The Time for a Revolution is When Things Are Going Great
How do you get a community to change its ways when those ways are working so well?
The community in question is Walla Walla in the US state of Washington, which is located in the northwest corner of the 48 contiguous states. On October 21, ICF named Walla Walla to its Smart21 and, last week, I was there conducting an ICF Master Class for a group of government, education, business and institutional leaders to help them advance the broadband revolution in W2, as the city is affectionately known. My host was David Woolson, president of the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce, pictured below.
Walla Walla means “many waters” in the language of the Native Americans who first settled in this meeting place of rivers. Natural abundance created agricultural prosperity and a strategic location made Walla Walla a 19th Century shipping hub – until it was bypassed by the trans-continental railroad and its prominence was gradually eclipsed by the coastal city of Seattle. Today, however, Walla Walla still grows wheat that is sought after in Asia, produces fruit sold across the US, and has seen explosive growth in wine-making, from a handful of vineyards to 160 registered locations today. Tourists and retirees seeking fine wines and natural beauty have given birth to a thriving culinary and arts scene, providing residents and businesses with an outstanding quality of life.
Sounds pretty nice – so why change? The city is home to a university and community college, but it provides too few jobs worthy of the talents of their graduates. Agriculture does not employ many people and tourism does not create a stable year-round economy. As a result, the population has not grown for decades. And if you are not growing in the economy of the 21st Century, you are gradually losing ground. W2 needs to change for the sake of citizens being born today and citizens yet to come.
The Chamber of Commerce is leading an effort to leverage Walla Walla’s existing strengths to create broadband-powered growth. In 2012, thanks to a broadband stimulus grant, the nonprofit Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) completed expansion of its fiber backbone into the Walla Walla Valley. The city is now working with carriers, institutions and businesses on ways to roll out local connectivity to fill gaps and deliver significant bandwidth where needed.
The Chamber established a film office that has already attracted TV and film shoots and is working to attract a full-time production unit for TV, film or Web content as the anchor of a digital media and gaming cluster. Based on the success of winemaking, it is driving the creation of a Plough2Plate program to help small local food producers with marketing, branding and distribution. And it has begun to integrate the Hispanic business community – in a city where 25% of the population is now Latin American – into the mainstream to boost the growth of both Latino and Anglo businesses.
Still, absent a crisis, it is hard to get a community to change. Judging by the Master Class, though, W2 has one big advantage. I have rarely met people more willing to engage, to seize on new ideas and challenge old ones. Champions like these can be powerful agents for changing things even when things seem to be going so well.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
The Year Australia, Canada and Taiwan Became the Axis of Intelligence
That sweet American folk singer James Taylor once said, “Our planet is impossibly perfect.” I have always remembered this, for it is so right. While perfection may exist, we are imperfect agents attempting to make it visible for any length of time. This is so in the case of our daily mission, which is nothing short of igniting a global attempt to re-energize communities for this new century. We try mightily to find the right solutions to ensure that our special places are engineered to be economically sustainable, future-proof and home to all of the community’s children, if they wish to stay. As with every attempt at perfection, falling short is not be confused with failure.
Last Monday evening the ICF Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community at Walsh University became home to the announcement of the world’s newest group of 21 cities, towns and counties deemed the most Intelligent for 2014. The list offered-up six communities that had never before had a shot at being named Intelligent Community of the Year. They include Montreal, which you know, and Coffs Harbour in New South Wales, which you do not. Overall the group of semi-finalists for the BIG AWARD are an eclectic fraternity of overachievers. If your travel agent reads this blog, he or she should figure out that the new six, combined in a package, would make a fascinating tour of the world’s future. (Note to the traveler: set aside some time. It’s a long flight to Australia.) All of these places prove again that intelligence and economic development have less to do with size and much to do with planning, persistence and the ability to mobilize knowledge in service of economic output.
If there is a connecting point among these new 21, it is their emphasis on culture as a natural resource. From Walla Walla, Washington (USA) which has a “plow to plate” philosophy and is a go-to place for people seeking a quality of life, to Nairobi County in Africa, with it historic Yingge District, once the center of a $400 million ceramics production industry and is undergoing a revival led by entrepreneurs (with some help from a fellow Smart21 community from Taiwan!), these places understand that culture is the next natural resource to be extracted.
