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Tuesday, May 27, 2014
A World That Works Better is a Great Start (But Donít Stop There!)

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How many times have you been elated when the lights of a busy boulevard were actually in sync, guiding you from one side of the city to the other in record time? Or how about the first time you were able to enter your home from the outdoor heat and humidity and it was refreshingly cool, just as you set it from your office on your smartphone before heading home? As a municipal asset manager, your analytics of the utility system saved the city millions of dollars and the use of solar and wind turbines have put you on the road to a sustainable future. Simply put, as a smart city, things work better. Smart cities create efficiencies, but also confidence and reputational capital as a city that delivers. That is great news for the city’s economic development chief. He is taking his city’s competitive advantages on the road and promoting his city as unique and differentiated from other competitors.

And why not? Investors are looking for safe havens for their investments; and if these places can also demonstrate that they are efficient and productive communities, being effective with its limited resources and managing its assets in the best ways possible, it will be attractive to them. Talented individuals are also looking at investing themselves into cities that are effective. But beware, they are not only focused on infrastructure; investors and talent are both looking for cities that have an innovation ecosystem, good governance and links to universities. Attracting them is one thing. Retaining them is quite another. That is where the notion of “things to do” comes into play. Providing opportunities to express one’s creativity; sharing in diverse cultures and celebrating the sense of place are things that will help to retain them. After family influences and the opportunity for meaningful employment, cultural pursuits are the key component in the attraction and retention of investors and talent in any community.

Over the last few months, ICF’s co-founders have traveled to the Top7 Intelligent Communities: namely to Arlington, Virginia (USA); Columbus, Ohio (USA); Kingston, Ontario (Canada); Hsinchu (Taiwan); New Taipei City (Taiwan); Toronto, Ontario (Canada); and Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada). In each of these visits, ICF’s co-founders reviewed the communities from the perspective of evaluating them in relation to ICF’s Intelligent Community criteria as well as validating each city’s claims in their applications. Every year, ICF includes a new theme – this year on the topic of culture. Community as Canvas, ICF’s theme for 2014, speaks to the culture of the community from three perspectives: culture as art; culture as heritage and culture as attitude. I had the privilege of visiting Columbus and Winnipeg. In both cases, these communities are well endowed with high speed broadband and have undertaken traffic and environmental monitoring as well as demonstrated municipal asset management capabilities that would suggest they are clearly “smart cities”. But the visit focused less on the infrastructure aspects of these communities; rather we focused on quality of life matters – education, digital inclusion, innovation, governance and the creation of sustainable and innovative ecosystems. My hosts also aimed to demonstrate their capacities and capabilities in the area of culture. This is where it gets interesting. Many of the communities in this year’s Top 7 will be sending examples of their cultural uniqueness to the ICF Summit (June 3-5, 2014) in New York City. For example, Hsinchu’s Mayor, Hsu Ming-Tsai, will demonstrate his skills in the traditional art of Chinese calligraphy. New Taipei City will demonstrate the art of sky lanterns, a major part of the cultural fabric of Taiwan and named one of the 52 things to do in 2013 by CNN Travel and one of the 14 must-attend festivals in the world by Fodor’s Travel.

                               
         

Photo by Hsinchu
Municipal Government

  Photo by Taiwantimes   Photo by Voitek Pendak

 

 

 

 




Kingston’s cultural experiment will bring together culture and technology through social media at the Summit. Toronto will demonstrate its vibrant multi-culturalism through a special jazz concert collaboration by the Sultans of String and an electric sitar artist, famous for his involvement in the Oscar-winning film, The Life of Pi. Together, they represent the multicultural richness of life in Canada’s biggest metropolis, where over 140 languages and dialects are spoken and more than 50% of the population was born outside Canada. And Columbus will demonstrate its “makerspace” capabilities through a presentation at the Summit by the CEO of the Columbus Idea Foundry (pictured right). Even the Keynote by Ryan Holladay, will explore location-based music compositions using smartphones for which WIRED dubbed him and his brother "pioneers." These cultural applications are a reflection of the quality of life that civic efficiencies alone will never substitute. Together, these communities create environments where people live better. Smart cities demonstrate how to make communities more efficient; Intelligent Communities go further to demonstrate an overall better quality of life.

