A More Sober Seven

Mommy, I can’t breathe!!” he shouted. It was more a petulant shriek than a genuine plea for help.

The mother of the 8-year old boy jostled him in that motherly way, pulled him toward her and adjusted his small mask as they continued walking along the CVS parking lot to the store. He had her attention. Mission accomplished.


2020 is the year when we started to really look at one another in our communities and found new heroes and beauty within our chaos. And broadband boosted the conversations.

Attribution: “Zoe” by Yung Jake, Courtesy of Tripoli Gallery, Long Island

One year ago, those words had a way different context when they met your ears. While someone claiming lack of breath was never, medically, a good thing, it was never the trigger phrase for a cascade of events that have put cities and citizens in a dizzying spin of traumas. What we witness (mainly from our devices) are seismic cracks in the status quo, a form of grief and, as if we need proof that nothing is born without pain, genuine awakenings.

It is in this climate that we begin this year’s Top7 Site Visits around the world.

Before the George Floyd video went viral from the USA, the words: “I cannot breathe” were heard in emergency rooms among people of all ages, in most nations and in cities where density became like wood for a termite as the Pandemic feasted.

Each of our Top7 this year have had to respond. They have invariably had to force their “smart city” evolution to take on COVID-19. We chronicled the impacts in our special video series, “No Place BUT Home.” https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/covid19

While the tone has been more sober in preparation, each city has battled COVID successfully and continued to make progress with their Intelligent Community development program. Sunshine Coast, Australia has continued to advance toward its Plan 2030 goals with a multi-billion dollar increase in GDP. In each city a new type of hero has emerged. The “essential worker.” Those in the blue scrubs, the brown outfits of UPS workers, stocking clerks in fire truck red shirts in stores and the beloved striped gray pants of the postal worker bringing pills, checks and packages in their pushcarts to homes and apartments. These are now identified as universally the brave, everyday heroes. What is broadband doing to enable them? We shall see.

Meanwhile, many of the fortunate who still work are doing so online. Surprisingly, though, an entire set of “gig economy” workers, those income entrepreneurs once mythologized at Uber, have found themselves without work, benefits or the protection of a regular wage or a union. The streets of many big cities ache with them. Through a nasty witches’ brew of multiple causes and historic grievances, we are all torched and tortured into an eerie uncertainty. Mayor Fred Eisenberger of two-time Top7 Canadian city, Hamilton, believes a universal basic income’s time has arrived. My beloved home for 40 years this November, New York is begging residents who have fled to return. Jerry Seinfeld was even enlisted to bring them back.


The search for common ground in a community is central to the idea of collaboration in our Top7. It is at the heart of an ethical Smart City which seeks to evolve into an Intelligent Community.

Where should our fear be? We are observing a mistrust of density. For obvious reasons, density is an enemy when a Pandemic is in the population. So how do Councils among our Top7 address this? There are other issues perpetuating mistrust. Racial conflict and ethnic unrest among them. You will note that in communities that have undergone reconciliations, the tone and language of respect is heard. We need to ask at ICF, “How do the Top7 repair their social index and use innovation or tech to bind often centuries-old wounds?” We will keep an eye on this because the rate of community trust and repair is directly proportionate the soul of a city. And digital equity and access lead us there.

That is the mindset that I have as we set out to judge the Top7 Intelligent Communities of the world. We began last week with the first two Virtual Site visits in ICF history.

I “visited” Hamilton, Canada in Canada’s Golden Horseshoe region, while Robert Bell was peering through his laptop into the heart of Tallinn, Estonia on the shores of the Baltic Sea.

The seismic shifts allowed us to grab the opportunity to do our visits via Zoom and (in Australia) vMix. Our Jury will see some of the results, which are amazing. Most important we are testing an idea that our Jury has been recommending for years, adding a second judge. So, I have two observer judges joining me this year, our ICF Jury Chairman, Moez Chaabouni (for Hamilton and Sunshine Coast) and Peter Portheine of Eindhoven who will join me “in” Westerville, Ohio. Their keen eye will be invaluable to the Jury as it assesses our Top7 to see who succeeds Taoyuan as Intelligent Community of the strange year 2020.

And working with two friends will be a blast for me. These are two people who have helped create Intelligent Communities of the Year in the USA (Columbus, Ohio, 2015) and The Netherlands (Eindhoven, 2011).

At no time since ICF was formed has the importance of broadband been so absolutely revealed. Yeah . . . we were right all along. Now we see Intelligent Communities communicating more effectively, managing themselves much better and as they go from “connectivity to community” are prepared to prosper or are outright prospering now.

I never thought I would miss an airport lounge or 21-hour flight . . . but I kind of do. Kind of. On the other hand, I get to visit the world’s hardest-working, most aspirational cities who use the ICF Method. Now, it is time for them to tell us their story.

And then we get climb into our own beds. Good luck to the Top7 for even making the time to prepare so rigorously.

Here we go!

NOTE: Our new book, From Connectivity to Community will be released on October 14.

Louis Zacharilla
Co-Founder of the Intelligent Community Forum. Louis Zacharilla helped found the Intelligent Community movement. He is the developer of the Intelligent Community Awards program. He is a frequent keynote speaker and a moderator at conferences and events.
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