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Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Lessons From The Intelligent Community Forum Summit


Last week, the Intelligent Community Forum held its annual summit in Toronto.  The underlying theme was “How Intelligent Communities Are Re-Inventing Urban and Rural Planning”, so much of the discussion was about re-invention and innovating.  

In addition to the all-day workshops for large urban jurisdictions and smaller cities/towns/rural areas, all of Friday was devoted to Ideas Day – with a slew of presentations sharing novel approaches to local government and planning.

On Thursday, capping his successful 16 year run as mayor as he retires, Mayor Michael Coleman proudly accepted the award to Columbus, Ohio as the world’s most Intelligent Community this year.

(You can see the full agenda at icfsummit2015.com.  The presentations, including mine, will be available on intelligentcommunity.org in the coming weeks.)

One of the other highlights of the week was the keynote speech by David Johnston, the Governor General of Canada spoke on June 10th.  Before that, he was the President of the University Of Waterloo, Canada’s premier engineering school.  

Since it was established in the late 1950s, it has become the cradle for a thriving tech innovation community – Blackberry being one if the best known examples. In part, for this reason, he was part of the team in the City of Waterloo who succeeded in being named the most Intelligent Community of the year in 2007.   

He attributed its success to two policies that stand in contrast with the way that many universities try to contain the fruits of innovation within their campuses – thus actually diminishing their innovation.  

The first policy is that the university makes no intellectual property claims on the research done by faculty, researchers or students.   Instead they encourage them to commercialize their research and reap the rewards for themselves and the community.  

The second policy requires coop education of all students.  Each year, every student spends two trimesters in class and one working in a company (for pay) to apply what they’ve learned.  

Finally, it’s worth noting that all of this – the need for innovation, the changes in ways in communities have to plan – is not happening in a vacuum.  

To provide some urgency to these discussions and in case you don’t realize how fast things are changing in what are still the early days of the Internet, Rob McCann, President of ClearCable, gave an interesting presentation on the growth of Internet usage — increasing roughly 50% per year.  (He also made a strong case for the involvement of local government in building out broadband networks, especially in less dense, more rural areas.) 

Monday, June 15, 2015
Six Funerals and a Wedding: Highlights from the Summit


When I heard that they were rumbling into Canada on a big “Buckeye” bus, the same one used by the university’s American-style football team, I thought to myself, “Either the delegation from Columbus, Ohio is very confident, or they are afraid of flying.”  Neither was the case, since the delegation was mainly there to learn, to network and, of course, to represent themselves as one of the world’s Top7 Intelligent Communities of the Year.  In the end, however, our Jury and researchers decided that Columbus had enough of the right stuff to accumulate the points needed to push it upward, after several tries, to Intelligent Community of the Year.  The city with the “inner go” earned the right to go back home in that bus as the 2015 Intelligent Community of the Year.  They did it their way, proving again, as I said in an interview in their city in April, that no one is fast enough to run away from who they really are.

Their stage celebration was true and a pure joy to witness. While their Mayor, Michael Coleman, told them that they had earned the right to show more “swagger” (confidence) because of this, they remained humbled by their achievement.  They sent me this email message as they departed the great city of Toronto en route back to Columbus:

“We are honored. We are humbled. And most importantly we are grateful. Grateful for your recognition, hospitality, and all the encouragement you have been giving us over the years! It is a true privilege to be a part of this prestigious alumni club. When we started this journey, we did not do it for the accolades. Mayor Coleman and his administration did what we needed to do for the awesome residents of COLUMBUS and for the city we all love and that we call home. Thank you, we are still celebrating on the bus as I type these words. O-H.......I-O!” (Moez Chabbouni)