 
Monday, May 19, 2014
The Middle of Nowhere is No More

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By now you have met or heard about our 2014 Visionary of the Year, Suneet Singh Tuli.  You may have heard about him before from sources such as Forbes Magazine, or the dozens of other awards and media coverage of him and his company, Datawind.  Suneet has not been shy about promoting his vision to bring “the other three billion” across the digital divide.  The world has not been shy about embracing him.  We are going to be like the world on June 5, as he addresses our Awards Dinner.  

Suneet is our Visionary of the Year because like those before him his work is ensuring that “The Middle of Nowhere,” as people sadly and too often call their hometown or region, becomes Somewhere.  And Somewhere Big and Somewhere in a Hurry.   Suneet’s Aakash II/UbiSlat tablet, the world’s cheapest computer currently in mass production, is designed to make real the promise of eliminating The Middle of Nowhere.  To do it, though, Intelligent Communities must continue to rise up.

clientuploads/Images/Suneet-Singh-Tuli-and-his-Ashtak-Tablet.pngSuneet has been working to justify three simple claims that I make everywhere that I go.  The first is that the potential to live anywhere you wish, no matter where that place is, has finally become within the realm of the possible.  Once there, and with the right level of connectivity, you can then participate in the global economy.  This is the “Broadband Economy” that we often speak about.  These two possibilities are the real game-changers for the rural sectors, small towns and cities which struggle to enter the new century.  

Certainly for the parts of India where Suneet is having his first wave of success, the claim is not only a “game-changer,” but a life-saver.  It is a matter of survival because the real key to survival for the three billion people for whom he has devised the killer device is education.  And right now, education in India, with the exception of the over-hyped tech meccas like New Delhi, is literally a joke.  If you don’t believe me Google, “India Teacher Funny” and cry your heart out.  

Like national governments, the global educational infrastructure is dysfunctional at best.  IT is the Middle of Nowhere.  And most national governments seem clueless mainly because they look for a single solution when a billion solutions must be tried.  Evidence this by looking at Ireland, where the political demand for austerity resulted in an E85 million propping-up of its sour banks, while communities were forced to undergo humiliating cuts to healthcare and education.  As you would expect, educated, talented Irish people, like their peers in India, said simply, “Government funny,” and moved away.  Does it suggest that national governments are unable to solve the very complex problems that local leaders and entrepreneurs like Suneet Singh seem able and keen to tackle?  As they do, they enable the third claim I make, which is that the size of a community no longer matters.  The size of their ideas, the new source of economic energy however, counts plenty.

As Suneet so poignantly noted in his address at the ICF Institute in October, his device immediately localizes education by bringing the world to the browsers.  His strategy for India (and anywhere else) is simple: “To end mediocrity in education by accessing the Internet.”  If you watch the video from his address, you will see a slide that will pummel you if you live far from a city.  It reinforces what you may already believe, which is that the further away you are, the greater the deterioration in the quality of your education and in the quality of your teacher.  This is the sad case in India.  It has little to do with parental aspiration or the reliably disappointing lack of performance by national leaders.  It has everything to do with lack of access, lousy roads and crime which makes it intolerable for a good teacher who wants to stay home to teach, to do so.  

clientuploads/Images/largeandsmall.jpg“No one wants this kind of education.  But that’s what they have to accept,” Suneet said.  Yet he is optimistic because he has seen the light and it is as simple as a hole in the wall.  Professor Sugata Mitra’s famous Hole in the Wall Experiments in India demonstrated that children taking a standard math test in New Delhi would score on average 68%.  The further he tested students who lived furthest from the city, however, the worse the performance.  The quality of education deteriorated in direct proportion from its distance to the city.  At 250 kilometers outside of New Delhi, the same test generated results in the low teens.  70% of the people of India live in places where there are no paved roads, which means the government has paved its own way to ignorance.  

The professor than proved Suneet’s proposition.  His office was near a slum.  Just outside his office was a wall that separated it from his air-conditioned office. Mitra put a high-speed computer in the wall, connected it to the Internet, and watched to see who might use it. To his delight, curious children were immediately attracted to the new device. When they asked if they could touch it, Mitra said, "It is on your side of the wall.  The rules say whatever is on your side, you can touch.”  And touch it they did.

Within minutes, children figured out how to point and click. By the end of the day they were browsing. The children quickly taught themselves the rudiments of computer literacy.

One boy, Rajinder is a much better student as a result.  Said his teacher, “He has become bold and expressive. I've got great hopes for this child." When asked to define the Internet, the kid replied, “It is that with which you can do anything."

