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Monday, May 18, 2015
Property Developers of the World: You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Enemies!

If you are a property developer in a big city, I have bad news.  Nobody likes you. 

Okay, maybe I exaggerate.  Maybe your family likes you.  Perhaps your dog looks up to you.  But nobody else does.  And why should they?  You are filthy rich.  You control the places the rest of us live and work.  Politicians fawn on you and bend the rules for you.  Did I mention you’re filthy rich, too?  


Fortunately, Mr. and Ms. Property Developer, there is a way out.  You can learn from the example of Porto Maravilha (“the wonderful port”) in Rio de Janeiro, which I saw during my site inspection of this Top7 city.  This was the city’s original seaport on the edge of the city center. By the end of the last century, it was a derelict district lying in the shadow of an elevated highway that walled off the city from the water.  The administration of Mayor Eduardo Paes began planning its renovation in 2010 and completed demolition of the highway in 2013.  Funded by the sale of land and air rights to private developers, Porto Maravilla expects to complete major infrastructure work by 2025 and to be fully built out 35 years later.

A lot of the project is exactly what you would expect: high-rise condos, office buildings, art and science museums, green space and a 3-kilometer promenade overlooking the water.  The architect’s renderings are beautiful, and I’m sure it will be a magnet for cariocas (Rio residents) and a thriving addition to the business district. But the remarkable part of the project is how it honors the history and people of the place.

Seventy percent of the 5 million square meters under development consists of heritage buildings.  Rather than tearing them down, the project will renovate them one by one and turn abandoned ones to new uses, from galleries and restaurants to new housing. Excavation has revealed what archaeologists believe to have been the world’s largest slave market, and efforts are underway to preserve and memorialize it. 

More important than heritage, however, are human beings.  The port district is home to the first favella or slum in Rio, rising up on the banks of one of the sudden mountains that snake through this remarkable city.  The project wants those residents to stay where they are, and to take advantage of the development to permanently improve their lives.

For a start, there will be no condos or office buildings rising on the favela’s land.  Instead of seeing their homes demolished, residents are being asked to advise on where new healthcare and social services facilities should go.  Gentrification is probably inevitable, but the city is offering current property owners forgiveness of back taxes and fees to encourage them to invest in upgrades rather than selling out. 

Most significant of all are the skills training and career consulting that are preparing residents for jobs in construction and the start-up of micro and small businesses.  The project will need hundreds of thousands of workers and generate huge demand for local support services.   For residents with skills, that is a golden opportunity for a better life for themselves and their children.

The project’s chief executive told me that this massive and complex construction project is simple compared to the complexities of working with residents. But he seems passionately committed to seeing it through. Plenty of money will be made by plenty of property developers on this 50-year project.  That’s good for them and the city.  What they will not be making are enemies among the people who live there.  And that is even better. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Apples & Oranges How the Small Place Becomes Mighty for the ICF Jury


During our recent briefings for new ICF jurors, one the most frequently asked questions was “how do we measure a big city, such as New Taipei against a small one, such as Mitchell?”  Our answer is simple.  We use a universal sports analogy to make it clear.

As it is with people so it is with cities and communities.  Being small creates an inferiority complex that either leads to a despondent resignation of one’s status, or a powerful will to look at it as an opportunity to overachieve.  ICF jurors are tasked with looking at the bigger heavyweights of the Top7 and the smaller overachievers in this year’s group and determining which one has done the most to excel at each of the six criteria.

There was recently a boxing match in Las Vegas where the fighter that people said, “pound- for-pound,” was the best fighter ever won the contest.  What did they mean when they called Mayweather “the best fighter, pound-for-pound?” They meant when you factored in all of the criteria for a great champion in that sport (speed, toughness, punching power, stamina, courage and ring intelligence), Floyd Mayweather, like Sugar Ray Robinson before him, is the best fighter in the world irrespective of the weight class to which he is assigned.  In other words, a great fighter is a great fighter.  If you are squeamish about boxing, try poetry.  A work of poetry – if it is a true masterpiece – does not depend on the size or the length of the poem.  What matters most is the feeling you get, and how you have been transformed, moved or changed by what the poet accomplished.  We cannot quantify inspiration.

So it was with the Jury’s qualitative judgment of the Top7.  The ICF Jury is being asked to evaluate seven communities based on our criteria, their stories and a report to determine which is, pound-for-pound (or neighborhood-for-neighborhood) the one that inspires them most.  Many jurists develop their own quantitative system for categorizing the information that is presented.  There is a lot of it, so it makes sense to do that.  Some have their own method, including using a spreadsheet or matrix.  Our Jury chairman, Jag Rao, has developed his own method which he is always sharing with jurors. 