Few understand this better than this year’s “Axis of Intelligence.” The Axis powers are Taiwan, Canada and Australia. No fewer than 13 communities from these relatively thinly-populated nations made the list. This suggests to me that there are places in the world whose work toward a perfect community is very real, and part of a national policy. Each of the communities from these three nations is focused on two things, according to the analysts who elevated them: education and collaboration. Quebec City (Canada), which returns to the list, has harnessed culture to produce a robust games industry. Sunshine Coast in Australia has continued to break out of a cycle of re-circulating wealth among retail and construction industries, and is broadening its initiatives in a range of new vertical clusters. Australia has begun to take advantage of several visits by our organization, as well as the visionary work and strong-armed efforts of Sen. Stephen Conroy to make sure that its communities connect themselves quickly and securely to the nation’s $43 billion National Broadband Network. While I believe Australian communities are still in the planning and aspirational phase of development, you can observe their hunger to participate in the “Broadband Economy.” The drive and passion are there. So is the fear of slipping behind. It is a motivator. Taiwan’s Intelligent Communities are those where knowledge and investment continue to layer traditional industries such as logistics, precision machinery and silicon chip development. Taiwan communities have completely reversed a gear from the industrial past and are (very) aggressively pursuing green policies that lead Asia. Yet they too worry about losing their children to other places, echoing a former football coach of Notre Dame who once said, “Getting to the top was easy, staying there is the hard work.”
If our goal is to create a perfect place to live, we will always be frustrated. It is impossible. But these 21 prove that the idea of the perfect place that we can call home makes this eternal frustration the most motivating and thrilling opportunity of our time. Good luck to you if you live in any of these places on January 23rd, the date which we make our announcement, in Taichung City, of our Top7.
A video of the Smart21 announcement can be seen here.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Celebrating 126 (and growing) Intelligent Communities around the World
On Monday evening, October 21, 2013 at Walsh University, ICF’s first Institute in Canton Ohio, ICF Co-Founder Lou Zacharilla made the announcement for the next Smart21 cities from around the world at the ICF Institute at Walsh University. There are now 126 Intelligent Communities that we have recognized globally since 1999. Every corner of the globe is represented and nearly every culture, whether Asian, Middle East, African, Oceania, Europeans as well as from the Americas. We have the far flung north represented by Oulu, Finland and Nunavut, Canada; the exotic in Pirai, Brazil; and the world’s biggest in Chongqing, China.
What cities, towns and regions have been represented over these years? Click here to see the list; and if you are among these wonderful Intelligent Communities - congratulations, you live in (and can boast that you do) an Intelligent Community! If not, and would like to share with the rest of the world the wonderful and intelligent community that you live in, you are encouraged to apply to be recognized as a Smart21 Intelligent Community next year.
This is a list of super towns, cities and regions - highly innovative, with ecosystems that help to ensure that they will do better than most in economic downturns and communities that site selectors and investors are likely to look to first as being excellent choices to locate a business or to invest in. This new batch of Smart21 cities will now be invited to join the Intelligent Community Forum Foundation (ICFF), the association of Intelligent Communities. Only communities that have met ICF’s criteria and have at least made the Smart21 list, are eligible to join the ICFF.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
I Want to Keep Dreaming
On my hotel room door in Amsterdam there was a sign that would let me signal to the cleaning person that I wanted to be left alone. However, instead of reading “Do Not Disturb” or “Privacy Please,” mine read, “I Want to Keep Dreaming.” I am not vain enough to believe that anyone made that sign for me. Yet this one seemed meant for me. It reawakened something. It brought me out of a period of drift and back to the mission. Above all else, I need to keep dreaming. Dreaming and learning of ways to energize communities and cities is what gives me joy. As we get closer to our 2014 Smart21 Announcement on 21 October I will again have a chance to share my dream and to learn about the dreams of others. I will do it in a special place for the first time: the ICF Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community on the campus of Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio.
I dream not for the sake of dreaming but because it cannot be any other way. Freud believed that we dream to resolve, and that we are each of the characters in our dreams. The work of developing better places is an incomplete act. Yet it is being fulfilled each year. The work we do is a state of grace into which we have been allowed. Imaging better communities is not simple, does not bend to linear math or willful efforts at “smart engineering.” It cannot be done with assurance, always, of near-term economic results. There are too many variables in the human ecosystem for that. Yet a change is taking place and people’s lives are improving because of the work of our 120 communities. Why? Because they are approaching it in a new way. This is a global effort done through the work of hundreds of thousands of committed people and in places that grasp the nature of the changes within our “Broadband Economy.” In the words of Third Teacher Project Leader and a speaker at our Institute next week, architect Trung Le, it is about enabling “wonder by design.”
As we arrive in Ohio to celebrate our new 21, I can report that our work has gone from a trickle to a steady stream. In Canada, Taiwan, Finland and Mexico we see our method embraced by economic developers, community champions and leaders of all beliefs and political philosophies. The five criteria, and our method of teaching around the digital campfire, where we share stories of places as diverse as Dublin, Ohio and Eindhoven, Holland has begun to find its way deeper into China and South America. During a series of meetings in Washington last week I was briefed on the Inter-American Development Bank’s initiative, which is designed to give the “no name cities” of 25 nations a new burst of economic energy. The bank meets this week to determine how they will work with the Intelligent Community Forum.