Another Summit is now part of ICF history.  This one was special.  It was the first time we had taken our show on the road and left MY home, New York, for another town.  Despite early anxieties about receiving an award outside of New York, which somehow made it less valuable, Toronto was really nothing more than ICF’s second home.  In fact, it was the reigning Intelligent Community of the Year and in my view, a snapshot of the city of the future. New York?  Well, to quote blogger David Colon, “It is Taylor Swift’s city now.”  Seemingly “populated with humans raised in the Times Square Bubba Group Shrimp Company, then let into the world with only a penthouse apartment, an Amex black card and leopard-print Prada luggage.”  Canada would be a more representable place for us. It was.  Delegates had a chance to also visit Waterloo, the 2007 recipient of the award, which blew them away - as we knew it would.  Toronto was no stranger to ICF.  It was the site of Smart’95, where this all began for us 20 years ago when John Jung convinced us that, yes, there really was a marriage pending between telecommunications and economic development in the world’s cities.  A movement was born and a marriage was made.

Walking into the Arcadian on Thursday night, where the Awards were given, some said that the place looked like a room where you could get married.  Marriages are celebratory affairs, and the Top7 proved themselves to be the real winners yet again.  They charmed the audience. Those “six funerals” we refer to are nothing but the brief frustration of six winners losing a close game in a final seconds of the match, if you need a sports analogy.  They are remembered for their greatness and contribution to a global dialogue.  

My favorite highlights included Mitchell, South Dakota’s video; the ebullient Far Eastern Group’s Strategist, Madame Lan Yuh, who not only welcomed the Top7 as the sponsoring organization’s representative, but also let people know that fun is the one thing money cannot buy!  (But it can pay for the wine….)

The next night, there appeared on the stage of the Arcadian the great man, Dr. Jason Hu.  His Visionary of the Year keynote address could have been written by Jon Stewart’s people had it not included a chronicle of the transformation of Taichung from a “no-name” city in unassuming Taiwan, to a place which is clearly miles ahead of dozens of cities with more brand recognition.  With Taiwan’s Economic Cultural Office ambassador, Bruce Linghu, and our 2014 Visionary of the Year, Suneet Singh Tuli standing nearby, he said that the evening represented, “One of Taiwan’s grandest moments.” Coming back at you, Dr Hu.  It was one of ICF’s as well.  The appearance of the Canadian nation’s Governor-General needs no further reporting here.  David Johnston’s career as a university president led us to a better understanding of the power of knowledge to move us from smart to Intelligent.  In simple human terms, he demonstrated what that means yet again.

Along with John and Robert, I am cherishing the tie that Toronto gave me.  (I only wear ties representing our 17 Intelligent Communities of the Year, Manhattan-fashionable or not!).  Columbus now owes me one but I do not need it to tell their story of how to overcome decline and to pull together a community that is poised to bring us back to the place we call “home.” 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Sometimes Pomp and Ceremony can be a Very Good Thing.



A little thing like an introduction can sometimes lead to a very big outcome. Connections between ICFF Member Intelligent Communities, for instance, can result in mutual benefits and economic development success stories that can help inspire others and provide invaluable lessons for their evolution as successful Intelligent Communities. At the ICF Summit in Toronto this year - on June 9, you can meet and hear from some of the people behind these successful connections including success stories from Dublin, Ohio and Arlington, Virginia, as well as between Eindhoven in the Netherlands and Waterloo, in Canada. The latter, in fact, is evolving in extra-special terms with a little help from some pomp and ceremony.

On May 28, 2015, at the Quantum-Nano Centre at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, the Eindhoven-Waterloo Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is to be ratified in the presence of the Dutch Royal Monarchs, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands. The MOU was first agreed to during the visit by three mayors of the Waterloo Region when they visited Eindhoven in November 2013. Since then a committee was struck in the Waterloo Region and counterparts were also established in the Eindhoven Region. The event on May 28 will validate the work achieved to-date and the committee’s plans going forward. But what does this mean for ICF communities and how did it get to this point?