We have a quantitative ranking being done simultaneous to the Jury's qualitative assessment.  So members of the Jury need not worry about their final “numbers.”  It is their judgment we seek.  Bear in mind that in years past, the Intelligent Community of the Year selection was based on a razor-thin margin, usually a fraction of point separated three of the seven at the end of the voting period!  So we tell jurors that if there are two, three or even four communities that are close in their assessment – perhaps even too close to call – we suggest that they re-read the material given to them related to the sixth criteria.  This year the criteria is the “Revolutionary Community.” It should be the tie-breaker, if there is a tie.

We know it is not easy to measure the small, the medium and large qualitatively.  Some urge us to separate out awards into categories.  But I say “no.”  In the end a community is a place people call “home.”  And there is no discrimination between one’s love of home in a rural hamlet far from the city, or in an apartment in the big city, far from the rural hamlet. Let’s just say that from ICF’s view, we are all in this together.  May the champion who is, neighborhood-for-neighborhood, the best be named on 11 June in Toronto.

To our Jury: good luck and thank you!  To those of you following their work: stay tuned.  The best is yet to come.    

Monday, May 4, 2015
Business and Investment Match-Making at ICF Summit 2015 - You are invited, V2.0!


When: June 9, 2015 (12:30 PM)
Where:  MaRS Discovery District; 101 College Street, Toronto

Last year was the inaugural event of ICF’s first B2B and B2G Matchmaking Session and it was quite a success! The room was full and we had a waiting list of appointments. See the photos below. It was quite exciting and there was a lot of buzz!

When you attend this year’s ICF Summit in Toronto there will be another fantastic opportunity for delegates to meet each other to pursue potential business opportunities on June 9. 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 gathering we are inviting all registered delegates, the Smart21 and Top 7 Intelligent Communities, the current Intelligent Community of the Year (2014- Toronto) as well as our sponsors and ICF friends 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 be a great ice-breaker for everyone- so bring lots of business cards. It’s a great first event for all the delegates who did not attend the Waterloo and Toronto Tours on June 8.

The match-making sessions are designed to be brief 20 minute meetings; ten altogether over a three hour segment. There will be an opportunity to schedule a meeting and it will be posted electronically after each delegate has registered. To  register go to www.icfsummit2015.com . 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 the Smart21 and Top 7 Intelligent Communities at the Matchmaking Session? They are among the best of the breed of Intelligent Communities from around the world. 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 whom 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 and others to take advantage of. These will be available on a first come first served basis. I recommend that you register and reserve your meeting times with the Top7 Intelligent Communities, their business partners and ICF’s sponsors before it fills up.

For more information or to receive a complementary ticket to the match-making session, please contact me at ICF: jjung@intelligentcommunity.org

After you have registered as a delegate for June 9’s Matchmaking session, please contact Matt Owen to reserve your appointment with the cities and companies at the event: mowen@intelligentcommunity.org

Registration is required for all match-making delegates: www.icfsummit2015.com



Thursday, April 30, 2015
From Up and Coming to UP!


In 2008 Columbus, Ohio (USA) was named the #1 “up and coming city” in the United States by Forbes magazine.  This surprised people.  Most people did not know where Columbus was and those who did associated it with poverty, lack of digital inclusion and the flight of its gentrified and middle-classes from its urban center.  There was the impression that Columbus, the capitol of the state of Ohio, was rusting away.  Bitten by the fangs of a post-industrial collapse, Columbus was a place where, if you were born poor, you had only a 5% chance of getting into the top fifth percentile of wage earners, which nearly guaranteed a long, mainly miserable life.  Your relief was hoping that nearby Ohio State University might win its football games.  You could at least live a success vicariously.   It was ironic.  In a state (Ohio) that headquarters America’s national Inventors Hall of Fame, Columbus scored low on Richard Florida’s “creative index” list.  Even Columbus’s Smart21 nomination form to ICF pointed to the disappointing ranking (#61) as one of its challenges.  In 2008 it promised itself and the world more.

A disease is often healed even though a patient still feels ill.  The city was beginning to implement its long-range plan, Columbus 2020, and was carefully following a path laid out by ICF’s criteria, where broadband is part of an underlying infrastructure over which a new type of Columbus could emerge.  Impressively, it did.  The city did not run away from what it was, because it knew nothing can run that fast.  It moved forward, making adjustments as it reinvented itself and laid the foundation for generations.

Well, guess what?  The up-and-coming city has arrived.  No doubt about it.  Based on my site visit two weeks ago, I am here to testify that Columbus, Ohio has “upped its game.” Big time.  It has gone from “lab to market.”  And, yes, there is a parallel between the Ohio State University’s status as the reigning national college football championship of America and the city’s Intelligent Community push.  Columbus is in the “red zone.”

In the final term of Mayor Michael Coleman, pictured left, the longest-serving mayor of African heritage in the USA, Columbus has moved from an aspirational city to one with gravity.  Its citizens believe.  I know because I asked them if they believed.  The city has an advanced plan and uses its data-driven capacity to make decisions today.  It is layered with industries and people that have popped-up like weeds.  It has balanced its agricultural capacity with the needs of a modern city, and tied the two economies together at every level.  This is how you build an Intelligent Community, I thought, boarding my plane at its remodeled airport.   

I look for intangibles on my visits because the data looks impressive most of the time.  I look for gaps between what I am told and what I see.  I noticed that Columbus, going against its own grain, has developed the will to grow and the self-confidence to acknowledge itself as “world class.”  Unlike those of us in New York, people in Columbus are modest about their achievements.  When a top professor of autonomous vehicles research at Ohio State pulled me aside to tell me that he no longer goes to New York for cuisine and culture because “I have it here now and in abundance,” I sensed that an attitude shift had occurred.  There is a reason he told me this.  Its cosmopolitan sense has emerged physically in the German Village, the emerging arts community of Franklinton and the quality of life in the “Short North” district, where my godchild lives.  I asked him if he actually likes living in Columbus.  He does.  Very much.  He wouldn’t lie to his godfather.

Good food and good restaurants do not make a Top7 city, of course.  If that were the case six of our Top7 each year would be from Italy. Nor does public relations get your name on the ICF trophy.  There was no public relations finesse from Columbus on this visit, thank god.  I was able to observe things which gave me a snapshot of Columbus, ask hard questions and learn whether it is ready for the big stage in Toronto in June.

Columbus has a CIO and a very bright Department of Technology team with private sector creds that do not speak endlessly about gigabits and fiber conduits.  No geek talk in Columbus. The talk is about how to serve citizens.  The discussions I had over “broadband breakfasts” was of how a unified digital architecture is being put in place quickly to enable the economy and government to perform better.  Their citywide connectivity plan is radical in its approach and includes an innovative relationship with a new vendor (CNX) whose task is to facilitate and lease connectivity on the city’s behalf to service providers for maximum efficiency at the lowest cost to businesses.  Columbus is the anti-Google Gigabit City.  Its approach made me think of the “Stockholm Miracle.”  Stockholm’s open access network delivered the lowest telecom costs in Europe and unleashed one of the world’s most competitive economies.  Stockholm became 2009 Intelligent Community of the Year because it understood that broadband access was the key to an economic resurgence.  What really impressed me was when I asked the team in Columbus what they were most proud of.  Citing the My Columbus app, Moez Chaabouni, Deputy Director of the Department of Technology said, “We have made peoples’ lives easier.  I am very proud of that.” That is what they told me in Stockholm years ago too.

Broadband networks in and around Columbus are robust and include a monstrously impressive ramp-up of its super-computing capacity, which has advanced since the last time I visited.  Back then, the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet) aspired to learn more from ICF.  It can teach us things now.  It has built a “brainport” which taps the knowledge base of 91 colleges and universities.  While visiting the Super Computer I heard sparks of competitive confidence that I had not heard before.   Professor Pankaj Shah, the Executive Director of OARnet (pictured with me, right) said simply, “We are the best.  We just never told our story well.”  With 2,200 miles of 100 gigabit fiber behind the network, and dozens of examples of research funding projects that are flowing into Columbus as a result, he presides over a unique express lane for the local economy.     

The relationship among the city’s incubators, its major university, two magnificent research hospitals and its economic development department have reached a point where each operate efficiently and have defined their role.  This is key to the city’s steady commercialization of technology.  The city finally cracked the nut and has begun to allow a flow between it and its university.  Ohio, the home of American invention, has dusted itself off and reclaimed a trait that made it the envy of the world in another era.  Its Nationwide Children’s Hospital has a system to incubate start-ups and I heard presentations from five of them which are doing ground-breaking work in gene therapy and in areas such as the identification of bacterial characteristics.  Not much of this is visible to the public eye or to the media because it is the molasses of daily life.  It is quiet work and not flashy.  But it demonstrates how intellectual capacity, research and applied practice work together harmoniously and feed innovation.  It is what I was seeking to find. There is a quality of researcher and person in Columbus that feeds its cosmopolitan emergence.

The second admirable characteristic is the degree to which the mayor and his team understand that recovering a city is done house to house.  “A great community is its neighborhoods,” I was told.  I was told this even in the places that have yet to experience the full recovery that much of the city is experiencing.  Columbus solved its BIG DEVELOPMENT issues since Robert Bell’s 2013 site visit.  Now it is solving its once-intractable urban problems.  The higher-hanging fruit.  The city has a Neighborhood Pride program that is low-tech but high concept.  When you have limited funds, you have to think. The program leverages peer pressure and the beauty of democracy (representation and location of services near citizens) to succeed  Signs will go up in homes and small neighborhood businesses when they meet certain criteria and achieve Pride status.  Sustaining neighborhoods is a team sport.  The program, run by two people, has made the street the city.   

Columbus also has a strategy which I don’t think any community has thought through as carefully to manage its inevitable gentrification so that it does not become the core of its neighborhood recovery efforts.  The recovery must come from within or else the problem has simply been transferred to another block. I was told. I saw nearly 400 new homes being built that were affordable and for the community.

One of the rising indicators of a city that is heading in the right direction is the degree to which people return home.  Columbus is bringing its children home.  This was not happening in ’08.  It has successfully experienced population growth and is doing it with a mixture of downtown density and a constant push for an overall quality of life.  Culture is its driver.   

What culture?  A culture is centered around athletics.  Standing on the 50-yard line of The Shoe (the big football stadium) allowed me to take one thing off my “bucket list.”  But it also offered me a sense of what I would call a “sense of fair play” among the city’s residents.  Columbus is intensely competitive.  Its culture of competitive athletics impacts the way it looks at its Top7 status.  It wants to be Intelligent Community of the Year.  People (lots of them) told me that many, many times.  The city’s preparation for my site visit was meticulous and as comprehensive as any I have undertaken. 

Yet despite its drive to become the Intelligent Community of the Year and to put on its best face  the city went out of its way to show me places that by its own admission were not performing well.  It had me on public forums and TV to probe any criticism I had, or had heard.  Columbus is winning its future in part because it hides nothing and is open to criticism.  This is in fact the mark of a winner.  This city is confident that what it has is right now is good enough to land it into the endzone as Intelligent Community of the Year in June.  Whether the ICF Jury and the quantitative data assessment will agree is out of my hands.  It has a one in seven chance to succeed Toronto as Intelligent Community of the Year.  But I can report that this city has gone from “lab to market” and that nothing should surprise its humble population come the morning of June 10.  Columbus has put together a great gameplan.

Thursday, April 23, 2015
Why Disruption is Harder Than It Looks

Do you know anyone who is never-ending fountain of new ideas?  I have known, enjoyed and been worn out by a few of them.  The same is true of US President Franklin Roosevelt.  He delivered one of the greatest backhand compliments in history when we said of British Prime Minster Churchill, his friend and fellow wartime leader, “Winston has fifty ideas a day, and one or two of them are rather good.” 


We need these people to stretch the boundaries of what is possible.  We also need to respect the many ways in which those boundaries can come snapping back on us.  In our book, Brain Gain: How Innovative Cities Create Jobs in an Age of Disruption, my colleagues and I wrote about the disruptive educational innovation known as the massively open online course or MOOC.    The vision is truly revolutionary: instead of attending a high-priced university, you take courses online from all of the great universities at a fraction of the cost.  Three privately-funded MOOC companies were launched in the US in 2012, and universities around the world quickly followed with their own course offerings.    

So, have MOOCs succeeded in blowing up the stately traditions of higher education?  Not so much, according to David Leonhardt, writing in The New York Times.  The problem, it turns out, is that learning is just one of the things people are buying when they pursue higher education. The other thing – one with much greater economic value – is a credential.  A university degree is a highly valued third-party endorsement of your mastery of knowledge and  skills.  For employers, it is a fantastically useful shortcut to identifying qualified employees, even if they miss out on a lot of uncredentialed talent as a result. Colleges and universities are not about to surrender their monopoly on that value, which supports the fees they charge.  And so, the score so far: status quo 1, disruption 0.    

But we are still early in the game.   MOOC providers, from EdX to Coursera, are introducing their own certificate programs based on structured curricula and qualifying exams.  The Mozilla Foundation, creator of the Firefox Web browser, has developed an Open Badges credential program, which any organization can award and which is backed by links to electronic evidence of exactly how and why the badge was earned.  Put those two trends together, and you have the beginnings of a system that could rival the economic value of the university degree – and do it anywhere that people have a hunger for learning and ambition for a better life.

Open courses were an instant online hit, but it is going to take years for “open degrees” to find meaningful acceptance.  But as we wrote in Brain Gain, if MOOCs can actually increase the productivity of education – teaching more students at less cost – they will be among the most profound forces for good in human history.  Communities that are not lucky enough to have a good university or community college at their core will gain a new chance to participate in the knowledge-based, technology-driven economy of the 21st Century. 

So let us praise the unreasonable men and women who dare to dream of something as remarkable as the MOOC.  And let us also praise the quiet, methodical practitioners who find ways around the hundred obstacles that arise in the face of every truly revolutionary idea.

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