Toronto Pushes for Innovation with New Open Data Portal and Civic Hall

The City of Toronto is bringing in a couple new updates that will help it foster innovation and build transparency around how it handles data.

The first announcement is the launch of Civic Hall Toronto and it comes in partnership with Code for Canada and the Centre for Social Innovation. The new program will offer different services to members, including desks to work form in a shared collaboration space, networking opportunities, training, events and more. There will also be customized support in user testing, design sprints, and other areas, all to accelerate innovative civic projects.

“Civic Hall Toronto will bring together City teams and outside innovators to collaborate on solutions to better serve our residents,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory. “I look forward to seeing the results of this work and the introduction of new tools and approaches to improve the way we work on behalf of the people of Toronto.”

Civic Hall Toronto is based off Civic Hall in New York City and Superpublic in Paris. Its purpose is to grow the commercial civic tech sector by helping entrepreneurs connect with specialized tech personnel, public servants, and real users.

“New ideas need new spaces where collaboration and outside the box thinking are encouraged,” said Civic Hall Toronto Program Manager Shea Sinnott. “Civic Hall Toronto will break down siloes, unite passionate and talented people with an interest in civic innovation, and enable the best ideas to be shared across sectors.”

The new Civic Hall Toronto will be managed by Code for Canada and be hosted at 215 Spadina, which is where the Centre for Social Innovation sits. There is already a few events planned for the space, including a lunchtime conversation with design researcher Monique Baena-Tan and a community roundtable. It looks like events will be split into ones for the public and ones for community and government members.

Open Data

Earlier this month, Toronto officially launched their new Open Data website, after approving the Open Data Master Plan back in January. This new site is a big update to the original data portal.

The new portal is designed to help app and program developers access open data about the city while also giving the normal citizen a bit of a deeper look into what kinds of data is kept and aggregated by the city.

Toronto Parking Tickets
The most ticketed parking spots in Toronto sourced from open data.

Right now users can look through several different datasets such as traffic cameras, ward profiles and ridership analysis of the public transit provider, TTC. However, once you click through to these datasets, it becomes a bit overwhelming to manage if you do not have a grasp on how to access databases. There are a few tips and tool guides to help out though.

One of the more interesting aspects is the showcase and open data gallery, showing different ways people are using the new open data portal to make the lives of Toronto citizens better.

One big showcase involves the Budgetpedia project, which is a pioneer in the city’s civic tech space (which would coincidently feel right at home at Civic Hall Toronto). Budgetpedia uses open data to break down the city’s budget into easy-to-understand appendices and visualizations. The whole idea of open data is to embrace projects like these that help explain complex figures to the general public.

Other examples in the open data gallery include Rocket Man, a TTC tracking app; Mr. Bin, a household helper to remind users when it is a certain trash day; and Catolicchldcre, a program that shows the 50 closest child care centres to a given location. Those are all mobile apps, as there are even more web apps, data visualizations and even a voice assistant feature. There’s even a visualization of the places that receive the most parking tickets, as seen above. By the way, it’s 40 Orchard View Blvd., and it incurred over $618,000 worth of fines in 2016.

Toronto is on its way to becoming a much smarter city, and if it isn’t projects like Quayside that get it there, it will be initiatives like Civic Hall Toronto and an open approach to data.