Firstly, this entire evolution was the result of two communities finding themselves on the global stage through their involvement with ICF and more recently through ICFF, the Intelligent Community Forum Foundation, the association of qualified Intelligent Communities around the world. Two very like-minded communities shared best practices through the Intelligent Community movement, came together over the years to demonstrate their best practices and inspired others to do the same. In 2007, Waterloo was named Intelligent Community of the Year and in 2011, Eindhoven was similarly selected: https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/index.php?submenu=Awards&src=gendocs&ref=ICF_Awards&category=Events

In 2010, during a Top 7 site visit to Eindhoven, I was able to bring all of the Mayors of the Eindhoven region together for a dinner at the “ Smartest House of the Netherlands”. We discussed opportunities including the possibilities with the Waterloo Region. Soon thereafter, an introductory meeting of the two regions took place during the ICF Summit the following year. As I wrote in my blog on October 2, 2013, it wasn’t until Mayor Rob van Gijzel’s visit to the Waterloo Region in June 2013 that triggered heightened community to community interest. During this visit he and his delegation gave a presentation about their community and he signed an initial friendship agreement with the City of Waterloo. That was followed by a visit from the Waterloo Region in the autumn of 2013 with the three mayors from the three main cities, Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo and their Economic Development staff. It was at that time that a loose multi-city MOU was crafted between Eindhoven’s Brainport staff and Team Waterloo Region’s staff, coordinated by Canada’s Technology Triangle, a non-profit FDI-focused organization that had spear-headed the relationship.

With this new multi-city MOU in hand, signed by all of the mayors from Waterloo Region and Eindhoven, as well as their Economic Development officers, the committee set upon its way to begin to work through the broad statements of interest between the two regions. The committees followed up by sharing best practices and organizing lead generators for each community, assisted by each host city. As a result, companies have started to build business opportunities in each community, thereby creating mutually beneficial 2 way investment and jobs for each other. Additionally, the Waterloo Region was in the process of re-evaluating its economic development programs and the organizations in the region that delivered such services. Mayor van Gijzel visited again in June 2014 and provided a Master Class on the history of the evolution of Eindhoven from a Philips-based company town to the one today that operates within an open innovation ecosystem coordinated through an organization called Brainport. It was created out of the crisis the community went through when Philip’s head office moved from Eindhoven to Amsterdam. Lessons learned from the Brainport experience continue to benefit the Waterloo Region as it evolves its economic development structure. During his travels, the Mayor of Eindhoven extolled the virtues of the working relationship between Waterloo and Eindhoven Regions, but also encouraged a further evolution of the relationship, to include a third connection globally. He proposed Taipei, Taiwan since Taipei and Eindhoven already have a relationship between them based on a newly established Eindhoven-Taiwan design-related program: http://www.eindhoven-taiwan.com/home Although the Mayor of Waterloo signed an agreement with Taipei to mark a similar relationship, the Waterloo-Eindhoven Committee have yet to work on the idea of the Global Triangle, preferring instead to get the Waterloo-Eindhoven relationship right first.

Among our individual travels since Mayor van Gijzel’s June 2014 visit to Waterloo Region, the mayor and I raised our unique relationship during the September 2014 gathering of the Parliament of Mayors in Amsterdam, which we both attended. Since it garnered interest among these global mayors, we knew we had something special here.  Later, during a critical meeting at the residence of the Canadian Ambassador to the Netherlands during the visit of His Excellency, the Governor General of Canada, David Johnson and his delegation to The Hague on October 25, 2014, this idea was once again raised. I was part of His Excellency’s delegation to Europe and we requested that the Roundtable at the Ambassador’s residence include the Mayor of Eindhoven in order to explore the opportunities to foster greater linkages between Canada and the Netherlands. This day-long Roundtable was also attended by Princess Margriet and her husband Pieter van Vollenhoven, members of the Dutch Royal House. I recommended that we continue to pursue the Waterloo-Eindhoven relationship as not only a valuable city-to city relationship but also an important nation-nation linkage that would continue to foster linkages that could have significant 2 way trade and investment implications. Timing was also important to both countries. The Canadian-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) was recently agreed to between Canada and the EU. The relationship between Canada and the Netherlands would benefit from increased trade and investment in each other’s countries. In addition, the best practices from this relationship could be used as an inspiration for other like-minded communities to pursue similar approaches. That Roundtable not only had a royal connection, but the Dutch Ambassador to Canada was also in attendance. As a result of the dialogue generated at this special Roundtable, it was decided that both Ambassadors would travel to the Waterloo Region to explore possibilities to add Waterloo to the Royal Visit to Canada in 2015, marking the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands. In addition to the State Visit to Ottawa and Toronto, Waterloo was now highly recommended to officially be part of this visit. The presence of the Royal Monarchs at the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding would give heightened value to the relationship between these two Intelligent Communities. 

