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Monday, March 28, 2016
Is this the Golden Age for the World’s Small Places?

Today, the 50 most prosperous cities in America produce 34% more economic output per person than the national average.  Their populations are growing at 3 times the national rate.  That’s because they are magnets for ambitious and talented workers and the companies that need their services to power growth. 

These statistics come from the US, courtesy of The Economist (“The Great Divergence,” March 12, 2016).  But the same phenomenon is evident every place there is an industrial or post-industrial economy.  In the words of economist Tyler Cowen of George Mason University, “average is over.”  The question for mayors, city managers, members of council and concerned citizens is this: on which side of “not average” is your community going to be?

You can get a good idea by looking around you.  Is your community a place where new businesses and new industries get a strong start, with the help of partners like universities and community colleges? Do your citizens have the skills needed to power prosperity?  Does your government partner creatively with business and institutions to help them grow?  Are you looking after the people who have been left out of the digital economy?

If the answer to most of these questions is “yes,” your community is above average. If not, you have every chance to get there, whatever your community’s size, location or history.  Because broadband has become the great economic leveler of our time.  As James Fellows documents in the March issue of The Atlantic (“How America is Putting Itself Back Together”), small cities in the middle of nowhere are becoming hotbeds of company formation. 

The small places of the world that are robustly connected can be global competitors, whether they are Redlands, California (home to ESRI, the world leader in GIS) or Duluth, Minnesota, which has become one of America’s aerospace centers thanks largely to the two brothers who founded Cirrus Design.  They are places where people want to live for the sake of the place, not just a paycheck.  And they have one enormous advantage over tech hubs like Silicon Valley, Austin, Boston or New York.  Land is cheap.  As Mr. Fellows puts it, ‘Every calculation – the cash flow you must maintain, the life balance you can work toward – is different when a nice family house costs a few hundred thousand dollars rather than a few million.” 

For more than 15 years, ICF has dedicated itself to learning from above-average communities how to turn broadband into economic opportunity, social progress and cultural richness.  Now that the evidence is rolling in , we are here to teach the principles, measure your results, and celebrate the victors through our annual Intelligent Community Awards.  Welcome to the Intelligent Community movement.  

 
Monday, March 21, 2016
The Part that is Broken is the Part You Plan for (Part 3): Walls & Bridges

“Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” King Henry II of England allegedly said nearly 1,000 years ago, referring to a saintly man who had crashed into his majesty’s sense of imperial inevitability.  Given the tone of today’s national politics and the rage palpable in cultures everywhere, the angry King’s words echo through the centuries, and may be repeated in 2017 by at least one leader anywhere on the planet. 

This may have all started in February, when a Pope in Rome and one of America’s leading presidential candidates had an odd spat about walls and bridges.  Their exchange was not about critical infrastructure, which is much in need.  Rather it focused on an increasingly poignant moral argument about how borders, and people on both sides of them, are to be “protected” in our breathlessly mobile era.  The hiss back and forth between Pope Francis and America’s Donald J. Trump set in stark contrast two diverging world views that will have an impact on the regions, cities and towns which set Intelligent Communities apart.  Bridges are at the heart of the Intelligent Community Forum’s idea of “revolution to renaissance,” and walls, or simply closing things off through fear, seems to be fear itself cloaked inside a naked grab for national power.

Brought down to the level where it really counts for us, our communities, the assurance that building walls will protect us and that the accusation that building bridges is dangerous is true.  But then, going to the moon was dangerous too.  We had a choice.  We could be held by gravity or attempt to release ourselves from it to explore the mystical terrain beyond our narrowing shores.  To chase our dreams, as USA president Kennedy said then, required that we go to the Moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard.  Repeating those words, as if they were a poem, I marvel at how a leader ever was able to sell it that way.  Like building a Blackberry in Waterloo, or refining the precision manufacturing industry in Taichung, or putting a municipal fiber network in place when state legislatures and incumbents had said “no way” over and over, someone had to build a new bridge.  Someone had to defy gravity through local innovation and challenge the established order.  These communities broke walls and created new industries and companies. 


