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Monday, February 11, 2013
Are They Really the Seven MOST Intelligent? (Or Just Eye Candy?)

Are the Top7 Intelligent Communities of 2013 the seven best places to live in the universe? I seriously doubt it.

There. I have said it in public.

clientuploads/Images/Zach-NameCaption-2013-140.gifActually, I have been saying it in public for over 10 years. But let me ask a more important question: is Olivia Culpo, the reigning Miss Universe, beautiful? Yes. Is she also an exceptionally talented woman? I think so. (Let the photograph below be your guide to the first question. Her performance in Carnegie Hall, as a cellist, is my answer to the second.) She is truly beautiful and talented, as millions of people now know, including the children of Cranston Public Library in Rhode Island, where she read them Shel Silver story time programs.

But is Olivia the most beautiful woman in the entire Universe? After all, she claimed the title of Miss Universe 2012. Here we get into the challenges and opportunities of global awards programs. She is certainly equal to Miss China and Miss Belgium and Miss Bolivia. But what about Miss Mars, Miss Jupiter and way out Miss Epsilon Eridani? The Universe is a BIG place, and it remains difficult to accurately assess every planet. So can we objectively say that Ms Culpo is THE ONE?


Why? Because what we do know is that she won the crown with credentials and a performance that exceeded all others based on a criteria that was established and agreed upon to measure her and the other entrants. She racked up the points. She now brings joy, optimism, intelligence, focus and physical beauty to a global audience. Isn’t it wonderful? She says that she seeks to develop herself and to discover her destiny, while having found herself in a position to help others. She sounds a lot like the leaders of ICF’s Top7.

clientuploads/Miss-Universe-Olivia-Culpo-Web2.jpgLike them, she also arrived at her mountaintop through a competitive process. The process combined subjective judging with a quantitative evaluation. Every year the Top7 and Intelligent Community of the Year are similarly selected . Our process works exactly as intended. It is not designed to find the absolute greatest place on the face of the earth to live, but rather one that most communities in the world agree is a fine representative of what a community should be. That is essential when considering where to invest, build a future or remain when other parts of the world flirt with you.

Today, the current Top7 are preparing for an ICF site visit, to be followed in early June by their appearance in New York to see which will wear the ultimate crown. The great part about our awards program is how it fires- up communities, brings them together for a common cause and gives them a reward for their incredibly hard work. You see it in their media. The number of likes reported from today’s article in Estonian World, which reported on Tallinn’s return to the Top7, is “huge,” according to editor Silver Tambur. Similar reports have come in from the others, especially citizens in Columbus, Ohio and Toronto, Canada.

Our awards program goes a long way toward giving the Intelligent Community movement seven communities that demonstrate objective proof of accomplishment. More important, the data we glean from their multipart nomination forms, site visits and final evaluations enables us to draw a baseline for success. This is data helps others to accelerate and is central to our work and our Master Class project.

Like Miss Culpo, who was an unknown before the tournament, these often modest communities are no longer curiosities. Everyone knows, now, that Taiwan has committed itself to becoming a nation packed with Intelligent Communities. Ditto Canada. No longer are “no named” communities named Taichung, Stratford and Tallinn achieving at a very high level in relative darkness. They are a focus for study, celebration and inspiration.

True, not all Intelligent Communities are physically striking, proving that it takes more than a pretty face to succeed. It takes more than IT prowess, despite today’s overreliance on it. It even takes more than a technology park, academic patents or persistent innovation to become a truly successful community. It takes a new type of collective beauty and a redefinition of community altogether. I ask whether there is anything more beautiful and powerful than an attractive place, which is producing jobs, oozing with talent and is joyfully committed to telling itself and its children stories that they will pass on for generations about the year people stopped wanting them for their body, and instead became endlessly fascinated by their intelligence.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Communities at the Center, Communities at the Edge

On January 23, for the 12th consecutive time, ICF named its Top7 Intelligent Communities of the Year.  There were two European cities, two Asian communities and three North Americans.  That’s a pretty average spread – but there was little else average about the group.

clientuploads/Images/Bell-Blog-Reboot-Comm-2.jpgFor one thing, they skewed large.  Over the past five years, the Top7 averaged 440,000 in population.  In 2013, the average population of the Top7 was 1.2 million because, for the first time, they included three cities with more than 2 million inhabitants. 

Something else about the 2013 Top7 stood out.  There was a dramatic and instructive spread between what I think of as the Center and the Edge.  Toronto, Canada’s finance capital, is an example of a Top7 community clearly at the Center.  The biggest city in Canada, it is the hub of a region of 6 million people that produced C$286 billion in GDP in 2012. 

Oulu, on the other hand, is a community on the Edge.  It is in Finland, a country whose entire population is slightly outnumbered by that of the Greater Toronto Area.  It takes six hours to reach Oulu by car from Helsinki, Finland’s business and political capital – considerably more time than it takes to go from Oulu to the Arctic Circle only 200 km north.  But it is a highly successful tech hub with a global reputation for innovation in wireless and a growing roster of other technologies.  Utterly different from Toronto, it is just as great a place to live, to work and to raise a family. 

In more than a decade of work with communities, we have seen that success is not a matter of size or wealth.  Those things are not causes – they are results.  Their success is the product of a belief that they are at the burning center of the human universe.  They have something special to offer the world and are hungry to see what the world has to offer them.  They have the power to think big even if, in physical terms, they stay small.

One of our first-time Smart21 communities – which did not yet make it into the Top7 – offers a great example.  It is the city of Mitchell, home to 15,000 souls on the plains of South Dakota USA. 

Mitchell is the Center of a region on the Edge – clientuploads/Images/Mitchell-SD-Corn-Palace-300.gifone that has lost 30% of its population over the past 70 years.  But Mitchell’s fate is not that of its region.  With a willing private communications company and a Federal broadband stimulus grant, Mitchell developed a fiber-to-the-premise network serving every business and residence.  Its university and technical school have leveraged the city’s agricultural heritage into academic leadership in precision agriculture, in which farmers use satellite and remote sensing data to develop a highly detailed portrait of their land and apply that knowledge to boost yields. 

They also work closely with city government, business, and public institutions to promote digital literacy and supply the highly trained workforce in increasing demand by area businesses.  These include software companies, data centers and consulting firms attracted by Mitchell’s network or fostered by its construction.  Alone in its region, Mitchell has grown both in population and prosperity.

Today, “the middle of nowhere” could just as easily be a street corner in a crumbling city as a town on the prairie.  Which is the Center and which is the Edge?  In a global economy woven tightly together by information and communication technology, it is no longer so easy to tell.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Manti Te’o, the Aloha Economy and the Top7

Honolulu, Hawaii (USA) – On Monday morning, the local Hawaiian newspaper reported that the article with the most hits on its website over the last 24 hours was the story about Manti T’eo, a native son and a star football player at far-away Notre Dame University, a cold place situated on what Hawaiians call “the mainland.”  The young man had evidently been hoaxed.  He had been having an affair with a fake girlfriend on the Internet for three years.  The hoax went so far as to report her death, which generated national sympathy for him.  As a graduate of the same college as Manti, I don’t want to dwell on the story, but in a state that many describe as being “30 years behind” in terms of access and development of the type Intelligent Communities take for granted, one wonders if the locals might not want to bypass the 21st century altogether for a good reason.   


Of course, they do not.  They simply want to ensure that one of the world’s most alluring, diverse and remarkable spots in the known universe not lose what has been essential to it since volcanoes erupted and shaped this great jewel of the American union.   My idea of “surfing” and theirs need to find a happy medium.  (When I am here I lean toward theirs BTW…)

This challenge was central to a long and delightful discussion I had with the state’s CIO, Sanjeev Bhagowalia.  He has been brought over from a string of high profile jobs in Washington, DC, where he served another local resident and graduate of Punahou High School, Barack Obama, as a federal CIO.  Earlier in the day his new boss, Hawaii’s Governor Abercrombie, had started his annual address to the state saying: “Politics at its best is about community.”  It was made clear to me that community and tribalism are central to understanding Hawaii’s genius and also its resistance to broadband.   The governor has been pushing, with very limited success, to transform the islands into something at least approximating a Intelligent Community.  Honolulu has submitted several nominations to ICF, but has never come close to the Smart21 list.  The governor and the CIO want that to change.  That state is upgrading its information technology systems and spending US$20 million over the next 24 months to encourage innovation.  But will this be the secret sauce?  The trigger for transformation?  Maybe and maybe not.  Sanjeev and his team know that somehow, some way, the “Aloha” philosophy, which is central to culture and  its economic attitudes, must find its expression in a complex mix of broadband access, capacity building, collaboration and cultural “mining.”  There will be no Silicon Valley here.  Yet Hawaii is designed to be the “spear” of the new American approach to Asia and its vast opportunities.  What will that mean?  More technology for the American naval fleet?  Already 1 out of every 10 people in Hawaii is a military veteran.  (The rest appear to sunburned “mainlanders.”  Tourists.  Or so it seems.) Hawaii has a brain drain.  No urban planning.  No beta test communities, except a brief experiment with 100 gbs in one place, which ended.  It is challenged, but like most places, it is developing (slowly) the will to transform and seize its destiny.  We will see.

A few hours before I met with Sanjeev, I had a chance to meet Manti T’eo’s great-aunt.  She is the most lovely, charming woman imaginable.  She cannot understand how anyone could have a relationship “online.”  Rather than break the news to her that Facebook has allowed many people to befriend perfect strangers (trust me, she knows this because she’s very wise) I asked her about her community.  It is a closeknit clan on Maui.  Samoans who look out for each other, especially in a crisis.  They rally around their own, which is an instinct that in my view is very healthy.  Yet, as Sanjeev and his team reflect, it is also the challenge to bringing everyone together to summon the great gift of “Aloha” for the generations ahead.   

Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Smart or Intelligent? Why Not Be Both?

What’s the difference between a Smart City and an Intelligent Community?  For my third and final post on the topic, here’s a specific example from Riverside, California, USA, our 2012 Intelligent Community of the Year.

clientuploads/Images/Bell-Blog-Reboot-Comm-2.jpgSmart Cities turn to technology for the solution to their problems, from traffic congestion to leakage from water mains, public safety to parking tickets.  Intelligent Communities turn to technology as a fundamental enabler of transformation: a foundation for building a prosperous, inclusive and sustainable community in the 21st Century.

Intelligent Communities tend to be Smart without making a big deal about it.  The smartness comes as a byproduct of transformation – necessary steps on the path to something that makes a much greater difference in the lives of the people who live and work there. 

Riverside offers a great example.  It used to have a big problem with graffiti left by gangs, who like to “tag” their territory.  Graffiti matters, just as broken windows and boarded-up storefronts matter, because they signal to both the law-abiding and the law-breaking that things are out of control.  They tend to breed fear on the one hand and crime on the other. 

clientuploads/Images/Riverside-App-300.gifTo combat graffiti, the city worked with Microsoft to build an innovative system connecting multiple departments.  City workers take photos of graffiti with their smartphones and transmit them along with GPS data to the system, where pattern recognition software matches it to an ever-growing database of images.  In most cases, police can identify the “tagger” based on past examples of his work.  The system generates work orders for removal of the graffiti at the same time it supports preparation of criminal complaints by the City Attorney.  Since its introduction, successful prosecutions have generated $200,000 in restitution, which helps pay for the removal of a lot of gang tags.

But technology is also the foundation for a much more profound change.  A public-private SmartRiverside organization operates a Digital Inclusion Center that gets technology and training into the hands of low-income families.  The technology comes from a unique collaboration between a computer services company that collects e-waste, and a gang prevention program called Project Bridge. 

The company hires and trains former gang members recruited by Project Bridge to refurbish the used PCs.  Equipment that cannot be refurbished is sold to a certified local recycler.  Working equipment other than PCs is refurbished and sold on eBay, and these sources of revenue help pay for the program.  Former gang members gain marketable job skills while knowing they are contributing to their community.  And, like graffiti removal, the program returns revenue to cover its costs.

These are not technology solutions to public-sector problems.  They represent technology transforming government operations, the business environment, the educational system and the civic culture.  It is like the outcome of the first Internet revolution, which was supposed to doom brick-and-mortar businesses to obsolescence.  Instead, brick-and-mortar businesses embraced the technology and allowed the way they work to be transformed by it. 

Different definitions produce different results.  To him who holds a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  To her with a full box of tools, the problems are more diverse and subtle and the solutions infinitely more rewarding.

Post #2: Building the 'Shake 'n Bake' City  Post #1: ‘Smart’ or ‘Intelligent?’ – Which Should a City Try to Be?

Sunday, January 6, 2013
Building the ‘Shake ‘n Bake’ City

When we were first married, my wife and I lived off canned soup and other prepackaged delights, until the urge for survival drove us to begin experimenting with the culinary arts.  One of the first steps on our journey was a product called Shake ‘n Bake.  You bought chicken parts , put them in a plastic bag with the product, shook it thoroughly to coat the meat, then baked it.  What came out was a breaded entrée that tasted – well, at that time, I thought it tasted fine.  Now that I can actually cook, I have a different view. 

clientuploads/Images/Bell-Blog-Reboot-Comm-2.jpgShake ‘n Bake came to mind the first time I heard about ambitious plans for creating whole new cities to meet national economic development goals.  My first exposure was to the Multimedia Super Corridor in Malaysia, a 1996 plan to create a high-tech corridor 15 kilometers wide and 50 km long where only rubber plantations then existed.  The Corridor exists in name only but two Shake ‘n Bake cities were built: Putrajaya, where Malaysia’s government relocated in the last decade, and Cyberjaya, a vast technology park. 

In 2010, construction began on Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City, a $22 billion project that is designed to produce zero emissions or waste while becoming the core of a cleantech cluster in the Emirates.  In Russia, MIT is developing a new university that aims to be the heart of the Skolkovo Innovation Center, a brainchild of former President Dmitry Medvedev that aims to inject high-tech cool into the heart of Moscow.  Still on the drawing board are Charter Cities, a concept developed by economist Paul Romer for “reform cities” that, planted in developing nations with weak governance and poor infrastructure, are supposed to serve as inspirational islands that will jumpstart broader changes across the country.

These are magnificent visions: soaring above the mundane, challenging precedent and inspiring high ambition.  I think they may do some good.  But I am really grateful that nobody is investing my money in them.  The good they will do – those projects that ever get past the talking and planning stage, that is – will be a lot like the good done by America’s $40 billion investment in the Apollo program.  America got a lot of nice TV footage and a flag planted on the Moon.  America and the rest of the world also got an information and telecommunications industry that produced trillions of dollars in value and is still in the early stages of revolutionizing life on earth.  A pretty good investment overall – but you don’t see any lunar colonies, do you?

I just don’t think we are smart enough to build Shake ‘n Bake cities that will actually work.  The City of Tokyo used loans from the national government in the 1980s and 1990s to build a massive, $3 billion island in Tokyo Harbor to serve as a new high-tech district.  Ten years later, a city executive told me the money was largely wasted. 

clientuploads/Images/Trinket-NPR-300.gifI don’t think we know how to manage the long time span of the investments, the battle between vested interests, the legal and regulatory reforms needed, the national sensitivities and the personal egos involved.  If cities are, in the words of Richard Florida, “our greatest inventions,” they are inventions arrived at after thousands of years of trial and error.  They are complex in the same way that clouds are complex, and we apparently have no clue as to how those work. 

To really appreciate that complexity, you have only to listen to a news story that was broadcast by America's National Public Radio in October.  “Why New York Is A Hub In The Global Trinket Trade” explains the unlikely set of circumstances that have made 29th Street in Manhattan the hub of a global trade network in fake gold chains, souvenir lighters and plastic toys.  Listen to it and then tell me: who could have anticipated that?

I think we can figure out, with the help of great technology companies, how to make cities smarter.  I know we can rise to the greater challenge of the Intelligent Community: using information and communications technology to create new competitive advantages for your economy while solving big social problems and enriching the value of your culture.  But throw a plan for a city into a bag, shake it, bake it and a few years later see a fully-functioning Smart City?  I just don't think we're that smart. 

Post #3: Smart or Intelligent?  Why Not Be Both?   Post #1: ‘Smart’ or ‘Intelligent?’ – Which Should a City Try to Be?

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