You might even become Suneet Singh, and produce a device that takes that hole in the wall and multiplies by millions.  Our Visionary of the Year has the cred.  He has taken companies public on the NASDAQ Exchange and has fought the predictable battles with bankers, who play by rules as ruthlessly unmerciful to someone with a mission for social good as any you can imagine.  He has no government fiat in his fists but he has the knowledge, the money, the energy and the organization to take our fourth criteria (Digital Inclusion) and to make it more than aspirational.  It needs to be more than aspirational in places like India, where only one in three women can read.  You can several of your own rural communities to this list as well, I bet.

So for taking a big step toward making “The Middle of Nowhere” No More, we welcome Suneet to our family of Intelligent Community Visionaries.  I hope that you are able to come to hear him speak on the night of June 5th in New York.

For more information on the ICF Summit, visit www.icfsummit.com.

 
Monday, May 5, 2014
How One Man Set Out to Build a Creative Economy Ė and Did

Twenty years ago, the Walla Walla High School hired a consultant named Dennis DeBroeck to install computers and a network in the school.  They wound up hiring him full-time – not to manage IT but to teach it in vocational education classes for students who were not expected to go to university.

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When he started his first class, there were no computers for the students to work with.  But Dennis had built his own small businesses, so he did not wait for the bureaucracy to deliver but borrowed, built and scrounged to provide.  He started with a course in basic computer science but soon grew dissatisfied with teaching theory to young people who needed and wanted to get elbow deep into something they could care about.    

Computer science soon evolved into hands-on digital media: modeling of objects, animals and people in three dimensions, texturizing the models to make them realistic, animating them and building simulations and games around them.  He negotiated cheap licensing deals with the major providers of digital animation and game software and kept expanding his offerings.   He built his own network, because the school’s could not possibly support his students’ needs, and assembled terabytes of server storage.  

clientuploads/Images/Dennis DeBroeck Walla Walla HS Apr 2014.jpgToday, Mr. DeBroeck teaches an exhausting schedule of one-hour classes for a total of 148 students.  His technology budget - $500 last year – has shrunk to zero.  But he has the air of a happy man.  His students work hard, with more experienced students helping others over the hurdles.   You can raise your hand to ask Mr. DeBroeck a question, but his standard answer is to tell you to check the online manuals and figure it out.  Some kids struggle more than others, but they all learn the lesson most fundamental to success: in the end, you are your own best teacher.  

His method appears to work.  His past graduates work in senior positions through the entertainment industry, and his more recent grads are leaving town for media arts programs at prestigious universities, arriving there with many times the hard-core production experience of most incoming freshmen.  

Walla Walla, a 2014 Smart21 Community of 30,000 people in the southeast corner of Washington State, is now trying to figure out how to forge a creative economy that can generate local opportunities for all this talent.  ICF is helping with strategy and capacity-building through our Community Accelerator program.  A development economist named Chris Mefford is creating a business plan for an incubator to help young people from DeBroeck’s program and the city’s award-winning community college to start and grow their own businesses.  Broadband providers are collaborating on strengthening the digital infrastructure of the town.  The Chamber of Commerce is working to interest a digital entertainment company to locate a studio in the city, where an outstanding quality of life is a major benefit.  

It is still early days – but they are doing all the things it takes to build a digital economy on top of their successful agricultural one.  I believe in patterns.  The patterns I see in Walla Walla are those of an Intelligent Community getting ready for take-off.  

They also have one more thing going for them.  They have Mr. DeBroeck.

clientuploads/Images/DeBroeck Card Apr 2014.jpgHe teaches technology, sure.  Many of his students are the kids that nobody expects to finish high school.  Whatever their talents and potential, they learn something far more important from him than digital media.  It is printed right on a sticker that he hands out to every new student.  “Do right,” it says.  “do your best” and “show people you care.” 

 
Monday, April 28, 2014
Broadband and the Human Factor

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Since 1999 I have been working for the Intelligent Community movement to pass the point of asking whether broadband is “important” and turn to a more holistic discussion about what has always been, for me, the most interesting aspect of my work.  That is, to use the tools of the “Broadband Economy” to unleash a revived global economy.  I believe this is only done through a re-energized community, which is the only place where enough innovation can take place for a real transformation to begin.  That is ICF’s proposition.  To use broadband seamlessly, without the techno babble, and to organize communities in ways that make them canvases for economic and social innovations.  

clientuploads/Images/Culture-Theme-Art-Web500.jpgAs I completed my Top7 site visits this Spring, done in a year when our theme was “Community as Canvas,” I realized that the longed-for threshold is being crossed.  What I found consistently among the Top7 that I visited, despite vast differences in economic might, politics and scale, was that broadband is viewed as a vital tool for connecting culture to the economy, and for allowing ambitious social and economic goals to be pursued.  In the case of Kingston, Canada, for example it has the ambition to become Canada’s Most Sustainable City.  Only a broadband network will provide the type of infrastructure to unleash its growing incubation and commercialization of applied sciences in the area of GreenTech.

