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Monday, October 29, 2012
Guest Blog: The Google eTown Award is Moncton’s Latest Honor

clientuploads/Images/Ben Champoux.gifBy Ben Champoux, former Business Development Specialist for the City of Moncton, now leading the Department of Tourism & Culture

Thanksgiving Day in Canada is always the perfect time for me to reflect on how blessed and grateful I am to live in the great City of Moncton on the East Coast of Canada.  I must say that I’m not from Moncton.  In 1998, my friends laughed when I told them I was leaving Montreal to move to Moncton.  So why Moncton?  Simply put, because of its ‘can-do attitude’. 

I never get bored of telling the ‘Moncton Story’.  In less than 25 years, Moncton transformed itself from a blue-collar manufacturing town with an uncertain future to one of the fastest growing cities and most diversified economies in Canada.  Back in the ‘80s, the closing of the major employer, CN Shops, was devastating to the local economy.   Unemployment skyrocketed to record highs and every second building in the downtown was boarded up.  Today, employment is strong, construction activity is having banner years, and Moncton is the fifth fastest growing centre in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. 

So how did Moncton do it?  Not a simple answer, but there is no doubt that a solid collaboration between all stakeholders and a well-planned marketing strategy were two key ingredients to a successful recipe.  I was not living in Moncton in the ‘80s, so I always wondered how the community leaders at the time successfully marketed a city with record high unemployment levels, a 50% vacancy rate in its downtown and a workforce that did not have the perfect skillsets to embrace the growing digital economy.   But they did it.  They worked together, took their destiny into their own hands and implemented the changes that had to happen in order to get back on track and embrace the digital economy.  That’s what I mean about a ‘can-do attitude’. 

Promoting Moncton today is much easier, as the community leaders simply focus on concrete actions and leave it to others to tell the world how great is Moncton.  In 2009, the ICF named Moncton one of its Top7 Intelligent Communities, which set us on the path to gaining the global recognition we might never have dared seek before.  Since then, many others have acknowledged Moncton’s ’can-do attitude’. 

The Google eTown Award is the latest in a long list of honours the City of Moncton has received over the past few years.  Last Wednesday, representatives from Google Canada were at City Hall to present Moncton with its Google eTown Award.   This award is designed to recognize those cities where small businesses are investing in online tools and resources to find new customers, grow their business, and improve their operations.  Google looked at hundreds of cities and towns across Canada to identify one in each of five regions that demonstrated strong engagement and potential for growth in the digital economy.  Some of the criteria were local businesses utilization of some of Google’s business products including, Google AdWords, the Canada Get Your Business Online initiative, and products such as Google Apps for Business.  This is another award that clearly demonstrates Moncton’s ‘can-do attitude’.   I could not be more grateful and proud of the City that I now call home.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Community as Canvas: Connecting Things

Creativity is just connecting things. – Steve Jobs

clientuploads/Images/Zach-NameCaptionFL.gifIt was nothing.  Just a tall podium made from solid, dark wood from the forests of Germany.  Yet I felt immediately moved and humbled standing next to the desk of the great German writer, Johann Goethe.  As you can see in the photograph, I was in the writing room of his meticulously preserved home in the heart of Frankfurt, Germany (a Smart21 community in 2012).  Here, I thought, extraordinary acts of imagination daily met the hard work required to shape something new and often courageous.

https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/clientuploads/Goethes Desk (LZ blog) Oct 15 12.jpgWhen I touched the raised, wooden podium, where gems like Faust were cobbled together I reminded myself that Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway and Donald Rumsfeld also wrote standing on their feet at desks like this one.  Apple’s Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things.”  I did NOT see an immediate connection among these four distinguished lives, nor the connection between imagination and community revival.  Not at first.

His podium was simple and empty.  It awaited imagination and celebration.  Having written for a living for much of my professional life, I know that it also awaited effort.  Hard work.  Without effort, enormous effort, there would be no celebration.  No status.  “Celebration” is not a process, it is a reward.  Whether writing a poem or returning a community back to its rightful place, the joy is usually in the doing.  This empty podium had been a benign conspirator in the production of great works of imagination.  The works of imagination crafted in this musty, tidy room live proudly in German culture, and especially the city of Frankfurt.  It is a source of pride and inspiration to its artists and citizens.  Culture flourishes here, alongside the persistent expansion of its financial center and its IT entrepreneurial core.  Whatever goes forward in Frankfurt has the gift of looking back when necessary.

This artist gave the city a chance to realize its destiny as both an artistic center and a place of commerce.  Today, Frankfurt is decidedly an intelligent community and home to the new European Central Bank complex.  It is a balanced economy and a sane place.  I use an old cliché to describe it: the trains run on time.  So do the trams.  If the schedule says a street tram will arrive five minutes past the hour, set your digital watch to it.  It will be there.

In a few days I will be in Riverside, California (“The City of Art and Innovation”) to name our new Smart21.  These 21 communities will be added to our international list of alumni.  The day each is named (21 October), they will become Intelligent Communities.  Each will have reinforced its success and set out to prove that it deserves to go to the next phase of the Awards program.  They will be acknowledged for having entered a new era.  Like Goethe’s podium, they will be ripe with history, with few exceptions.  They will also remain blank slates when it comes to the future and are wise to understand a lesson from a long deceased writer in Frankfurt.

That lesson can be heard from the voice of another creative soul, this one with more modern credentials: Albert Einstein.  Einstein said that “imagination is more important than knowledge.”  I have always intuitively suspected that it is so, and yet I remain challenged to find places that truly honor imagination as an industry, or recognize that it is as essential to the re-energizing of place as broadband.  Certainly I will be making my announcement from such a place.  Riverside does grasp the importance of culture and imagination.  Without it, Riverside, perhaps like Frankfurt after the Second World War, may well have drifted toward irrelevance.  It was headed that way in a hurry. 

With any luck, I will announce the names of 21 other places who will become case studies on what can be done when standing up and thinking on their feet. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012
Cities are Old News – Rural Areas Are Where It’s At

https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/clientuploads/Images/Bell-NameCaptionFL-4.gifRolling eastward by train, then flying westward across northern France in early September, I was blown away by a simple fact.  It is overwhelming agricultural. 

I didn’t know.  Though I am often in Europe, I tend to see it through the lens of the cities I visit.  But in truth, those cities – even ones as vast as London, Paris or Frankfurt – are small islands in a sea of farmland and forest.

https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/clientuploads/Images/Farm-Sunset-2.gifAs the sun dipped low in the golden afternoon, the shadows stood tall behind the long windbreaks of trees planted at the edge of fields green and brown, stretching away into the distance beyond sight.  It was extraordinarily beautiful.  People have been cultivating this land for more than a thousand years, and it shows in the ever-running pattern of village, field and carefully groomed woodland receding to a misted horizon. 

Cities are all the rage right now, since we discovered that more than half of the world’s people live in them.  Cities are where commerce and culture thrive, where the Creative Class sips its skinny lattes, where efficiencies of housing and transport reduce our impact on the climate.  If you live in a small city, town or village out in the boondocks, it’s time to roll up your sidewalks, hitch up the mule and get yourself to an urban core. 

But that’s not what I saw in my journey across and above the land.  For the first time, I saw that the farms and forests represent more than an inconvenient distance between the places where the action is.  They are the ecosystem that gives the cities life.  They are the source of the air that cities breathe, the food they consume, the water they drink.  In their quiet vastness, they are the balance that keeps the cities from imploding on their own spiraling energy. 

That is why we must figure out how to give the rural areas of our nations a sustainable future.  We must use the tools of information and communications technology (ICT) to give the kids a reason to stay on the farm.  We need to plug them into the world, to bring them learning and culture, to make rural areas a vital, connected and exciting place to live and work.  They already have the beauty, the peace and the sense of place that their residents treasure – they just need to have what the cities have.  And for the first time in human history, ICT makes that possible. 

We don’t yet know how to do it.   But we can recognize that technology has given us the tools to make the attempt.   

So let’s stop congratulating ourselves on how successful cities are.  Cities are old news.  We have been congregating in them since before Babylon.  We know how they work and why they are important.  Let’s focus on the real work to be done: to figure out how to export from the cities to the country the inspiration, energy and sense of limitless possibility that cities generate without even trying.  Not just for the sake of those backward souls too uncool to abandon their fields and forests.  For the sake of us all. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Guest Blog: Can Broadband Revitalize the UK Economy?

https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/clientuploads/David-Brunnen-80-FLgif.gifDavid Brunnen, Editor, Groupe Intellex

Less than 30 days away from NextGen12 the recent reshuffle in the UK government has raised the stakes in the debate about the perceived role of broadband in trying to revitalize the economy.  But, at the time of writing, opinion is divided.  Do government priorities reflect their understanding of the digital economy or do they still imagine that ‘ignorance is bliss’?

The conference is being held in London – right in the heart of the ‘Westminster village’ close to the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Whitehall offices of all the major government ministries.

Where better to kick off the conference with a sobering assessment of the likely sources of future prosperity.  According to international technology thought leader Dr. Peter Cochrane it will not be found where most people might be looking.  This will be no call for a revival of old industries but a shockingly honest (some might say scary) look at the future hurtling towards us – digitally-enabled for sure but also “at the cusp of ‘Nano’ and ‘Bio’ technologies”.

Delegates may think the science of this tech-sensitive introduction pulls NextGen12 away from today’s economic realities but the speakers that follow will have to answer the questions ‘Does the UK have a digital deficit?’ and ‘Will the plans and targets for connectivity infrastructure match the needs of businesses, households and communities?’

These questions and the responses will be tackled from all angles:

  • From the viewpoints of the European Commission (and the FTTH Council) to those of rural communities,
  • Would-be-smarter cities in contrast to the needs of small businesses,
  • From perspectives of national incumbent operators and those of new and local independent networks,
  • And, from the House of Lords’ recent report, to the perception of a new MP from the recession-ravaged North East of England who just happens to be a former broadband specialist for the regulator - Ofcom.

Even the prestigious conference dinner, inside the Palace of Westminster, will be enlivened by the presentation of the NextGen Challenge awards – celebrating success and sharing more than a few battle scars

But more than all that, NextGen12 will focus on the essential requirements for making society work in a digital economy – familiar ground perhaps for ICF members.

This intensive conference (with a strong exhibition for experienced network specialists) will put the pressure for investment in connectivity infrastructure alongside demands for knowledge worker expertise, greater capacity for innovation and community support for public services. 

All this and revitalizing the UK economy across all sectors?  Policy developers should bring sharp pencils.  It will be a very busy two days.  Click here for more on NextGen12.

Monday, September 10, 2012
Community as Canvas: Symphonies, Soloists & Silos

https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/clientuploads/Images/Zach-NameCaptionFL.gifAgain and again I am asked the question.  It arises more than any other.  It is asked by politicans and business leaders; academics and their students.  It is asked, in a million different ways and in many languages, by folks working on their nominations for Intelligent Community of the Year.  It is usually the first question a member of the audience asks, and it is always on a journalist’s list.  It appeared as a question in the new e-book by Smart+Connected Communities.  The question was asked during the webinars we held to brief communities on the 2013 Intelligent Community of the Year Awards submission process.  It was just asked by the proprietor of Café Doppio in The Hague, where I sit writing this blog.  He is passionate about the topic of building communities for the 21st Century, as is my doctor in NY, who extended my annual physical by 30 minutes to tell me which places are his favorite “walking” cities.   He’s also passionate about it.  In between my blood and blood pressure tests, we get into the importance of sidewalks in Berlin!

It is asked nearly every day and there is a reason.  It remains the essential question at the heart of the renaissance of a place.  It is a deceptively simple question: “What do all Intelligent Communities have in common?”

The answer is not deceptively simple however.  It is real simple.  It is as direct as the high-speed train from Rotterdam to Paris.  What every Intelligent Community has in common is its ability to collaborate.  You have heard it said and written about often of course.  But it bears repeating because it is the answer.  Intelligent Communities play well together at home, at work and at play.  They stick together when they go out and advocate for themselves around the world.  Flash back to that photograph of Eindhoven representatives standing on the stage in New York to accept their 2011 award.  These people represent every corner of life there. 

https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/clientuploads/5051conductor.jpgOne person who never had to ask the question was Joep Brouwers.  Joep is the Vice Director of Brainport in Eindhoven.  Robert and I had dinner with him and Margot Nijkamp, the former director of the famous Holst Centre, where collaboration among SMEs was enshrined during her tenure.  The dinner was arranged to discuss an ICF Institute in Europe.  Inevitably it brought back recent memories, and led to further discussion around the topic of, you guessed it, collaboration.  Eindhoven is, after all, the community that gave us the celebrated “Triple Helix.”  Joep is chief conductor of the “Triple Helix” symphony.  Today, one year after being named IC of the Year, Eindhoven continues to perfect the “Helix.”  We were told that companies collaborate with other companies in the community, including competitors, to advance innovation.  It is as natural as rain.  Margot said that the complexity comes in the arrangement of intellectual property rights, but the system is built on success and deep social contracts, which are two necessary levers that enable trust and an “open hub for innovation,” as Joep calls it.

Being in European cities, where “classical” music is inherent, this makes me think of communities as symphony orchestras.  The question of what they each have in common is that, like orchestras, their collective talents – each individually honed – contributes to a sound that fulfills everyone who plays and anyone who cares to listen.  While a soloist is a rare talent, they need the orchestra to shine. 

At a more primal level collaboration is a medicine that heals a place.  When we decide collectively to say “go,” we enable sustainability.  You can witness it in subtle ways.  Amidst thick, self-centered traffic on a busy highway, you will see car after car pull over to allow an ambulance to pass.  This is the symphony at work too; playing to the tune of collective preservation.  John Donne was right.  “No man is an island.”   

Thanks in part to Eindhoven, and Mitaka before it, the wave of collaboration has reached the shores of the Intelligent Community movement.  The need to transfer this knowledge through persistent civil engagement now must overcome the notion that we are lone wolves, or best when in a basement tooling on the test tubes.  There are moments for this lonely work (like this one, where I must be alone to type.)  But the mechanism for success is decidedly and increasingly non-linear and collective.  It is about playing together in the sandbox and chatting around the coffee shop or digital campfires.  I am not talking about blindly conforming, but rather collaborating when the common good is visualized.

The week that I return to North America I head to Top Seven Saint John, Canada, where an imaginative two-day event has been organized to introduce citizens to a new method and a new tone for civic engagement.  Picking up on the “Triple Helix” concept,  the University of New Brunswick will play host to “an all-ages public forum to identify the priorities for the Saint John region and,” according to the release, “build upon our shared pride of place and our desire to build a strong community around the Intelligent Community model of collaboration.”  The music, forum on September 22 and use of social technology will be in pursuit of ways to identify the “secret strengths” of the region – the first of which, they will soon find out, being collaboration.  But then again, like Eindhoven, they probably already know that.  They’ve heard the symphony playing.

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