Let’s admit it, good walls work – for a time.  But over a longer time they become curiosities.  Remnants like the Maginot Line and the Great Wall are tourist attractions.  The national policies which established them, and their ultimate failure, are recalled by merely the few.  Those kept out or denied by the walls will have longer memories.  The walls become default psychic settings of future generations.

Intelligent Communities seek to knock down walls.  Because most of our Top7 each year were hammered hard in the post-Industrial hangover days, they raised their hands eagerly for the harder task ahead of them.  Their task is constructing bridges built with data and broadband and searching for the fruits that can be picked from the complex architecture of human feeling, creative energy and collaboration in service of economic expression.  There is a reason why more communities in 2016 are embracing the ICF approach rather than experiencing the reactionary reflex we see at the national levels. 

The question of whether this message will reach the national dialogue in time has already been answered.  In some places we see the King point his sword at the “turbulent priest,” missing the fact that turbulence can be navigated through and that things are not “going to hell.”  They are simply in flux.  Come to Columbus for the 2016 ICF Summit www.icfsummit16.com and learn how seven cities have defied gravity and rid themselves of fear.

 
The World at GLOBE in Vancouver discusses ways to create Business Opportunities while Saving the Planet

Congratulations to the Intelligent Community of Vancouver! The GLOBE Leadership Summit in Vancouver from March 2-4 was an exceptional experience. Nearly two thousand business and government leaders from over 50 countries came together to network and advance global business and sustainability agendas in Vancouver. 200 thought leaders from around the world focused on issues regarding sustainability, urban resiliency and all things related to the future of the planet.

But globe is not a normal eco-conference. GLOBE is considered North America’s largest and most influential sustainable business leadership summit. It is known for attracting c-suite business executives, government officials, and civil society leaders on topics such as how to leverage markets and innovation to turning environmental challenges into business opportunities. Essentially people came to learn how to create business opportunities while saving the planet. New strategies and incentives for lower energy consumption were discussed; waste systems explored, inspired by the circular economy, including site visits to Vancouver’s wastewater treatment center and Metro Vancouver’s Waste to Energy facility; cap and trade options debated; diversified low-carbon housing examined; and homelessness solutions discussed. GLOBE 2016 also sought to forge new partnerships and think outside the box. It took on the discussions beyond smart cities and asked how to advance the creation of Intelligent Communities through smart partnerships. Intelligent Communities look to environmental innovation and the global investment and job opportunities that come with it.

This year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opened the conference, citing: “The future belongs to countries and businesses that become leaders of clean technologies, innovation, and sustainability.” He also held a First Ministers Meeting urging premiers to overcome their political differences to collaborate on climate change, indicating that it’s not a matter of pitting pipelines against wind turbines: “The environment ought not to be a partisan issue.” On the heels of Trudeau’s visit to meet U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House to unveil a continental climate strategy, he noted that as the global economy shifts to green energy, Canada is well-positioned to become a leader. The Summit also saw participating global Mayors hold forums at the event, allowing participants to get close up and personal with them. I moderated the main two and a half hour SMART CITIES session: “Evolution of Communities: Unravelling the DNA of the Modern Smart City”  and hosted one of the workshop tables at the “Advancing Intelligent Cities through Smart Partnerships: An International Mayoral Roundtable & Workshop on Smart Cities” .

Global speakers in the main SMART CITIES session included Steve Leonard, Executive Deputy Chairman of Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), (1999 Intelligent Community of the Year); Bruce Hayne, Surrey, BC City Councillor (2015 and 2016 Top7 Intelligent Community); David Gilford, Vice President of the Economic Development Authority in NYC, (2001 Intelligent Community of the Year); Ger Baron, Amsterdam’s Chief Technology Officer; and Lorie Wigle, McAffey/Intel Security VP from Portland, Oregon. The session was extremely well received and considered a highlight for communities looking at creating better opportunities for their citizens as Smart Cities and Intelligent Communities. Mayors and city councillors, educators and private sector participants filled the standing room session at the Pan Pacific Hotel for the full 2 and 1/2 hours. The highly interactive session included the audience as an integral part of the presentations, raising questions about Singapore’s density, affordable housing and transit; NYC’s initiatives for sustainability; Amsterdam’s programs as a smart city and Surrey’s strategies to attract clean tech firms to its Innovation Boulevard initiatives. Throughout, privacy, security and the health and safety of our cities were ever-present in the discourse among the panelists. Following this marathon session, a 3 hour workshop with Mayors and international delegates took place at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, the results of which will become a white paper on strategies that Intelligent Communities can employ through smart partnerships.

