Joe Pennachetti, at the Global Cities Summit hosted by U of T's Global Cities Institute in May 2014, where the creation of the World Council on City Data (WCCD) to globally implement ISO 37120 was announced (photo courtesy the WCCD)

Cities expert Joe Pennachetti joins the University of Toronto

Toronto's former top civil servant to advise Global Cities Institute and World Council on City Data

Joe Pennachetti, the top civil servant in Toronto for 13 years, has joined the University of Toronto to focus on working with other global cities to solve problems that face them all.

Professor Patricia McCarney, director of the Global Cities Institute at U of T, announced on Nov. 18 that Pennachetti is taking on the role of executive adviser to the institute – and to the World Council on City Data (WCCD).

Pennachetti was chief financial officer and city manager for the City of Toronto before retiring in 2014.

The WCCD was created in May, 2014 when the institute played host to a global cities summit. It measures 100 indicators that “peer cities” can use to compare their performance with other cities on issues such as public transit, housing,  health, education, the use of bike lanes, waste disposal and diversion and even tree canopy.

In an interview with U of T News, McCarney said Pennachetti has already started working and has been reaching out to other North American cities to discuss the sharing of data. There are now 20 cities around the world using comparative data from the WCCD.

Pennachetti said in an interview that such a data-gathering exercise is “dear to my heart. I really feel that it is an important initiative for the City of Toronto. It can learn from other cities. We’ve done it sporadically on an ad hoc basis but with the WCCD, it is properly done and will speed up the way global cities can talk to each other about individual services.”   

He said “I am so excited about this initiative because it finally pulls it all together. With this forum you can literally convene a conference and have something happening within weeks or months, and not years.  Once the data is vetted by experts, once you do the first review, you are off to the races.”   
McCarney said the next step is to increase the number of cities in the WCCD  – “and this is where Joe comes in – to another 100 cities.” The aim is to have the next 100 by November, 2016, and Dubai, one of the first 20, has already indicated it will play host to the next global cities summit that month. 

“Joe will be a real leader for these global city dialogues,” McCarney said. “But beyond the outreach to cities, I see Joe as being an incredible voice for analytics and how they can be valuable for cities, in moving the needle forward on things such as transit, or bike lanes, or air quality. He will be that voice for us.”

One of President Meric Gertler’s three major priorities is enhancing the relationship between the university and the City of Toronto. Pennachetti’s appointment is a clear illustration of that.

The city and the university, Pennachetti said, “have had a strong relationship for years, and it can be enhanced.” The WCCD and the institute “constitute  another step forward in making it stronger.”      

“The handshake with city hall has become so important to us,” McCarney said, noting that she recently spoke to 50 city planners about “how Toronto stacks up” to other cities in dealing with major issues. A major new theme emerging is “resilient cities” – how they cope after events such as ice storms – and the planners will be coming to U of T to “drill down” on these issues, she said. “This just deepens the handshake with the planning department.” 

Pennachetti believes that comparative data should be shared not only with other municipalities but with the private sector. He met with the largest re-insurer in Canada on his first day in the job to discuss such things as what will drive up insurance costs and “where we should invest our stretched capital dollars – it all ties into the resiliency issue.”    

While Pennachetti’s title is new, he has been working with U of T since 2008, helping develop the Global Cities Indicators Facility, which was the precursor to the program that started the Global Cities Institute.

“Joe always made a very strong argument that, for Toronto, having good peer cities means going beyond Canada’s borders,” McCarney said. “Yes, Vancouver and Montreal are good but the key peer cities are Chicago, or New York, L.A. or Boston.”

Pennachetti, she said, “is probably one of the best voices on why city leaders, CAOs and city managers require good data on a comparative scale so cities can actually talk to each other with apples to apples data but also learn from each other – not always trying to re-invent the wheel but find solutions from the experience of other cities. He will be a great advocate on the world stage for this.”

Born in St. Catharines, Pennachetti has worked for Ontario municipalities for about 40 years. He became Toronto’s chief financial officer in 2002 under then mayor Mel Lastman and city manager in 2008, responsible for the city’s budget. Toronto’s operating budget for 2014 was $9.6 billion and the 10-year capital plan was $18.6 billion. 

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