new ideas, and at the end of the day the common denominator here is people. Somebody earlier today said we’re a lot of people in this room, and we’re all averagely smart, and end up saying incredibly brilliant. But when you get a group of people together and the energy and the synergy around that when it works well is incredibly fulfilling. And I think in terms of going back to your point about just the different facets of the city, I think there’s a lack of engagement because there’s a lack of control, a lack of decision making that can happen at every level of this city. It might be complete chaos to give up some of that structure. What best practices can you maintain while moving new structures and new ways of approaching challenges differently.

I think no one issue is simple; no one solution is the same. When you think we look at things as complex as they are and trying to put teams around that that think differently and bring different facets of thinking together, from technology to environmental to global to sustainability, and to a cross section of intelligent people, you are able to come up with better solutions. They do say the most diversified boards are the best boards and the best governors of organizations. So diversity is critical in critical thinking and problem solving.

Gordon Stratford

Great, thank you Lisa. We have almost come to the end of our time. Actually thank you very much to volunteer guy for letting us go a little bit longer. I want to come back to the first lady that first brought up a question. I thought you brought a very interesting answer to what was presented. And I think it really speaks to the dichotomy of trying to figure out how to change city halls and really start to create an attitude that moves cities forward. Robert and I have had the good fortune of working together for the past six years on the city of Toronto Urban Design Review panel. So regularly, on a monthly basis, we have an interdisciplinary panel of design professionals who sit down, developer proponents come to us. They can be public or private developments, and we on the spot, and I would say we were talking earlier about ëwhat’s an instance in a city where there is this spontaneous and frankly low tech exchange of information?’ In an hour and 10 minutes the proponents can come in, they can walk out the door; they’ve seen everything in full 360∞ glorious technicolor. We agree, we disagree, we come to a decision, they have their feedback and off they go. And that is what the Design Review panel’s all about, and Robert was a big part in setting that up.

We have an environmental assessment process that the city has adopted quite a while ago, and the dichotomy that you’ve just described is perfectly represented by that. We would sit and look at these presentations being made, and the first question we would ask is, ëWhat is the vision’? And the team that was presenting to us would have to think about what the vision was because it wasn’t like a mantra to them as they moved their way forwards. So that was one reason to really start thinking about ëWell, if these people are trying to get together to implement a vision, then they need to know what that is’. Then it became apparent that there were certain things that would really be critical to starting a vision and founding it and carrying it forward were missing as well. And part of it was that once a group started down the environmental assessment process, they weren’t willing to break it. They weren’t willing to question whether in fact a design creativity, or creativity should happen earlier as opposed to being an afterthought down the road. So part of bringing that forward for people to comment on today is the whole notion that you have this very fine balance. You need a vision, you need to have people who will carry it forward, you need to be able to have people who will bring dispersed groups together to act as one, but you also need people who are willing to say, ëWait a minute, we’ve set this but I think we need to break it a bit and tear it down so that it works better’. Then, in each case it’s not that you just simply slavishly say, ëI’m going to apply that all the time’. The circumstances change. What’s happening is that the chaos of the cities is the thing that’s changing the circumstances but the organization is not. So that’s one instance, and we’ve certainly seen that time and time again.

So on that note I want to thank you very much. I know you’re probably staying longer because it’s nice and cool in here, but thank you, I really appreciate the comments and enjoy the rest of your day. Take care.

Leave a Reply

Meeting of the Minds is made possible by the generous support of these organizations: