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Monday, July 20, 2015
Where’s The City? Where’s The Country?


I’ve written in the May 2014 issue of Urban China magazine and here before about the various ways that life in urban and rural areas is converging.

But when it comes to the economy, especially growing global trade, we often hear of great distinctions between city and countryside.  Indeed, it is often assumed that most of any country’s economy can be attributed to its cities and public policy follows that assumption.  

David Brunnen is Managing Editor of Groupe Intellex and Partner of NextGen in the UK. He has had a long and distinguished career as a leader in technology and public policy.

He has been doing some interesting research and concluded that this urban-rural divide is not as great as myth would have it.  This culminated in a report in May 2015 with the intriguing title, “Global Trade Development outwith the Metros: not beyond belief”.  He also provided something of an executive summary on his blog.

He observed that:

“Conventional wisdom says that the pursuit of global growth is surely what has led to the success of major cities…

“The notion of growth in international trade from enterprises rooted in our countryside and less-regarded towns may, at first glance, seem unlikely.   Scratch the stats however and beneath the glossy megacity headlines you can sniff the fragrance of a less-urban, more rural, renaissance.”

Brunnen points out that part of the myth about the role of cities is a very generous definition of what is a city.  As an example, Brunnen cites the work, ending last year, of the RSA City Growth Commission of the UK, whose aim was to “enable England’s major cities to drive growth”.  

“Some of these encompass far more places than are recognized by any governmental and administrative boundaries. The South Hampshire Metro area includes two cities (Southampton and Portsmouth) and the entire semi-rural conurbations on both sides of the linking M27 motorway. Their London Metro area extends west well into Hampshire, south to include Gatwick airport, east to include places on both sides of the Thames estuary and north to include Luton airport beyond Bedford.  In the debate about building airport capacity for London, it’s a wonder that Birmingham in the West Midlands is not a candidate.”

This is one newspaper’s view of the London Metro area five years ago.

Brunnen goes on to note:

“Not surprisingly, with these broad definitions of their City Regions, the RSA City Growth Commission suggest that Metros contribute 61% of UK economic growth.  Ask ordinary people whether or not they live in a major city and the map would be very different – in fact it would be perfectly possible to conclude that economic growth is far more evenly spread with only around 50% of growth generated within those megacity places that demand such intensive management.”

But this is not just a story about England.  There are similar situations in many other countries, including the US. 

A few years ago, Wendell Cox of Demographia, an international public policy firm, wrote “America is More Small Town than We Think”. He starts with the statement we’ve often heard:

“America has become an overwhelmingly metropolitan nation. According to the 2000 census, more than 80 percent of the nation’s population resided in one of the 350 combined metropolitan statistical areas.”

According to the census, the figure was 79.0% in 2000 and is now 80.7%.  Moreover, the official definition of urban is not limited to obvious big cities like New York City.  Some of that urban population lives in what the Census Bureau calls urban clusters, whose population is between 2,500 and 50,000.

Focusing more on governance, Cox’s argument nevertheless parallels what Brunnen has written more recently about international trade.

“America is more “small town” than we often think, particularly in how we govern ourselves. In 2000, slightly more than one-half of the nation’s population lived in jurisdictions — cities, towns, boroughs, villages and townships — with fewer than 25,000 people or in rural areas. Planners and geographers might see regions as mega-units, but in fact, they are usually composed of many small towns and a far smaller number of larger cities. Indeed, among the metropolitan areas with more than one million residents in 2000, the average sized city, town, borough, village or township had a population of little more than 20,000.”

The 2012 survey by the Census found more or less the same results.  If anything there were more governments.  Many metropolitan areas are more networks of small towns than one master urban jurisdiction.

Brunnen goes on to explain why those outside the big cities are able to participate so vigorously in global trade.

“Digital transformation is enabling business to thrive in places where employees like to live – in places where they can afford to live – in places where they can appreciate the value of community – in places where they feel more at home.

“Dig deeper still into life beyond Metros and you’ll find a diverse and complex fabric of connections and capabilities – with very different channels and enablers for international trade.

“These less-regarded places are familiar with making do without much, if any, external intervention (or interference) from their national or regional governments. ‘Just Do It’ … This inbred capacity for action plus our newfound ability to network ideas and contacts without the hassle of travel points towards a greater levelling up of opportunity.”

That story has often been drowned out by reports of resurgent cities and ever declining rural areas.  The big city governments of the world have drawn most of the attention from big corporations and governments — perhaps it is easier to sell to or deal with very big municipal organizations?

I’d suggest reading the rest of his report, for the policies — which are both innovative and pragmatic —that he proposes to encourage economic growth.   

The bottom line of all this: the sharp dividing lines between rural and urban are not really all that sharp.  That calls for a better balance across geographic areas.  A nation’s strategy for its economic future, its infrastructure investments, broadband and technology needs to reflect the real distribution of the population and the potential of all areas to contribute to growth.

Thursday, July 9, 2015
Transient, Imperfect & Ownerless


Around this time of year a lot of cities and communities have started to worry that their nomination for our 2016 Awards program might not be “perfect.”  I have an answer for that: if anyone has a perfect city, please send your submission to us right now so that we can name you The Intelligent Community of Forever.  While it is not impossible that your place is perfect, I say that this is highly improbable.  So relax.  This year we have revised the form so that it should be easier for first-time communities to send along their submissions and we expect them ALL to be works-in-progress.  After all, as we say, a community is a creative canvas not a fixed stone. 

So do not let your quest of perfection get in the way of your opportunity to become one of the world’s 21 Intelligent Communities this October.  Not even perfection is perfect.  I stumbled across a report from Taiwan’s online China Daily News which reported that His Holiness the Dali Lama said the he plans to “easily” live another 20 years.  I thought, “Yes, that is good to plan.”  I cannot think of another leader in the world whose life over the next two decades would add more value or joy to millions than the Dali Lama.  Good for him and I sincerely wish him well with his plan.

However, the Dali Lama knows better than all of us that life is only predictable when it is not busy being unpredictable.  Buddhists have a notion which is meant to give us comfort and determination when our plans do not fully materialize.  The notion an observation and a simple fact of life: it is that our communities and anything that we trust to be permanent are, materially and for all time, “transient, imperfect and ownerless.”  That is a bedrock teaching of Buddhism, no matter who is teaching it or where it is being taught.  Although we try to be perfect, the fact is that if we get this notion clear in our heads we will feel less bad about not being able to figure it all out and we can be revolutionary and daring in our planning.  So while planning is good, relaxing with the fact that the anticipated outcome of most plans will surprise you, is at the heart of the ICF Awards process and the nomination.  The best collaborations are ownerless.  Some communities learn this as they move up the ranks of Intelligent Communities.  No one thought little Mitchell, South Dakota (USA) would reach the Top7 list last year and come within a few points of becoming Intelligent Community of the Year.  In 2010, Suwon, South Korea had a 3-5 year plan which, they hoped, would move them from Smart21, to Top7 and then, in the fourth of fifth year, into the top slot.  They were fooled.  They were named #1 on their first try.  You simply never know how good you are until you throw your hat into the ring and bring other stakeholders into the ring with you. 

They call religion a “practice” because, if you are like me, you never get it right.  I believe this is a perfect analogy for Intelligent Communities.  The great ones, like Toronto and Columbus and Eindhoven are always in the midst of process improvement.  They are always practicing for the big game to come.  Those many, many communities who resubmit each year reveal to us and our analysts that they have made great strides and, we are told, have used the ICF process to gain a foothold on whatever their version of “enlightenment” may be.  When you try and try with great determination, there is always success.  When you fail, you have learned.  So failure is not an option, it is embedded in our search for a permanent success.  So let that go.  What are you waiting for?  Start the journey and have fun as you transform your hometown, county or city.  That is the ICF Way.

As you complete the Smart21 nomination forms, do not think about competing against 400 other cities, towns or regions.  Consider the next 20 years and how expansive your Intelligent Community will be simply because you were imperfect in 2016.

Monday, June 29, 2015
Oh No…Not Another Blog About the 2015 ICF Summit…


This year’s Summit in Toronto was different and perhaps needs to be recounted. First of all, it was produced by an entirely new entity, ICF Canada, in partnership with Waterfront Toronto, City of Toronto, Invest Toronto and the Summit’s Platinum Sponsors, IBM and Cisco. We also had an anniversary - the 20th Anniversary Edition!  We had our best-ever event this year since 1995 when we held SMART95 in Toronto – the world’s first ever Smart City conference. So it was no surprize to us that 20 years later we held a phenomenal SOLD OUT event once again that covered 5 days from June 8-12. Here are the Top 21 highlights of the past week:

  1. Columbus, Ohio was selected as the 2015 Intelligent Community of the Year at a fabulous Awards Dinner on June 11 – Congratulations Columbus!  Now everyone will really know what it means to say O-H (…I-O);
  2. Former Taichung Mayor Jason Hu’s speech as ICF’s 2015 Visionary of the Year was truly inspiring and filled with humor, passion and enlightenment;
  3. We were honoured by the Governor General of Canada’s Keynote Address on Smart and Intelligent Communities. He provided the international audience with a perspective that was both a reflection of his time as a former University President and as a respected global thought leader;
  4. The all-day tour of the Intelligent Community of Waterloo (2007) included visits to Conestoga College, University of Waterloo’s Quantum Nanotechnology Centre, the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), Perimeter Institute and its Stephen Hawking Centre as well as the Communitech Hub;
  5. The all-day tour of the Intelligent Community of Toronto (2014) included the innovation ecosystems of Ryerson, Sheridan College, University of Toronto and OCADU- The University of the Imagination;
  6. IDEAS Day – an inaugural event intended to become an annual event - this year sponsored by IBM with 25 exceptional speakers from around the world shared amazing Big IDEAs among its global attendees;
  7. 5 days of tours, business matchmaking, receptions, dinners, performances, networking and one-on-one introductions;
  8. 105 impressive speakers and exhilarating presentations, including Co-Founder Robert Bell’s Urban Master Class speakers and ICF Fellow Norm Jacknis’ Rural Master Class;
  9. ICFF’s Board meeting and inaugural launch of ICF Canada along with new committees to explore its mandate, governance and sustainability;
  10. The second annual economic development and business matchmaking session with 34 tables was another success.
  11. ICF’s Welcome Reception was also the inaugural event at Cisco’s new downtown Hub in Toronto;
  12. ICF Co-Founder Lou Zacharilla orchestrated a highly energized Top 7 Intelligent Community Reception and “Pep Rally” with  New Taipei City Far Eastern Group’s Lan Yuh giving a most memorable speech that evening;
  13. The Opening Panel of the ICF Summit included Toronto Planning Commissioner Jennifer Keesmaat and Eindhoven Mayor van Gijzel, on the controversial topic: “If Planners Ruled the World”;
  14. ICF’s International Jury luncheon focused on the 2015 selection process and ways to make it better;
  15. Implementing its digital inclusion philosophy, ICF Canada presented Toronto’s Yonge Street Mission with 100  brand new 7” Ashtok Tablets at the June 11 Awards Dinner made by Datawind, a sponsor of the ICF Summit and whose CEO was the 2014 ICF Visionary of the Year;
  16. Delegations came from Columbus, Cleveland, Mitchell, New Taipei City, and Ipswich;
  17. The Waterloo-Eindhoven and the Arlington-Dublin Intelligent Community connections were showcased during the opening panels;
  18. Technicity Talks were inaugurated at the June 11 Top 7 Intelligent Community Interviews
  19. Toronto’s Waterfront, MaRS Discovery District, University of Toronto’s Isabel Bader Theatre and the Arcadian Court were showcased throughout the week;
  20. The staging and lighting of this year’s events were superb; and
  21. This year was the largest audience to an ICF Summit event since 1995 including representation from many of the global Intelligent Communities of the Year.   

We heard from some delegates that this was one of the most friendly and informative conference they had ever attended. We even received the following comments from Crissie Cochrane (www.crissicochrane.com), our Top 7 Reception entertainer this year:

“This past Wednesday, I had the pleasure of singing at the ICF Summit Reception in Toronto's MaRS Discovery District. As an artist, it is a thrill to watch cities be distinguished and inspiring to revel in their success stories. Living in Windsor Ontario, I've seen the excitement firsthand when Windsor-Essex was recognized in the Top 7 in 2011. It's an opportunity to tell our stories on the world stage and celebrate each other's achievements with pride. This power to create positive change is this very thing that compels me to write and share my music. And so there is something very special about this gathering of people from around the world. The spirit of shared experience was as real and warming as wine and I was witness to a brilliant synergy: a room of world travelers, each on a journey towards a brighter tomorrow. It cheers me to think of all the inspiration that has been taken home. My sincerest congratulations to this year's Intelligent Communities!”     

Thursday, June 25, 2015
Could We Have 100 of Those for Shipment to Washington?

The ICF Summit in Toronto (www.icfsummit2015.com) had a lot of moments I will long remember.  

clientuploads/Images/Bell-Blog-Reboot-Comm-2.jpgOnstage discussions among ICF mayors, city managers and IT directors about how they are collaborating with each other across borders to build their economies. 

Visionary of the Year (2014) Suneet Singh Tuli committing to provide a Toronto-based charity with hundreds of his low-cost Datawind tablets for low-income kids. 

This year’s Visionary, Dr. Jason Hu (former Mayor of Taichung, Taiwan) delivering a keynote that had us rolling in the aisles.

The roar of excitement when Columbus, Ohio, USA was named Intelligent Community of the Year.

Topping the list, however, was the speech given by the Governor General of Canada, David Johnston.  Before he became Canada’s head of state, he was the president of the University of Waterloo and a leader of that city’s successful 2007 bid to become Intelligent Community of the Year.   In other words, he knows his stuff.  From his immense reserves of knowledge, he spoke of history, community and conscience.  

His theme was the “chemistry” of Intelligent Communities, and he gave vivid examples of the power of leadership, collaboration and innovation in driving progress.   If you ever get the privilege, ask him to relate the story of how John, Marty and Fred collaborated to create the knowledge economy we live in today.  It’s worth hearing – and you can get a sneak preview in this transcript of his remarks

At the coffee break after he left the stage and the Summit, there was no end of praise for the speech and the man.  And I couldn’t resist saying that, if Canada happens to have a 100 more of that particular political leader standing by somewhere, the US Congress would benefit from an emergency airlift.  

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.) 

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