|Monday, February 9, 2015|
|The Top7 Intelligent Communities of 2015: The year of “The No Name Cities”|
The best thermometer of how the world views the 2015 finalists for the world’s most Intelligent Community of the Year designation is best found in the press coverage. This year the lesson is that dark horses have reached for the top. Forbes noted that the Top7 “are not the cities you think of immediately” as tech powerhouses. The UK’s Independent said as much and concluded by saying that we can learn from them. Noting the population differences the Independent referred to Mitchell, SD (pop 15,000) as the “minnow” of the group. The South Dakota community, in the mind of the press, is swimming upstream in its quest for further glory in Toronto in June when we will announce the 2015 Intelligent Community of the Year.
The Top7 Intelligent Communities of 2015 are, in alphabetical order: Arlington County, Virginia, USA; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ipswich, Australia; Mitchell, South Dakota, USA; New Taipei City, Taiwan; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
My own surprise is balanced by what I have learned about places like these seven, and the group of 21 from which they separated. They want to future-proof themselves more than win a trophy. They are seeking how to provide political and social cover for themselves as they invest in the proper digital and human infrastructure and respond to the shocks of a global economy. In the current world economy there are surprises and unintended consequences that not even an economist can fully grasp. Lawrence Summers. President Emeritus of Harvard and an economist notes that we do not yet fully know how tech impacts our economies. He compared it to the automobile industry, noting that the car did not reach the Consumer Price Index for measurement until 1935, a full twenty years after the formation of the Ford Motor Company.
So the seven are in just as much uncertain territory as a Singapore or London. Like it or not. They know, however, that sparks are flying and they want to host the bonfire. Most communities have been working on their programs for years, knowing that the dry kindling which catches fire is not a reliable source of heat, but if you bring proper combustible elements near it, something will happen. To be honest, I dismiss most of what the social engineers tell me and, like St. Paul and Martin Luther, two modern men in their time, subscribe to the power of faith and hope as a first-mover. Why? Because this is still what ignites healthy human passion.
In the landscape of the revolutionary community that I chronicle, planning is serving much the same role. It provides a pathway. It is radical stuff to read that places that have long done manufacturing or resource extraction are now using IT to not only give those industries a jump, but to move in other directions, such as healthcare.
Each of the Top7 has begun to find hope. As they are all growing cities or towns, they have put together impressive plans to channel their expansion. Planning was the new criteria that we established this year because it is so vital to transformation. There is never a specific guarantee that planning will spark and sweep through a community, but when it does, and when a framework like the Awards criteria is in the mix, it spreads light. Good things start to happen. Statistics and doubt are insidious tools for combatting hope. They seem impregnable and infallible. But think again. Used without the poetry of a plan, they are the reflexes of the dead and dying.
American author Leon Wieseltier writes in his new essay, Among the Disrupted, that we are “busy creating ‘metrics’ for phenomena that cannot be measured.” As I look over the diverse and eclectic new group of Top7 Intelligent Communities – seven cities burning bright in five nations – and seek a subtext, you should ask what we measured and captured through our quantitative assessment. Yes, they all have WiFi and broadband. Ho- hum. That’s old news.
Where this group gets interesting to me is upon a deeper dive. The level beyond quantification. Wieseltier complains that “where wisdom once was, quantification will now be.” So first, let us prefer wisdom. Or if you are uncomfortable with that word call it “common sense.” In a place like Surrey, Canada, it was common sense that a sprawling suburb, which grows by 1,000 souls per month and has a reputation for crime and dislocation, would do something about it. They have. They implemented an early childhood intervention program, among many other things, by working through their university. This is the long-term plan while the city continues its rollout other plans to transform its economy and to build on the experiences of some early success.
The seven are each familiar with insecurity and doubt. (Perhaps well earned!) Upon first glance the names of at least three of these cities: Ipswich, Mitchell and Surrey read like a list of Who’s NOT Who. If taken on reputation alone, the elevation of Rio de Janeiro the only South America city in the Top7 might seem to be, as one twitter post indelicately put it, “A choice that could be made only by crazy gringos.” (Forget that the two groups that selected Rio were academics on four continents and a research house located in India). Civic pride, when damaged for a decade or more, is like the patient in psychotherapy. It is only over time and much hard work and commitment to the process that a true change takes root. In Rio it has. For sure. Columbus, Arlington County and New Taipei City are more polished and have been through the flames, but not until they too had gone down a rough road. Hope was justified. They remain the front-runners, in my view.
At the end of a televised Skype interview with a network news anchor, I explained why Surrey, British Columbia, the fastest-growing city in Canada, and the one that journalists seem most curious about, had been selected as a Top7. The anchorman, reflecting the skepticism of his viewers, concluded by asking me, “Does Surrey really have a chance of being named Intelligent Community of the Year?”
I said it had a legitimate shot. If you apply the metrics, it has a one in seven chance. Not bad for a no-name city!
|Monday, January 19, 2015|
|Getting From Smart to Intelligent|
On January 22, ICF narrows its 2015 list of 21 really smart communities to a short-list of 7 intelligent ones. Those two words – smart and intelligent – are often confused or often used to mean the same thing. But I think they describe very different realities.
Every Intelligent Community we have seen is a Smart City. That is, it invests in information and communications technology (ICT) to deliver services, monitor operations and rejigger failing systems. That is good news for taxpayers, businesses and institutions.
Not every Smart City, however, is an Intelligent Community. While Smart City technologies make cities work better, Intelligent Community strategies create better cities, where people and organizations thrive and prosper in the global broadband economy.
Intelligent Communities make sure they have the broadband and IT infrastructure they need to be competitive. But they know it is only a means to an end. More of their energy goes into developing a workforce able to do knowledge work. More effort goes into crafting an innovation ecosystem where business, government and institutional partners create high-quality employment and meet social needs. More emphasis is placed on expanding access to digital skills and technology for those otherwise left out. More work goes into engaging citizens as advocates for progress.
I would offer examples from the rich trove of this year’s Smart21 communities, but will have to wait until after our much-anticipated announcement. In the meantime, I can point you to a worthwhile article from a Swedish Web site on innovation management. Lidia Gryskiewicz and Nicolas Friederici looked at the “innovation hubs” that are popping up in cities across the world and tried to understand what makes them work.
In their view, innovation hubs are a different breed from incubators and accelerators. The latter tend to have tightly structured programs and development milestones. They are focused on preparing start-ups for the scrutiny of investors, and providing their network of investors with a “deal flow” of interesting opportunities. It is essential and valuable work.
Innovation hubs focus instead on something called “impact.” It could be financial but is just as likely to be social or cultural. They embrace fluidity, encourage serendipity and work to create a sense of community. Instead of R&D labs, they host innovation jams and hackathons. They are all about energy, momentum and encouraging collaboration toward a shared mission.
If your job is to generate a steady stream of start-ups, that sounds pretty wooly. But if you want to create an environment where innovation can flourish, it makes sense. Out of it may come a great idea for a profitable business, or a new way for an existing business to frame its challenges. Or maybe just a makerspace where hobbyists can fool around with the latest technologies. In either case, it is building a social foundation, a platform of trust and commitment among innovators, on which great progress can be made. And that sounds pretty intelligent to me.
|Wednesday, January 14, 2015|
|The Myth of the “First 100 Days”|
Over the past 100 days the people have spoken. In several important cities they decided to lift their voice and open the exits for several incumbents. New mayors and elected officials were sworn in among several Intelligent Community Forum Foundation cities, including three Intelligent Communities of the Year, Toronto (2014), Taichung (2013) and Taipei (2006). These champions replaced familiar, popular and controversial leaders. The most notable for me was in Taichung, Taiwan.
There was a hard-fought campaign which revealed the degree to which democracy has taken root in Taiwan. When the votes were counted, Dr. Jason Hu (Hu Chih-chiang), who had served as mayor since 2000, was narrowly defeated by a former protestor, the youthful Mayor Lin Chia-lung. The new mayor won his office, in part, over issues familiar to most democracies and cities today: a growing economic rift among citizens. In both Taipei, which also elected a new mayor, and Taichung, the cause of the growing disparity is attributed to China’s overinvestment in Taiwan’s real estate industry. This has caused housing values and costs to rise. Beijing’s behavior in Hong Kong and “incumbent fatigue” also fed the insurgency of Mr. Lin.
Mr. Lin assumed office on Christmas Day and comes into office like a tsunami, promising that his “first 100 days” will be used to sweep the city (population 2.7 million) off its feet with honest reform and programs that actually work. He promises to make the trains run on time, after he finishes building the system, which he and many think has taken too long. I have seen it. It will be a model for the world whenever finished. He refers to his first 100 days as “the honeymoon” period. He, like other politicians, seems sure that the first 15 weeks have magical powers to transform even good places - which Taichung certainly is - into even better places, which we hope it to be. I have no reason to doubt his sincerity or that of his transition team, many of whom have been brought in from outside the city for its purgation. I wish him well, and look forward to meeting him, since Taichung is a key Asian member of the ICF Foundation.
