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Monday, August 26, 2013
They Took a Village

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“...Of your soul I make you captain. Most blessed among men. Move on. You will never hear from me again.” – Dante, The Divine Comedy 

The Finger Lakes Region, New York State (USA) - As the Summer begins to slowly give way to smells of Autumn in this part of North America, where native tribes once believed a Great Creator had pressed his hands into the earth and created eight of the most placid lakes on the continent, I am back in my hometown.  This is a place where the four seasons and nature mark transitions which pace the rhythms of life and, as such, its local economy.  Quarterly earnings reported here are tomatoes on the vine and soon, more seriously, wheat and apples.  They have a smell that only can come when the plants are located a few steps away.  The garlic and basil, eggplants and eggs all attract the eye of the region’s growing class of chefs.  The vegetables and fruits in the Finger Lakes would play well in Paris, New York or Stockholm.  They played like a Verdi opera once, long ago, in the kitchens of female immigrants from Reggio Calabria and Bari who settled there as their husbands found work.  

That music stopped and today neither the old railroad or the new one, broadband, is much top-of-mind.  Aging demographics and decidedly non-entrepreneurial attitudes still prevail.  While teenagers pore over their phones, they are not smartphones.  iPads are rare.  This is not to say there are none, or that people with ambition and hope have fled.  It is not so. In fact, some say, more and more people are taking up here than in times past.  Not more than in those times after the railroad stopped needing Italian and Irish immigrants to build and then maintain the first ‘superhighway,” or when dozens and dozens of private sector employers skipped out for better, cheaper and certainly faster climates.  

clientuploads/Images/Peppermint Blog1.jpgBut something good may be happening.  One can feel it.  A peppermint festival draws large crowds.  It reminds people that there was once an entrepreneurial spirit here.  It may subtly reinforce for them too that sentiment is no substitute for what really occurred during real “peppermint days,” when 90% of the land in the county was devoted to peppermint harvesting and the mint oil brought to nearby factories emerged into a dominant global industry.  Today peppermint is leveraged for cultural dollars.  Culture is capital.  Advocacy is also appearing.  A reporter from the Finger Lakes Times came to my mother’s front porch and interviewed me about my work.  Her editors knew that the “local boy” had left home long ago and not returned.  Now they want to bring the fruits of his work back to a familiar place.  Home.  Like the next door neighbors, the reporter was curious to know what the “rest of the world” is up to.  The trait of insularity, which is suspect of anything made too far south of Route 14 or too West of 31, much less Taichung, Stratford and Stockholm, is giving way to a type of rural cosmopolitanism that only the Internet and the urge to recapture the rhythm of the seasons  can deliver.

But wounds from missing the first salvos of the “Broadband Economy” are obvious.  An otherwise sunny and hot July was punctuated by the hard-edges that jut out when a place is not future-proof.    My mother, a robust 89, was hospitalized with a medical emergency.  Her stay in the local hospital revealed to me, painfully, what the people in Intelligent Communities from Dublin, Ohio (which has a paperless hospital) to Taichung know well.  Broadband networks and healthcare are as interlocked as the farmer and his peppermint were long ago.  The communications system in the hospital was so bad that my mother, admitted for diverticulitis, was served foods with seeds for two days because no electronic charts communicated to the dietary department that they were a no-no.  Simple stuff can kill you.  In this case, mercifully, it did not.  Otherwise, a lot of those Calabrian recipes would have vanished to Heaven.  But people move to places that are connected in all ways.  Connectivity equals rural health.  This is the rural imperative.

In an upcoming blog and in an article for Mayors & Cities, my colleagues John Jung and Robert Bell, will write about the power of broadband when it is harnessed to innovation.  Both make compelling cases for municipal networks and detail examples of successes, and the type of deal-making architecture that aligned need, pricing and social goals.  What is essential now is that the pie be taken from the sky on this stuff, and put on the table.  As Robert said in a recent interview on Gigabit Nation, “We are not talking about whether or not broadband is valuable.  We are talking about who is going to pay for it.”  

We know the price when the railroad and the boy leave town, never to return.   Fortunately, both are inclined to return.  As this warm season of rest and trial ends, let us harvest more fiber and return the villages to those who love them.

