Title: Director of intelligent communities
Company: Waterfront Toronto
Size: 25-year, $35bn government project
PUBLIC SERVICE: Creating community and commerce on the waterfront
Toronto’s waterfront is years away from an expected influx of residents and businesses. But Kristina Verner is already making waves to carry them there—of the digital sort.
Ms Verner leads the online-community component of Waterfront Toronto, a 25-year, $35bn project of the governments of Toronto, Ontario province and Canada to reclaim 2,000 acres of abandoned industrial space on the shores of Lake Ontario. The area is six times the size of London’s Canary Wharf and 20 times that of Battery Park City in New York’s lower Manhattan, two success stories with similar ambitions.
Since Ms Verner joined Waterfront Toronto in 2012, eight years into the initiative, she has focused on one question: “How do you build a community that leverages social business infrastructure to engage citizens, merchants and entrepreneurs in meaningful ways?”
She is building a networked community and marketplace to help Toronto expand as a global commercial centre and become an even more desirable place to live. This digital space will complement a physical space that is being renewed and rebuilt following decades of environmental remediation that made it inaccessible.
The project’s New Blue Edge portal will link the 250,000 people expected to visit the waterfront daily five years from now. The site will post dinner deals to help fill local restaurants, supply mom-and-pop shops with state-of-the-art analytics and provide virtual focus groups to start-ups creating world-class products.
Social business progress looks different in the public sector. While bottom lines rule in the private sector, “in this space, we look at job attraction to the waterfront, number of partners, virtual traffic, numbers of engagements”, Ms Verner says.
To help ensure that Waterfront Toronto gets results, she made collaboration and community engagement integral to the planning process. “We want social interactions to fuel [our] innovation,” she says.
“My interest always has been in how technology intersects with society,” says Ms Verner, whose first computer, a Commodore 64, appeared under a Christmas tree as a gift from a grandfather who predicted “this will be your life”.
Yet Ms Verner’s true touchstone is the project’s mission. “Keeping front of mind the people you want to serve is the top priority,” she says. “You don’t always have to be on the leading edge,” she adds. “Make sure technology becomes a springboard, not an endpoint.”
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly has called Waterfront Toronto “an example of how to use future-ready information and communication infrastructure to attract jobs and residents”.
Indeed, it is an example to the world. In June, Toronto was named 2014 Intelligent City of the Year by the New York-based Intelligent Community Forum, edging out stiff global competition. The annual award goes to communities that use broadband and information technology to boost quality of life and promote collaboration, innovation, investment and delivery of government services. John Campbell, Waterfront Toronto’s chief executive, says Ms Verner “played a pivotal role”, adding, “We would not have won without her”.
Ms Verner is looking ahead. “Plans and visions are starting to become very real. In the next five years, we’ll see all of it come to life.”