In April 2015, a Waterloo Region delegation traveled once again to Eindhoven to undertake meetings arranged by a lead generator hired by Canada’s Technology Triangle and facilitated by Eindhoven’s Brainport. Likewise, along with the King and Queen’s visit from May 26-29, there will be a significant business and educational delegation visiting the Waterloo Region from the Netherlands. An announcement will take place at the University of Waterloo on May 28 regarding scholarships to eligible Canadian university students in recognition of the 70th Anniversary. Additionally, the business delegation will spend several days with a lead generator exploring business opportunities in Waterloo Region, facilitated by Canada’s Technology Triangle and the Waterloo-Eindhoven Committee. It is anticipated that through efforts explaining the business cases and competitive advantages of locating in each other’s communities, several businesses will locate branch operations in each other regions. Similarly, students and professional talent will also locate in each other’s communities. This is a significant economic benefit for each community and will prove ICFF’s connections can work to be mutually beneficial for ICFF member communities.

ICF’s connections played a critical role in the beginning of this process. Other Intelligent Communities could learn from this experience. On June 9, at the ICF Summit in Toronto, the Mayor of Eindhoven, Rob van Gijzel and former Mayor of Waterloo, Brenda Halloran, will explain what inspired them to work closely together as ICFF member communities to form this unique alliance. Likewise, at this same session, Canada’s Technology Triangle’s Catherine Bischoff and Brainport’s Naomie Verstraeten will speak to the implementation of the MOU and what can be expected moving forward between the two regions. This is a unique opportunity to hear from two of the most innovative regions in the world how their collaboration and sharing of the innovation ecosystems will benefit their communities and their countries. This is an important economic development success story with tangible results – a story not to be missed. For more information on the session and how to register for it, please see: https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/index.php?src=gendocs&ref=Summit15-Program&category=Events

To learn about ICF’s Connections Webinars, contact Stephen Tom at stom@intelligentcommunity.org 




Monday, May 18, 2015
Property Developers of the World: You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Enemies!

If you are a property developer in a big city, I have bad news.  Nobody likes you. 

Okay, maybe I exaggerate.  Maybe your family likes you.  Perhaps your dog looks up to you.  But nobody else does.  And why should they?  You are filthy rich.  You control the places the rest of us live and work.  Politicians fawn on you and bend the rules for you.  Did I mention you’re filthy rich, too?  


Fortunately, Mr. and Ms. Property Developer, there is a way out.  You can learn from the example of Porto Maravilha (“the wonderful port”) in Rio de Janeiro, which I saw during my site inspection of this Top7 city.  This was the city’s original seaport on the edge of the city center. By the end of the last century, it was a derelict district lying in the shadow of an elevated highway that walled off the city from the water.  The administration of Mayor Eduardo Paes began planning its renovation in 2010 and completed demolition of the highway in 2013.  Funded by the sale of land and air rights to private developers, Porto Maravilla expects to complete major infrastructure work by 2025 and to be fully built out 35 years later.

A lot of the project is exactly what you would expect: high-rise condos, office buildings, art and science museums, green space and a 3-kilometer promenade overlooking the water.  The architect’s renderings are beautiful, and I’m sure it will be a magnet for cariocas (Rio residents) and a thriving addition to the business district. But the remarkable part of the project is how it honors the history and people of the place.

Seventy percent of the 5 million square meters under development consists of heritage buildings.  Rather than tearing them down, the project will renovate them one by one and turn abandoned ones to new uses, from galleries and restaurants to new housing. Excavation has revealed what archaeologists believe to have been the world’s largest slave market, and efforts are underway to preserve and memorialize it. 

More important than heritage, however, are human beings.  The port district is home to the first favella or slum in Rio, rising up on the banks of one of the sudden mountains that snake through this remarkable city.  The project wants those residents to stay where they are, and to take advantage of the development to permanently improve their lives.

For a start, there will be no condos or office buildings rising on the favela’s land.  Instead of seeing their homes demolished, residents are being asked to advise on where new healthcare and social services facilities should go.  Gentrification is probably inevitable, but the city is offering current property owners forgiveness of back taxes and fees to encourage them to invest in upgrades rather than selling out. 

Most significant of all are the skills training and career consulting that are preparing residents for jobs in construction and the start-up of micro and small businesses.  The project will need hundreds of thousands of workers and generate huge demand for local support services.   For residents with skills, that is a golden opportunity for a better life for themselves and their children.

The project’s chief executive told me that this massive and complex construction project is simple compared to the complexities of working with residents. But he seems passionately committed to seeing it through. Plenty of money will be made by plenty of property developers on this 50-year project.  That’s good for them and the city.  What they will not be making are enemies among the people who live there.  And that is even better. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Apples & Oranges How the Small Place Becomes Mighty for the ICF Jury


During our recent briefings for new ICF jurors, one the most frequently asked questions was “how do we measure a big city, such as New Taipei against a small one, such as Mitchell?”  Our answer is simple.  We use a universal sports analogy to make it clear.

As it is with people so it is with cities and communities.  Being small creates an inferiority complex that either leads to a despondent resignation of one’s status, or a powerful will to look at it as an opportunity to overachieve.  ICF jurors are tasked with looking at the bigger heavyweights of the Top7 and the smaller overachievers in this year’s group and determining which one has done the most to excel at each of the six criteria.

There was recently a boxing match in Las Vegas where the fighter that people said, “pound- for-pound,” was the best fighter ever won the contest.  What did they mean when they called Mayweather “the best fighter, pound-for-pound?” They meant when you factored in all of the criteria for a great champion in that sport (speed, toughness, punching power, stamina, courage and ring intelligence), Floyd Mayweather, like Sugar Ray Robinson before him, is the best fighter in the world irrespective of the weight class to which he is assigned.  In other words, a great fighter is a great fighter.  If you are squeamish about boxing, try poetry.  A work of poetry – if it is a true masterpiece – does not depend on the size or the length of the poem.  What matters most is the feeling you get, and how you have been transformed, moved or changed by what the poet accomplished.  We cannot quantify inspiration.

So it was with the Jury’s qualitative judgment of the Top7.  The ICF Jury is being asked to evaluate seven communities based on our criteria, their stories and a report to determine which is, pound-for-pound (or neighborhood-for-neighborhood) the one that inspires them most.  Many jurists develop their own quantitative system for categorizing the information that is presented.  There is a lot of it, so it makes sense to do that.  Some have their own method, including using a spreadsheet or matrix.  Our Jury chairman, Jag Rao, has developed his own method which he is always sharing with jurors. 

We have a quantitative ranking being done simultaneous to the Jury's qualitative assessment.  So members of the Jury need not worry about their final “numbers.”  It is their judgment we seek.  Bear in mind that in years past, the Intelligent Community of the Year selection was based on a razor-thin margin, usually a fraction of point separated three of the seven at the end of the voting period!  So we tell jurors that if there are two, three or even four communities that are close in their assessment – perhaps even too close to call – we suggest that they re-read the material given to them related to the sixth criteria.  This year the criteria is the “Revolutionary Community.” It should be the tie-breaker, if there is a tie.

We know it is not easy to measure the small, the medium and large qualitatively.  Some urge us to separate out awards into categories.  But I say “no.”  In the end a community is a place people call “home.”  And there is no discrimination between one’s love of home in a rural hamlet far from the city, or in an apartment in the big city, far from the rural hamlet. Let’s just say that from ICF’s view, we are all in this together.  May the champion who is, neighborhood-for-neighborhood, the best be named on 11 June in Toronto.

To our Jury: good luck and thank you!  To those of you following their work: stay tuned.  The best is yet to come.    

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