 
Monday, August 5, 2013
Cities Where Arts and Innovation Go Hand in Hand

In 2018, a Dutch city will take its annual turn as Europe's Cutural Capital.  Eindhoven, which Forbes recently named the world's most inventive city, is interested and asked nearby Tillburg University to find out whether being a Cultural Capital and creating a yearlong program of events was worth the cost and effort.  

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According to the Tillburg study, the answer is yes.  Past Cultural Capitals, from Stockholm to Genoa, invested an average of Euro 38 million, while the total economic impact from visitor spending was more than Euro 70 million.  Front-runners, like Liverpool, managed to gain Euro 1 billion in total economic output from a Euro 200 million public and private investment.  But then, not every community is the birthplace of the Beatles.

Two years before Forbes lauded Eindhoven's inventiveness, ICF had already named the Eindhoven Region the 2011 Intelligent Community of the Year.  One reason was the region's innovative use of culture to support its economic growth.  Both the city and the region are known for high-tech manufacturing, from automotive systems and solar power to the machines that make silicon chips.  That economic success depends on Eindhoven's ability to educate, attract and retain highly skilled workers.  

So Eindhoven hosts an annual 12-day festival called STRP, which attracts 225,000 visitors and features music, film, live performances, interactive art and robotics.  Another festival, called GLOW, celebrates the region's history as the birthplace of Phillips and its lighting division.  For 10 days, the city center becomes an open-air museum of design in light, projected on buildings and sidewalks, much of it interactive, for the delight of 65,000 visitors.  

clientuploads/Images/Community-as-Canvas-150.gifThis year, the theme of our awards program is Community as Canvas.  We are putting a special focus on how culture contributes to - and sometimes hinders - the progress of Intelligent Communities.  Eindhoven shows how a city can harness culture for economic gain in the most practical terms.   Our 2013 Intelligent Community of the Yearis using it to change how people think Taichung City, Taiwan.

Taichung is known as the Mechanical Kingdom for the success of its precision manufacturing sector.  But Industrial Age success is not enough to ensure a prosperous future and, starting more than a decade ago, Taichung set out to make a name for itself as a cultural center.  It founded the Da Dun Fine Arts Competition, which has since attracted 12,500 artists from around the world and drawn headliners including Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras, Yo-Yo Ma and Lady Gaga. In 2001, residents took part in just 4 cultural events per year on average; by 2009, they were attending 35.  The strategy seems to be working: in a coup for the city, Ang Lee decided to film Life of Pi there.

Drive into our 2012 Intelligent Community of the Year and you will pass a welcome sign announcing that you are entering the City of Arts & Innovation.  Despite a development strategy focused on the latest technologies, the city of Riverside, California, USA sees value in celebrating its artistic heritage.  Why?  America's capital of West Coast culture, Los Angeles, is only 60 miles to the west, and Riverside has labored hard and successfully to be much more than a distant bedroom community for LA.

The arts give us pleasure, gift us with insight and transform how we see the world.  The leaders of Intelligent Communities know how much more they can do: shape the way the community sees itself and contribute directly to its prosperity.

 
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
More than Political Will

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Tallinn has been a Top 7 Intelligent Community five times.  From an ICF perspective it is clearly an ICT superstar. It is a community that has had strong local and national leadership and has taken advantage of the technology that is available to it and makes no bones about using it. Some would even say that it has achieved this success through political will. 

I have had the opportunity to visit Tallinn several times. Tallinn is without a doubt a high-velocity intelligent community that has taken exciting, but calculated risks to create a city that its citizens can be very proud of.  As my hosts explained, the citizens of Tallinn benefit from the enlightenment of their government leaders.  Tallinn rose out from under the iron curtain in 1991 and in many cases had to learn how to become entrepreneurial, take risks and learn to become an intelligent community. As a city and region, it has had a long history of conquests with many different governments coming into power and building and running most aspects of it. Today it’s still very much that way. As my hosts would say, “in our culture, government provides for more than 80% of the way things are done and then, the rest of our activities are provided by the private sector.”

clientuploads/Images/Tallinn-Downtown-300.gifAlthough Tallinn has much government support and influence in nearly everything that gets done in the community, the city has a wonderful feel and sense about itself. It is not oppressed and uninviting. In fact, there is much to do, from spectacular medieval tourism, to international-level entertainment and interesting and highly rated restaurants. The exceptional heritage of the medieval community is UNESCO protected. 

In a meeting with Tallinn’s Mayor, Edgar Savisaar and his City Secretary, Toomas Sepp, they explained that through political will, free mobility for its citizens on all buses, trams and shuttles was launched in January 2013 (yes, that is right, free transit for every Tallinn citizen!). This program was designed to encourage an increase in environmentally-friendly transit, lower car dependency and to increase registration of citizens, thereby helping to increase the local tax-rolls.  This action has already paid for itself by an increase of tens of thousands new citizens registered for the free transit passes. The city also has an extensive e-platform where many civic and other e-services are provided. Free wireless access seems to be everywhere in the city.

The country saw a major boom in the mid-2000’s when significant Scandinavian investment came to Estonia. But the financial crisis that followed in 2008 was very difficult for Tallinn with thousands of companies going bankrupt and thousands of low-skilled workers becoming unemployed. Today, despite efforts to keep their talent, especially skilled workers, doctors and those in service industries, many have moved to Scandinavia and elsewhere to seek employment. My hosts lament that in Finland these workers are attracted by salaries and benefits three times that which Estonia offers. They recognize that more needs to be done and in a hurry to stem the tide of skilled workers leaving the country.

During a private meeting with the Estonian President, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, we discussed Estonia’s excellence in cyber security and the global respect that counties have for Estonia’s security experience. He also told me that while the Estonian government support will continue in its expertise in cyber security, they must now also focus on education, developing skilled workers, and more importantly finding ways to retain their talent as well as promote and encourage entrepreneurialism, especially research-based entrepreneurialism. 

I had visited several years before and during my first visit was honoured to have dinner with one of the founders of Skype. We discussed his next venture having sold Skype to Microsoft. Everyone I met in Tallinn seemed to be, or wanted to be, a serial entrepreneur. The Skype story was what everyone in Estonia talked about and wanted to emulate – to be the next Skype success story. This can be possible if the same political will is directed to creating an environment, an ecosystem that will nurture creativity, innovational and entrepreneurialism. It seems that this is on its way. For instance, the city’s free wireless services and extensive high-speed broadband throughout the municipality is now being augmented by the Broadband Alliance’s “EstWin” initiative that will extend broadband throughout Estonia; a significant contribution to digital inclusion for all Estonians. Tallinn and its educational and business partners have launched multiple incubators targeting medical and biotech, mechatronics, ICT and creative services, including Europe’s first gaming accelerator. In addition, its Ülemiste City industrial estate has expanded to house 250 companies, making it the Baltic’s biggest knowledge-based development. Incubators are growing to support innovation and creative industries; there is a sense that supporting start-ups will attract and retain local and foreign talent to nurture much needed diversity across scientific, industrial and commercial sectors. As advocates, the sense of the Intelligent Community movement penetrates much of the government and institutional sectors.    

Tallinn’s leaders seem keen to do the right thing and are looking at innovative ways to evolve and sustain their community as an Intelligent Community. And they are embarking on a new attitude toward creating an environment supportive of entrepreneurialism to see it through. While Enterprise Estonia is funded primarily by government funds, it supports entrepreneurs enthusiastically. The community is actively looking to help support the next Skype to evolve out of Tallinn’s many start-ups. For instance “Garage48”, a small band of highly entrepreneurial and networked folks in Tallinn has evolved to encourage entrepreneurialism through networking and sharing of ideas. However, they lack the funds to assist companies directly. While fledgling, they have a great sense of spirit and enthusiasm and attract many new start-ups to their new facilities for networking events. Their motto “Screw it; Let’s do it” speaks for itself.

In seeking new ways to stop the brain drain and reverse the tide toward achieving a new brain gain, Tallinn and Estonia’s leadership will need to develop policies, programs and strong initiatives to encourage retention of their talent. This is not an Estonian problem alone. Globally, companies, universities and cities are seeking to attract and retain the best and brightest of their talent. Competition is fierce. New ideas are emerging to evolve entrepreneurial ecosystems to encourage growth. For instance, understanding and benefitting from talent mobility may become the next big idea. It is a challenge that Tallinn and Estonia are facing today; but with political will, they will no doubt find a route on their next journey.  

 
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Detroit Takes a Shot

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Before my tenth birthday I had nailed a perfect jump shot over the arms of the mayor of Detroit.  

The current Mayor of Detroit, USA, Dave Bing, has been in the news often these days.  It is not the way he wanted to re-enter the spotlight.  He is experiencing something he never imagined in his city.  Detroit, as people worldwide know, has become the epicenter of a crisis and the focus of a debate that was long ago settled by those of us in the Intelligent Community movement.  Its declaration of bankruptcy, while painful to witness, is ultimately a non-event to most observers.  It is the last chapter of a post-Industrial Age saga whose end was written long ago.  Stories like the one in Michigan, as we know, have had multiple endings.  Not all are as sad as this giant’s tale, where the number of industrial jobs has fallen from 300,000 in 1962 to a mere 27,000 last week, and it takes nearly an hour for a first responder to arrive after a 911 call.   Many have an opposite end.   There are stories of rebirth.  Chattanooga comes first to mind.  Eindhoven in the Netherlands and Sunderland, England also have a fine story to tell the world.  Their stories are told by ICF and are studied by others.  

The modern tales of urban rise and fall, or in Detroit’s case of falling further, have been written by hundreds of authors around the world.  These authors are people who understand what is at the end of the assembly line for the next generation of workers who  are scandalously undereducated, poorly-served by a corrupt and visionless political class and who hold onto illusions and balance sheets woven without the benefit of reality.  As Nobel recipient Paul Krugman rather cold-heartedly wrote yesterday, “Decline happens.”  It is true.  But it is not inevitable.  Nor is it a crime.  It is a shame.  Cities like Detroit have one common characteristic.  None seem to factor in to their calculation that the only truth of life worth remembering is that everything is impermanent except change itself.  Most of us learn that lesson way too late, having been led to believe that it just ain’t so.  It is.  Only the enlightened embrace it as core to their lives and factor it in to the management of their cities and towns.  

clientuploads/Images/Dave Bing Detroit1.jpgHowever my Dave Bing story is of another kind.  Of another Summer day.   It is a childhood memory of a happier era in both of our lives.  My story is a tale of what we used to call “endless summer.”  When, as George Gershwin wrote, “the livin’ was easy.”  It takes place in another part of the world which was touched, as was Detroit, by a similar illusion of permanence.  On one summer afternoon, however, illusions were fine and hung in the moist air of an Upstate New York village.  For a nine-year old kid it felt just fine.

That Summer the current mayor of Detroit was not a beleaguered, usurped politician.   He was, like the glittering city of Detroit, the essence of grace, power and success.  Mr. Bing is even today known for his long, distinguished career as a professional basketball player.  The mayor had game.  The mayor could thump hoops.  Big time.  He was a point guard with a sweet jump shot.  So sweet that he was elected to the National Basketball Association’s all-star team many times.   He is in the league’s Hall of Fame today and after his career in sports went on to become a success at business, a good father and eventually a politician.  Detroit was his home.

Lyons, New York was mine.   While Mayor Bing was rising to great heights as a premier athlete, I was an elementary school point guard with not much game.  But like him I had a pretty good jump shot, great ambition and a kid’s illusions.  Mr. Bing was my idol.  He was someone I admired from afar.  His ability to spring ramrod straight into the air, release a basketball from his long fingers with perfect rotation and land softly as the ball swished through a basket, were the images in my head every time I practiced my jumpshot – which I did for hours and hours each day.  

One afternoon, in a convergence only the Great Spirit could direct, he came to my little hometown in the Finger Lakes region to play a pickup game of basketball!  At the time he was a college player, a star at nearby Syracuse University.   He was in my village thanks to his university roommate, who also was a pretty good basketball player and lived in Lyons.  This would be college Hall of Fame basketball coach Jim Boeheim.   Jimmy is the second-most successful coach in American college basketball history, and has two Olympic gold medals as the USA Men’s assistant coach to his credit.  There is a sign acknowledging that Lyons is his hometown.  You can see it, in bright orange, as you drive from Route 14 south into the village, where you also pass the cemetery where his father and mine are buried.  They were close friends.  It was a close community.

Word went out that Bing was playing in town at an outdoor basketball court that a local town justice had built for his son.  Viral marketing in those days resulted in a lot of kids rushing up Foster Street in their Converse sneakers to see The Man and his jump shot.   It was a phenomenal thing to see!  What made it more phenomenal was that he challenged guys to play him one-on-one.  I am not sure how it ultimately went down, but somehow the little runt who lived on Maple Street, who was always talking (me), got a chance to face him.  I am here to testify that the giant was gentle.  

I started to “trash talk” him I am sure.  Given the fact that I was a popular little guy on the street and there to humor the big guys, it was my role.  Bing missed his shot, on purpose.  It was my turn.  I took the ball and I stared him down, as he is staring down Detroit’s woes.  My heart beat fast.  As I had seen him do on TV, I faked right, moved left and after a single bounce arched the ball toward the rim.  All I remember is his outstretched hand, obviously being held back.  It still looked like a 40-foot tree.  If he had wanted, he could have slapped my shot three counties east.  But of course he did not.  I have no idea if the rest of this is true, because I had a sort of blackout.  But I was told that the ball swished through the hoop and that Dave Bing lost the only game of the afternoon against the future co-captain of the Lyons High School basketball team, and co-founder of ICF.  

Some stories are made to teach.  This is one of them.  Bing was a role model who lived up to the essence of one that day.  My confidence was lifted for life.  Thanks, Dave (and Jimmy).

Now it is time for us to give him a shot at a bigger, more important goal.  Those of us leading ICF and the movement, especially the mayors of our Intelligent Communities, can reach out our hands to Mayor Dave and to Detroit and show him how he can rewrite his story.

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Monday, July 15, 2013
How Successful Cities Create a Culture of Progress

Last week, ICF opened its 2013-2014 Awards cycle (next deadline September 23!) and introduced our theme for the year: Community as Canvas.  It looks at the role of culture in the progress of a city or region.

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Culture?  Why are we asking about that instead of megabits per second or incubators and business accelerators?  Why did we write a white paper, Community as Canvas, about three specific aspects of culture in Intelligent Communities?  That’s what a blogger for Cisco asked me last week during an interview.   

Here’s why.  ICF studies how cities and regions use information and communications technology to create prosperity, so people naturally think we’re all about technology.  But actually, we have never been.  ICF is about that unique place where technology intersects with human beings in a local context.  And where humans are, there is culture.  We are as dependent on culture as we are on the air we breathe. 

clientuploads/Images/Artist_Canvas_Coated_Fabric_1554049.jpgIf you follow the news these days, you cannot help coming across stories of cultural conflict.  Egypt is being torn apart by a conflict between young people importing ideals of non-sectarian democracy and those who see any modern, non-Islamic culture as unacceptable.   But the culture wars are cropping up everywhere, from the street protests of Brazil to the strains affecting the European Union.  In my country’s politics, the cultures of the conservative and liberal wings have so little in common that they have completely different interpretations of the words they are fighting over.

Culture is also the foundation for all progress.  No less an innovator than Sir Isaac Newton wrote that, if he had seen a bit further into the universe than the rest of us, it was “by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  With those words he paid tribute to the learning he had gained from others and a lifetime of support and encouragement for his own development – to the culture that made possible his achievements.    

When we seek to chart a new course, as Intelligent Communities do, culture matters most of all.  The culture of the community forms the launch pad for every program and project.  It provides a wide range of intangible assets that Intelligent Community champions put to use.  It helps determine how readily new ideas are accepted.  It can supply the words that persuasively explain a vision of the future and build support for it, and the narrative that helps people understand where they belong in a changing world.  

Or it can cause everything those champions attempt to blow up in their faces.  

Underneath the digital ripples of our connected age flows the deep river of human culture, unchanged in its essential operation for millennia.  Humanity will continue to respond to change as it has always responded, will embrace what seems good and fear what it does not yet understand.  Yet that same culture is at the heart of what ICF calls advocacy: the process of education and persuasion by which a city’s people become its most potent drivers of progress.

That’s why Intelligent Community leaders think about the cultural drivers of the community, and find ways to turn them in the direction of progress.  Unless they do, all the megabits and incubators in the world will profit them not at all. 

 
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