I have never been one to interrupt a honeymoon, and think of ICF’s cities as reformers also. But when time allows I want Mayor Lin and the others holding their new brooms to examine the sincerity of their promise to make all things new in only 100 days.
This is a notion that political leaders have embraced. I can only conclude two things if so: 1) That politicians by and large think alike and 2) That they rely on public relations more than is necessary. This stuff is a PR stunt and it is misleading. It is a disservice to citizens and ignores the facts of how progress really occurs. Taichung’s unemployment rate is 4.6% and, among its many economic and social virtues, it has 23 universities connected to industries and giants like Taiwan Semiconductor that continue to make Taiwan an economic marvel. With a new opera house and an emphasis on green development, it fast became a cultural center for the nation.
New mayors and councils know full well that governing is more prose than poetry; more policy than PR. What matters are not the 100 days, but the four-year terms to which they are empowered to serve. As I look through the prism of truly successful communities studied by ICF I know that the success of Intelligent Communities occurs as leaders realize that they are obligated to set in motion intergenerational projects whose results, unfortunately, may be harvested by future councils and mayors. I am not naive. I understand that no one can truly run a campaign promising a better future that will actually come to pass in the Future. But that is a fact and it would be nice to hear someone admit it while campaigning.
The originator of the “100 Days” concept, the American president Franklin Roosevelt, would understand this. He might point out that his actions during the first 100 days of 1933 were not a matter of public relations, but of long-term national survival. In his moment America’s banks had collapsed, its unemployment approached 25%, while communism and facism had become appealing ideas for political reform. The first “100 days” were actually a footrace to save the global economy and to keep its moral center from imploding.
As I was reading Mayor Lin’s bold assertions over my New Year’s holiday, I learned that the former Governor of New York, and a man I admired as a mentor, Mario M. Cuomo, had died. Aside from my father, there was no other man I revered more for his quiet intelligence, mentorship and integrity than Governor Cuomo. He was an aberration in the political world, which was the nature of his appeal. His world view was informed by his ability to not only remember where he came from but also to be profoundly thoughtful and honest in public at all times. He detested dishonesty at any level and always told it precisely as it was. He was elected to three terms.
I am sure that Mayor Lin and others will follow this unique path toward true intelligent leadership.
|Wednesday, January 7, 2015|
|The ICF 2015 Summit in Toronto is all about stories: How innovative cities create amazing cities and job growth in an age of disruption|
“The Day Salman Khan Quit His Job…
Education, as practiced for the past millennium, is not particularly productive. Teaching has always been one of those professions, like medicine or music, in which customers vastly prefer quality to productivity. A teacher can effectively teach only so many students … The problem appeared insoluble until 2004, when Salman Khan began tutoring his cousin, Nadia, in math over the Internet….Nadia prospered and soon other relatives and friends sought Khan’s help. So he decided to pre-record tutorials and distribute them on YouTube...The videos turned into a viral hit and attracted enough financial support from donors to let Khan leave the hedge fund. One of his supporters, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, said “It was a good day his wife let him quit his job.” … Today, the Khan Academy has an online library of more than 4,300 videos on elementary and secondary math as well as computer science, biology and other topics...”
Stories. ICF’s Co-Founders recently wrote a book called Brain Gain which is all about stories like the one about “The Day Salman Khan Quit His Job”. That is one of the things that differentiates this book, third in a series by Robert Bell, John G. Jung & Louis Zacharilla from any traditional book on economic development, strategic planning and community development in our cities. Brain Gain explores the most important issues facing cities today - how to attract and retain talented people and secure and retain investment that creates and sustains jobs for the citizens of these cities. By citing stories, Brain Gain becomes an effective teaching tool illustrating Intelligent Communities’ successful relationships and results that might not have been recognized before in concepts or professional presentations. These stories become memorable insights in the way in which communities solved their problems and hopefully inspire others. These stories will also be covered in our next Annual Summit to be held in Toronto in 2015 from June 8 – 12. Come to see and hear the stories….
At the Summit we will tell stories about how urban and regional planning in our communities impacts the way people live, work and create in their cities and towns. For instance, on June 8 join the delegation on a site visit to the Waterloo Region, just an hour west of Toronto to hear the story of how this community has been able to weather the storm of Blackberry’s meteoritic decline, only to breathe life into a whole spectrum of new and innovative companies that are thriving in this region, often considered to be Canada’s “Silicon Valley North”, or as the community now prefers to refer to itself as “Quantum Valley” – another amazing story that you will learn about when you visit the Waterloo Region on June 8.
