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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.

clientuploads/Images/Bell-Blog-Reboot-Comm-2.jpgEvery 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”

clientuploads/Images/Zach-NameCaption-2013-140.gifOver 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…. 

Summit15At 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. 

Monday, December 15, 2014
The Part that is Broken is the Part You Plan For (Part 2)


In a frenzied 96 month period during the 1920’s, a new building began to rise into the New York City sky every 51 minutes.  Many of these buildings were organized around a street grid on the island of Manhattan, which, for the purpose of managing the future flows of the city, is famously considered one of the most important ideas in urban planning history.  This level of planning, like the City’s Subway system, was far-sighted and served as the great city’s unwritten “100 Year Plan.” 

Before spending three hours speaking to a large group from China’s Ministry of Industry & IT today, I was told by ICF’s Senior Fellow, Dr. Norm Jacknis, that 49% of the construction cranes in the world are swooning away inside their country in an attempt to accommodate a migration that will rival any of the great immigration flows that New York City experienced, even at its headiest, most rambunctious moment.  These IT Ministry folks, however, have another challenge of which they are deeply aware.  It is the burden of needing to cater not only to a great social engineering heave that will throw 250 million people into cities old and new, but of also needing to build for them an enabling digital platform to include e-government systems and the type of infrastructure that will allow these inagrants, as I call them, to thrive in the Broadband Economy.  They know that Intelligent Communities, or “wisdom cities,” as they call them, are not made of bricks and mortar alone.

I think that this can be a colossal mess and ultimately a security problem the likes of which no one has predicted or seen.  I raised this point with them.  They rather openly but carefully noted that this was not an “enforced” march, but rather a program of incentives for people seeking a better life.  I suppose some of this is true.  We know from economists that it is also designed to stimulate more internal consumption, which Chinese culture has a bias against.  I suggested that, as telecommunications experts, they know that “the middle of nowhere is no more.”  Wouldn't this be a good incentive to try to manage people in their places of birth or choice and simply drive the economy to them?  They admitted that it was possible.  We left with each others’ ideas in mind.

I have never been a big booster of the Chinese miracle, as most know, mainly because of a concern with the political system.  But ICF is not about national politics, but rather people who live in their cities, towns and villages and seek the greater good.  I was slightly encouraged by what I heard from the group yesterday mainly for a reason that rests, as perceptions often do, on the off-hand remarks by one person.

During my informal and quite frank Q&A session, one of the people who had been among the most intensely curious about the ICF Indicators and program, said, “But all of this must be about people.  The person.”

We agreed.  The infrastructure that is being enabled by the Ministry and others in the “smart” part of our movement is the grid which, it is hoped, will trigger the more complex levels of human activity that we see in projects like Toronto’s Regent Park.  This was a classic example of how the broken parts became “fixed” and a fixture for the types of cities that, at least I thought I heard, are being aimed for China’s new “wisdom engineering.  Time will tell whether more was broken than fixed in an attempt to transform merely the economy.

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