Yet as we dream, there are many places and people that experience nightmares. A study earlier this year by economists at Wellesely College (USA) revealed that people who lost their jobs during this Global Recession, and were only a few years shy of becoming eligible for their Social Security, risk their overall life expectancy diminishing by three years, mainly because they no longer have access to affordable health care. Nightmares can be self-induced. We continue to see other communities stubbornly dig-in and assure themselves that somehow ghosts from the past will reappear and bring back businesses and industries and people who, you might think by listening to them, are still hovering around attics. That is the kind of dream that will end in a cold sweat. Or worse.
If there is a “simple solution,” it is to keep dreaming and, as Freud might say, to analyze the dreams. We are in them all and we are all in this together. The dream is not merely to create new jobs, nor to make sure that people stay in them. As the UN’s Habitat Report on Cities states so clearly, the goal is to apply the communities’ resources and creativity in a way that produces entirely new industries from the familiar canvas of culture. Work is a social enterprise. That is the sustainable solution for chronic unemployment. That is the reason we named former Blackberry founder and Chancellor of the University of Waterloo (Canada) Mike Lazaridis as our Visionary of the Year. He is attempting to create Quantum Valley in Canada. It will test whether investments spun from the triple helix of the region’s – and world’s cultures - will allow new industries to emerge. As we will learn at our second symposium at the Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community next week, this attempt is underway everywhere. Incubators in Columbus and Dublin, Ohio (USA) are attempting to prod new ideas to grow beyond tiny rooms where entrepreneurs give it all that they have all day for the sake of a dream. It is the same in Taichung, Taiwan, where advances in industries ranging from agriculture to logistics will spawn and break out of those verticals to find new ground and new markets.
When I report on the “state of the Intelligent Community,” I will say that it is growing. When 21 new additions are made to our “alumni” of communities next Monday evening in a little city called North Canton, Ohio, you will see dreams and hopefully more of us will wake to them in the morning.
How Committed Citizens Change the World
At an ICF workshop in Lafayette, Louisiana this week, I was asked a poignant question: “Are other countries far ahead of the US when it comes to broadband?” The question came up as I was telling the story of an Intelligent Community in Europe to this group of mayors, members of council and city and parish staff from rural communities in the southern half of the state.
There are two answers to the question. The first is that, according to objective experts like the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, the US is not behind at all. ITIF’s most recent report states that “The US is near the top of the rankings in terms of the deployment and adoption of high-speed, wired networks and leads the OECD in adoption of advanced wireless LTE broadband networks. US broadband speeds… also rank in the top 10 in the world.”
For the other answer, I can quote instead from science-fiction author William Gibson, who said that “the future is here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” The US tolerates a much higher level of inequality in broadband distribution – as it does in most social matters – than most industrialized nations. Market forces rule, and markets where providers can make lots of money win out over thinly-populated regions where the cost of deployment per user is high.
And if that is all there was to it, we would have had a very short conversation. Instead, half the workshop was spent talking about the ways in which market power translates into political power. The City of Lafayette built a fiber-to-the-premise network beginning in 2004 and wound up fighting a $4.5 million legal battle with incumbents to win the right to compete with them. Following their inability to shut down the city, the incumbents went to the legislature, where they succeeded in guiding the Local Government Fair Competition Act into law. More properly termed the Cartel Protection Act, the law blocks every other Louisiana municipality from owning and operating a network offering service to the public – which effectively frees the incumbents not to compete where they don’t want to.
I use the term “cartel” advisedly. By rights, I think telecom providers should be the Intelligent Community’s best allies, and I salute those with the vision and courage to be exactly that. But so many of them seem to prefer instead the economics of the cartel, which are at the root of most of the world’s under-development problems in both rich nations and poor ones. When the guys with the money can also control politics to protect their interests, progress stops. Or it would if the cartels had things all their own way.
What the Lafayette workshop revealed was the great, shared frustration of rural parishes and cities with their inability to get the “high-speed wired network…and advanced wireless LTE broadband networks” that their urban peers enjoy. There was talk of forming an action committee to educate rural mayors and councils and to develop policy recommendations that could spark a genuine debate – not the one behind closed doors that cartels prefer – on the state’s broadband policies.
Who knows how far it can go? The anthropologist Margaret Mead once wrote words that still send chills up my spine, despite they’re being so widely quoted. “Never doubt,” she said, “that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”
Why? This is the part that gets those chills rippling upward: because, she wrote “it's the only thing that ever has.”