On June 9, learn about the business and economic development opportunities of the delegates attending the Summit in Toronto by participating in a business mash-up, match-making and speed dating session. Every story may be an opportunity that you do not want to miss. Over the next two days learn about how Mayors can save the world, if they were to rule it (no kidding!); hear stories about what is happening in China and India with audacious goals of creating hundreds of smart cities in their countries; and how rural communities are looking at ways to create sustainable communities and level the playing field with their urban cousins through better rural and regional planning and development.
On June 10, hear stories through the Urban and Rural Master Classes about how today’s disruptions in technology, the economy and the environment will only grow more intense and how Intelligent Communities are preparing to leverage the opportunities based on these conditions. Stories will also abound about how the continuing broadband revolution will impact the physical form of Intelligent Communities, the delivery of services in them and the resulting competitive advantages of these communities. Be amazed at the story of how the planning of land-use and infrastructure, sustainability and community development is being done today in new and revolutionary ways – in essence, how it is reinventing what it means to plan.
On June 11, each of the Top 7 Intelligent Communities will tell their own stories about how they became Intelligent Communities and what differentiates them, but also what their planning and development processes are doing to create the best cities and rural areas possible. One of these Top 7 Intelligent Communities will be crowned the Intelligent Community of the Year.
The next day at the IDEAS Day on June 12, come and be amazed at the applications, new technologies and ideas that are changing the world today and in the near future. Each idea is a new story and could be the next biggest thing or newest application – you will be able to say that you heard the story first at the 2015 ICF Summit in Toronto.
We all know that change is inevitable and that massive disruptive forces of technology are underway. What the ICF Summit, like the book Brain Gain, does is to put these concepts into context and builds on the positive narratives of citizens, leaders and change agents in communities as diverse as Columbus, Toronto and Taipei, homes to large populations exceeding millions of people as well as smaller communities such as Stratford, Pirai and Mitchell, South Dakota, homes to merely thousands of people. These centers, both large and small, have benefitted from the application of connectivity and IT to give their businesses, many of whom are SME’s, a global competitive edge resulting in significant new employment for each of them.
Just as Brain Gain tells compelling stories and provides unique insights about broadband –based cities, towns and villages, the ICF Summit in June will inspire delegates with new ideas and a renewed sense of confidence to go back to their cities to create the best cities and regions possible. Be part of it – register on the new ICF 2015 Summit website: www.icfsummit2015.com.
|Monday, December 22, 2014|
|Does Government Really Know Anything About Innovation?|
On January 22, ICF will name its Top7 Intelligent Communities of the Year, shrinking the list of the Smart21 down to the finalists for Intelligent Community of the Year. We will be honoring local and regional governments that have – among other things – boosted the innovation rate of their economies. That makes this a good time to ask a fundamental question.
What in the world does government know about innovation?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. That little thing called the Internet was a government invention. But the most important thing successful governments know is a bit of wisdom first expressed in ancient Rome. Nosce te ipsum, the Romans said: “know thyself.”
There has been a lot of research done lately about incubators, government innovation offices and efforts to turn local economies into innovation ecosystems. An institute at the University of Michigan studied 100 American incubators. The most successful were nonprofits that drew in part on public support, which on average contributed 40% of total funding. “It takes a diverse income stream to become self-sustaining,” noted one of the report’s authors, “and government funding is one component.”
A study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation looked into the startup ecosystem of St. Louis, Missouri, USA. What it found was that the most important factors contributing to success were connecting entrepreneurs to each other and connecting them to support organizations capable of constantly adjusting to evolving needs.
A study from the IBM Center for The Business of Government set out seven principles for making government innovation offices work. Four of seven were about ensuring clear and effective communication among public and private-sector players. Three were about putting real leaders in place, giving them adequate resources and making them responsible for outcomes. Only one of the seven was about prescribing an innovation process, with lots of charts and diagrams showing how businesses move from idea to profitability.
Do you see a pattern here? Intelligent Communities win at the innovation race when they bring together innovators and focus on connecting them to each other and the institutional and government players who can help them. They make reasonable and consistent commitments of money, and put in place experienced and qualified leaders accountable for results. Like smart investors, they bet on people and ideas, judge progress against milestones, and decide whether or not to invest more in the future.
What they do not do is try to drive the car from the back seat. Intelligent Communities win at innovation when they respect just how little they really understand it. It is just as true today as it was in ancient Rome: knowing yourself is where wisdom begins.
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