ICF and ICF Canada also received numerous references in the media before, during and after the GLOBE 2016 gathering in Vancouver. For instance, Surrey’s Mayor Hepner and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met in Surrey at which time Surrey’s Intelligent Community recognition was discussed. The Cantech Letter posted the headline: “Surrey BC Talking Intelligent Community Initiatives at Globe Series 2016 in Vancouver. Additionally, a Vancouver Sun article focused on the Intelligent Community of Surrey.

 
Monday, March 14, 2016
Broadband And An Open Internet

Six US Senators, mostly from small rural states, wrote recently to the FCC about the inconsistencies they found between its recent report on broadband progress and its Open Internet order that was issued last March.

The FCC’s stated:

“We find that advanced telecommunications capability is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion… … many Americans still lack access to advanced telecommunications capability, especially in rural areas… the disparity between rural and urban Americans persists”.

The Senators:

  • objected to the FCC’s view that broadband is not being deployed fast enough
  • expressed their “concern” that the FCC’s broadband benchmark (25 Mpbs download and 3 Mbps upload speeds) “discourages broadband providers from offering speeds at or above [that] benchmark.”
  • pointed out difference in broadband definitions between the Open Internet proposal and the broadband report
  • questioned why the Connect American fund only subsidizes rural broadband at speeds of 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload.

This post is not primarily about the issue of net neutrality, as important as that is. Instead, hopefully I’m giving an objective, third party view of this debate about broadband from the perspective of the Intelligent Community Forum’s more than fifteen years of working with communities around the world and seeing what level and kind of broadband they need.

As might be expected, both sides of this dispute are somewhat off the mark.

Despite the progress that is being made in some parts of the USA by private companies or municipal agencies, the FCC’s statement that broadband is not being deployed in a timely fashion is essentially correct.

The Senators’ assertion that maintaining a 25/3 broadband benchmark discourage telecommunications companies and other Internet Service Providers from delivering more than this minimum benchmark does not make a lot of sense and is not supported by any evidence. Our observation is that, in areas where these companies feel under competitive threat, they manage to find the money to invest in upgrading speeds on their networks.

It’s also worth pointing out that the speeds that are promised by ISPs are seldom delivered, as anyone who has used Speedtest or similar services can attest. This reality seems unrecognized by both the Senators and the FCC.

The focus of the FCC and the Senators on download speeds ignores the need for upload speeds, especially for those who want to use broadband for business, health care and education. In some respects, it is best to look at the combination of upload and download speeds. The FCC’s discussion about fairness to big content providers might have misled them into thinking mostly about delivery of content from a central source and not to consider the world we have, where people are both consumers and producers of content.

The Senators’ statement that they are unaware of any application needing 25 Mbps ignores the demands of even the near term future. Broadband projects, according to the telecommunications companies, are major investments — presumably made to meet the needs of more than the next six months.

There was a time perhaps a decade ago when people couldn’t figure out why they needed more than dial up speeds. Now they know and demand broadband. The FCC, the Senators and telecommunications companies all need to realize that even speeds that are above today will seem way too slow for the applications that are coming in a few years.

The Senators are correct that there is no good public policy reason to accept different broadband speeds for urban versus rural areas. Our work with rural areas, if anything, would lead us to believe that the reverse is true. Those in urban areas can still seek out a large number of customers and business partners the old fashioned way, in person. To succeed in the global economy today, those living in rural areas need higher speeds to connect with people far away.

Although the Senators brought together the FCC’s Open Internet policy and broadband assessment to criticize the FCC, there is an interplay between net neutrality (the FCC’s Open Internet) and broadband which goes beyond the FCC’s contradictory statements. Simply, if the bandwidth is sufficient, then there would be less reason to throttle any consumer or content provider — and thus less reason for concern about how Internet service providers could be hurt by Open Internet requirements.

