Digifest 2018 asks if Toronto is ready for the future

Sponsored feature: presented by Digifest x NOW Digital Residency

DIGIFEST 2018. Annual event featuring speaker talks, interactive zone, pitch competition and more. Apr 26-28, Corus Quay (25 Dockside Drive) and George Brown College. Tickets: $25-$90, Saturday admission is free. Program and speaker lineup here.

Toronto is not immune to the growing pains all major cities inevitably experience. Whether it’s building more affordable housing, improving public transit, maintaining infrastructure or just saving money, the immediate challenges of making a city grow and function smoothly get even more complex when you factor in how to sustain future years of system-wide stress. 

And yet there are growing numbers of innovative thinkers who are putting forward new ideas about how to “future-proof” a city like ours. This year’s Digifest will bring together thought leaders from around the world – and right here at home – who are trying to strengthen Toronto’s ability to adapt. 

“Every aspect of living in a city is transforming,” says Rick Huijbregts, the vice-president of strategy and innovation at George Brown College. “Cities need to become almost like a platform – if you compare them to an iPhone operating system. The city is the physical device, but how you consume services should be thought of as software, and therefore be able to change more quickly.”

While Toronto is in some ways stuck with an older mindset of how to encourage innovation within its public services, Huijbregts notes there are some positive changes happening on this front – such as the City’s new Civic Innovation Office. This initiative seeks to change how the standard request-for-proposal (RFP) process works within our local government, and he believes the closer ties between industry and government will foster better results. 

Denmark provides a good template for how this can work. “If you look at Copenhagen and the money they spend on streetlights, they had their own way of procuring lights and paying for energy, but because of the traditional way of thinking, there was no innovation. They were basically paying for the lights to be on all the time.”

The city invited various organizations to help foster a kind of “living lab” environment to consider more cost-effective and smarter ways to light Copenhagen. One such advancement involved the use of LED streetlights that activate when vehicles are approaching and then dim after they pass.

“The results already show massive energy savings because of new technologies that they would otherwise not have procured through a more traditional manner,” says Huijbregts. 

The kind of thinking that leads to such innovations doesn’t come out of nowhere, of course. Schools like George Brown are hoping to more closely integrate the development of soft skills like creative problem solving in order to better acclimate graduates to a variety of industries currently experiencing rapid-paced change. 

Luigi Ferrara, the school’s dean of arts, design and information technology programs, says they rely on a “charrette” (French for “cart”) model of education to help introduce students to the demands of collaborative design iteration. 

“At the École de Beaux-Arts, you used to have to throw you thesis project onto a cart to get it in on time,” Ferrara explains. “The term now implies an intense period of work where you focus on completing a project.”

Participating students temporarily leave behind classroom-based learning for two- or three-day periods wherein they collaborate with industry or community stakeholders to come up with solutions to a given problem. The experience provides them with hands-on knowledge in prototyping and implementing new ideas, relying on the same methodology that has made cities like Copenhagen an ideal place for inventors and innovators. 

“We often have between 30 to 50 projects a year with industry partners,” he says, adding that they just completed a charrette focused on pressing issues within the Golden Horseshoe region. Collaborators came all the way from Italy, Denmark and the US.

Students at this year’s Digifest will take their place alongside members of the global tech industry and representatives from numerous local institutions. With over 30 speakers discussing topics as wide-ranging as food supply trends, blockchain, virtual reality and fashion, attendees will soon have new insight into how to make Toronto a more innovative city for the future. 

Featured Speakers at Digifest 2018

Ryan Janzen, TransPod – “The Future of Transportation”

Dana McCauley, University of Guelph – “Transformational Innovations Shaping Future Food Trends”

Navid Nathoo, The Knowledge Society – “Transforming Education”

Claudia El-moor, Eye Design – “Brasilia: From Cursed City to Creative Hub”

Tina Sauerländer, Radiance – “Curating Virtual Reality: Immersive Tech in the Exhibition Space”

Erandy Vergara, Eastern Bloc – “Critical Approaches to Virtual Reality”

Norman White, Artist – Recipient of the Digital Media Pioneer Award 

Linda Volkers, Rijksmuseum – “Museums and Open Source”

Linda Vlassenrood, International New Town Institute (INTI) – “Towards a Smart Society”

Ana Rita Morais, School of Design at George Brown College – “Future Ways of Living and Philosophy of Education Panel”

Visit the Digifest x NOW Digital Residency to learn more.

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