Going for the Gold of 2017

As the first hurricane-force storm sits just off from the Atlantic Ocean’s shores, the American Northeast Summer draws to a close. During its rapid course, I took some hours to look back on the ICF Summit in June, celebrate its highlights and to consider what it means as our movement goes forward into the next Awards cycle, with its conclusion this time on the big stage of New York.

The appearance of a team from Rio de Janeiro, led by the city’s CIO, weeks before the Olympics began their monstrous sprint, was a great honor for us. They came overnight to accept the Visionary of the Year award for their Knowledge Squares program, of which they are justifiably proud. I had returned from Rio a few weeks before our Summit, having gone there to give a TEDx Talk. Looking around at the Olympics sites, and speaking with Sidney Levy, who led the city’s Olympics’ effort, I honestly had a sense that things could go off the rails. The night before I left Rio, the city’s new Tram opened. It looked great, although people seemed to be struggling to get other venues in order. But the Tram, shiny and new, ran as planned, and cities have a way of responding to challenges. Rio was no different. With the world watching on every device imaginable, Franklin Coehlo and the team we honored in Columbus, who represented Embratel and other groups, staged a successful Summer Olympics. The technology worked. The Knowledge Squares award in Columbus will be a satisfying legacy and hopefully an even more lasting one.

Watching Montreal accept the Intelligent Community of the Year award at the Columbus Zoo was also a highlight. The third Canadian community in three years to achieve this honor, Montreal was another city that had a need to address an image issue. Could it be a great, jazzy, funky city with tons of culture, and somehow harness this creativity to its economy? Had it done so already? Was its new, smart infrastructure sufficient in our analysts’ views? Had it gone from “Revolution to Renaissance” as we had mandated? The short answer was “Yes.” At least our analysts and Jurors felt that way. And with the ICF Awards, that is all that counts at the final stage of the game. Montreal thrilled us with their grace and their accomplishments.

So now we start again. What counts at this stage is your effort. Many communities are working hard at this hour to complete their nominations, which we have made easier.

By now, the rationale for being an Intelligent Community has changed. What was once a novelty is accepted as a transformative global honor and experience.

In Columbus a litany of mayors and leaders echoed this, both on video and in public forums.

Eindhoven Mayor Rob van Gijzel said that for his city, the first step toward securing a future economic destiny that would revive his post-industrial image began with the ICF Award. They knocked on the door for three years before they entered the stage. Said the mayor, “The ICF prize was the one that mattered.”

The city of Waterloo, Canada also challenged for the top spot for several years. When it claimed it in 2007, it entered the event in its history books, especially the one celebrating its 150th year of its founding. “It redefined us for the new century,” said Mayor Brenda Halloran, who took it upon herself to tell schoolchildren, inside their Library on the opening day of classes each year, about how they lived in one of the world’s most “intelligent places.”

Dublin, Ohio’s City Manager claimed often that the cornerstone of much economic development planning today in the USA was based on ICF’s criteria. (The same criteria you are using to submit your nomination.) In response to his Top7 status, Dana McDaniel helped bring an ICF Institute to his city, where it is evolving each day.

In other places like Kingston, Canada and Columbus, Ohio, future awards and significant investment and funding followed their ICF award status. It was worth at least US$40 million to Columbus.

In Taiwan, the nation’s president declared a national policy to become an “Intelligent Island” by ensuring that multiple Taiwanese cities had achieved Intelligent Community status via the awards. Taipei and Taichung reached the top ranks and declared their model to the world’s investors and to Asia at large. Others like Hsinchu City and New Taipei City are Top7 communities.

So it goes along the path toward this year’s theme, “The Internet of Cities.” This month in places as diverse as Tainan, Saratoga Springs and Prospect, Australia dozens of people are taking stock of their communities and writing down their stories for us – and the world – to review and share.

There is a sadness for me that comes when I must return from my seat by ocean and my friends at the close of August. The airports become familiar and the work becomes more intense. But the reward of the Awards, and what they have brought to places through the ICF Foundation membership, Accelerator projects and the simple “thank yous” I get from people in these places makes the new season a fresh one with all of the promise that our friends in Rio felt when they delivered the gold!

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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