 
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Defiance

The best acts of defiance are made in pursuit of a greater good. History is complete with tales of passive resistance, armed rebellions and legends of a person or group of dedicated souls who refuse to sell-out, cave-in or toss-down the towel, no matter how overwhelming the forces stacked against them or the depth of corruption from a perverse civil order. You and I honor the private inspirations in our lives who get us out of bed and roll us forward, somehow putting in us a deeper psychic mark and recalibrated moral settings. Those whose actions are given the stamp of the “heroic” or “visionary” after their time of persistence are seen to have been clearly on the right side of the cause, while most could only see through the glass darkly. They are, in the words of my father, not deliberate and intentional provocateurs, but people who simply “stuck by their guns.” At ICF we have 145 of them.

There are seminal moments in the life of these communities. They are the result at times of small acts of unexpected expression. Something like inspiration builds, and because the community is a canvas, remains untouched, until inspiration strikes. These things come as shocks. There are profound acts of empathy, sometimes directed by a policy and sometimes by a spirit, which stagger us and bring us back to our moral GPS. A few days before we announced our new Top7, one occurred in the midst of a harsh winter afternoon in New York, when a perfect stranger on a rolling Subway took off his own shirt and gave it to a perfect stranger who happened to be homeless and shirtless: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xiKgeqUDDY. Some people were humbled; others didn’t believe it.

“Empathy,” says author Jen Percy, “starts as an act of fiction. We must think ourselves into the lives of others.” Certainly this was an act of empathy, but also one of defiance. Defiance of the stereotype that here in my city we are all cold-hearted citizens. Defiance too of the notion that all of us believe there is a gap between citizens on the basis of mental health or economic distance.

Defiance must be part of an Intelligent Community. It must also be bred from their fictions. The myths which define and anchor us to the story of the places we call “home” drive us into the future and propel us to believe that things will be better. It is at the core of the fifth criteria of our awards program and index: Advocacy.

When I think of defiance, I think of Defiance. Defiance, Iowa that is. The tiny American hamlet got its name because its townspeople had at one time actually relocated from another settlement because they were unhappy that the railroad company had not laid tracks in the old place. They were forever known as 'defiers.' They believed it and lived up to the myth. Despite its pipsqueak population, 284 people, it proudly produced a state governor, Mr. C.A. Robins. Governor Robins was the 22nd governor of the state. The state of Idaho, far away. A governor is a governor and while tiny Defiance has not tossed itself into the ring for Intelligent Community status yet (Dubuque beat them to the honor of becoming Iowa’s first Intelligent Community last year, when it made our list of Smart21) it seems to me to have the right stuff for our crowd!

Our crowd of 21 communities got a little thinner last week when we named a new Top7. I am certain that the motive to defy and to tell their tale to the world drives this group just as much as the need for a railroad drove Defiance. The Smart21 and the Top7 also needed the railroad. The new railroad is broadband. Each of the new Top7, at different times, and in different ways, made a decision to pull the trigger or stand down the gravity of economic failure that had pulled thousands of other counties, cities and towns steadily down in the post-Industrial era. They got their broadband rails down and began the hard work of turning into truly defiant places to challenge the status quo and create a better future. This year’s Top7 is a splendidly diverse group, which includes one city that has not yet reached its sixth birthday (New Taipei City, Taiwan) and another (Montreal, Canada) that lit the candles for its 350th year since formation. They will both share a stage in Columbus, Ohio (USA) in June. They are comrades because they both have defiance as part of their legacy. You will learn why when you get to Ohio in June.

Understanding the fictions and the myth which are the canvases of communities has been ICF’s way of getting at the details and the data of these places. Having done this since 1999, when Singapore took the prize as the first Intelligent Community of the Year, we felt it was time this year to take our evidence-based, objective metrics and to develop the first global Index of Intelligent Communities. You can read more about this on our website, but leave me to say that the big change is that for the first time, any community, any time of year can enter our awards program by submitting to us (at no cost) a survey form. When you do, you will also receive a report comparing your performance to our global data set. This will help you measure your progress and take the next step toward defying the odds and becoming an Intelligent Community. It will also help ICF take the next steps and publish reports at intervals, to give policy-makers, the media and planners a snapshot of the defiers. Those leaders at the grassroots who will move if the railroad and the renaissance don’t come to town soon. 

 
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