For the vast majority of our Intelligent Communities, especially the Top7 who have been invited to New York in June, a “broadband and the light switch analogy” apply.  While the linear-minded marvel over technology and its devices for their own sake, the poetry is in what they enable.  A geek drools over a device or an assurance that “you will have a fast broadband connection.”  But  isn’t that like marveling over the way the lights come on in a room when the wall switch is flicked?  While it is marvelous, and should be appreciated, no one spends a hell of a lot time discussing electricity.  What is more important is what happens under those lights in that room.  Kingston has a goal and broadband is the train they ride to get there, not the destination itself.

The light has gone on for the Top7, who are using broadband to reach higher goals, many of them with an eye toward the future.  They take a page from Google CEO Larry Page who, when asked what most companies get wrong replied, “The future.  They do not look at it often enough.” 

clientuploads/Images/ArlingtonCityscape.pngSome of the goals of the Top7 that continue to interest me the most are those which reinforce culture and universal values, and push them at the future.  Culture is increasingly aligned with economic output.  In Arlington, Virginia, Cultural Affairs has been moved from Parks and Recreation to the Economic Development Department, where there is an ongoing mashing, all of it policy-based, to link entrepreneurship to art and culture.  Arlington has among its creative and commercial arts community a wonderful little customized sound design company called Human Factor.  Among its “hits” were its production of the sound design and effects for the (USA’s) History Channel television series, “The Bible.”  It is a fun company with a serious name that I am going to use when I describe why we need to get past broadband and more deeply into our other criteria.

 
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
You are Invited!

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Business and Investment Match-Making at ICF Summit 2014

When: June 3, 2014 (12:00 Noon)
Where: Canadian Consulate – 1251 Avenue of the Americas, New York

When you attend this year’s ICF Summit in New York City, there will be a new opportunity for delegates to meet each other on June 3. The concept is well known to economic developers – business and investment matchmaking among delegates at a conference to explore mutually beneficial business opportunities. For this inaugural gathering we are inviting the Top7 Intelligent Communities to share their investment and business opportunities with each other and with other delegates at this gathering. We will be inviting the Top7 Mayors, CIOs, CAOs and Economic Development Officials, but we are also inviting their local businesses, service providers and institutions to attend and participate in the match-making sessions. This will in fact be the first activity of the Summit for the delegates – a great ice-breaker for everyone.

The match-making sessions are designed to be brief 20 minute meetings; six altogether over a two hour segment before the Annual General Meeting of the Intelligent Community Forum Foundation. There will be an opportunity to schedule a meeting and it will be posted electronically after each delegate has registered. After each 20 minute session, the tables will be alerted to shift their meetings. Some call this business “speed-dating”. Whatever it is, there will certainly be a pile of business cards exchanged and the start to one heck of a Summit.

Why meet with these 7 cities? They are among the best of the breed of Intelligent Communities from around the world for 2014. Learn about the business and investment opportunities in each Intelligent Community; what incentives are there to locate a business or to partner with local businesses? Are the costs of power advantageous? What are the labor costs and how do they compare? What shovel-ready sites are available? Are there companies in these communities with which you can partner? Are there start-ups that are looking for exit strategies? M&A anyone? Are there companies in these Top7 Intelligent Communities that are looking to export and expand into other regions? Why not into yours? If you don’t ask, you won’t get is the old adage; similarly if you don’t attend, you will miss out on these obvious opportunities. 

In addition to the tables offered first for the Top7 Cities, we will have additional tables available for our sponsors to take advantage of. These will be available on a first come first served basis. Once fully subscribed we will only be able to accept a limited number of delegates to meet due to the size of the venue in New York City that is available to us. So, I recommend that you register and reserve your meeting times with the Top7 Intelligent Communities, their business partners and ICF’s sponsors. Lunch will be served courtesy of the Canadian Consulate. 

For more information, or to register your table, please contact me at ICF: jjung@intelligentcommunity.org

 
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