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Monday, July 7, 2014
Pigs, Cows and Footballs Need Broadband, Too

The Internet turned 20 this year, by one measure at least. It was in 1994 that Netscape released the first commercial Web browser. Two years later, there were already some 16 million Web users in the world. There are nearly 3 billion of us now, despite the fact that three out of every five of world’s people have yet to go online.


Strange to say, a few pigs, cows and footballs may get there before them.

Despite the amazing progress of the past 20 years, the broadband revolution is just getting started. Nothing illustrates that better than the rise of the Internet of Things: devices talking to other devices over the Internet to accomplish some useful aim. I am grateful to Chee Sing Chan, writing in the Show Guide to CommunicAsia in Singapore, for some eye-opening examples.

Two companies, General Alert and 1248, have come up with temperature and chemical sensors for pigs that communicate wirelessly with the Internet. Attached to the skin or embedded under it, they track the many factors that contribute to health or signal the onset of disease: temperature, drinking water flow, feed rate, humidity, CO2 concentration and bodily acidity. Pigs still can’t fly but, through these devices, they can provide early warning of diseases like foot-and-mouth that can decimate a drove.

Cows have their own kind of online access. In this case, the companies are using Wi-Fi-connected collars and smart software to monitor when they go into “heat.” That may be information cows would prefer to keep to themselves, but it has real commercial value for dairy farmers. Nearly all cows are artificially inseminated, so failed attempts waste money. Impregnating cows also boosts milk production; according to a report by Singularity, missing a cycle of “heat” means lost sales of about five gallons of milk a day.

For World Cup fans, Adidas now has a football (soccer ball to Americans) that contains sensors connected wirelessly to a mobile device carried by players. They track the point of impact of every kick and measure the spin, speed and direction of the ball’s flight path. The feedback should help players get more out of the moment when foot, chest or head connects with the ball.

These entertaining examples are just the tiny white tip of one very large iceberg. As Intelligent Communities plan for the future, they do so knowing they must provide a platform for innovations that can hardly be imagined today, and that will demand greater and greater broadband capacity from city square to country farm. Remember: the pigs, cows and footballs of tomorrow are counting on you.

Photo credit ZDNet

Tuesday, July 1, 2014
The Helix and Proof of Concept at Harvard


More often than not, it is the unexpected moments that reveal or confirm a key insight for me. The first insight that was revealed to me during last week’s terrific two-day class at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Building and Regenerating Communities, was that the Triple Helix may well be the most powerful concept currently percolating throughout the lives of our cities and communities. The second is that soccer, because it is so rooted to place, is a great example of why tribes and communities matter.

The class was originated and led by Dr. Rick Huijbregts. Rick is Vice President for Industry Transformation and a lot of other stuff at Cisco Canada. He has been busy at work developing long-term strategies for Smart and Intelligent Community market development around the company’s notion of an Internet of Everything (IoE). My new friend has obviously paid close attention to ICF’s work over the years and has fused it into a well-planned approach for generating and understanding our “Triple Helix” concept. The Triple Helix, as you might remember, is when the academic, private and local government sectors work closely together toward a common goal inside a community or a region. ICF believes, as do others now, that it is the new strand that will enable cities and communities to remain “future proof” and profitable. It will also produce new innovations in rapid and persistent succession.

Dr. Rick was kind enough to invite me to speak and to provide ICF’s global perspective on Intelligent Communities to the group, made up of about 25 folks, many in the real estate, investment and urban planning communities. I thought it would be a good idea to go to Harvard to learn something. So I did the gig.

What I learned is that the depth and range of possibilities generated by both Intelligent Communities and the Helix can impact every sector of a place. And not simply by installing WiFi our routers. That is not the point of this exercise, ultimately. I get that Dr. Huijbregt’s approach is a go-to-market strategy for a large technology-driven corporation (and, for the sake of transparency, Cisco an ICF supporter), but I appreciate that it is genuinely designed for the long-term planning of cities and communities. Long-range planning – and the obvious changes in the workforce and our social lives - mandate that both industries and politics be transformed.

Easier said than done, since much of the fruit of this work may not show-up, in full force, until the end of an election cycle or two – or ten. Yet for those who have gone there, or who are making their move now, it has begun to have impact. We heard from Barcelona (a Smart21 Community), Songdo (South Korea), a city built from scratch and Toronto, ICF’s 2014 Intelligent Community of the Year.

Toronto, the first Canadian community to be named Intelligent Community of the Year in seven years, is representative of this work. It is also true that in places like Canada, Taiwan, The Netherlands and South Korea we see incorporated successfully many of the elements that ICF demonstrates are necessary for a community to have multi-generational success in the Digital Age. I noted in my talks that the clichéd “Digital Age” had best be more than an era where big corporations, selling big technology tools, prevail. This will lead to more disintermediation and fewer jobs. Rather, it must be an era defined as much for “hi-tech” as for its success (or failure) at returning creative potential to every single member of the workforce and the social economy. This means that the approach must be holistic, collaborative and seeking to blend technology not as the point of the spear, but rather as the handle that allows the spear to reach its target.

In the case of communities, and for the people who design, build and govern them, the target is intelligence. Brain Gain. The excavation and resurgence of enlightened culture that will produce new industries and a form of entrepreneurship that gives people multiple sources of income. “Enlightened Culture” is defined (by me) as one which evokes the best in a people and in a place, and points both toward increasingly diverse, creative and global connections. This was incorporated nicely by Rick as he conceptually layered technology beneath the social and economic goals, and demonstrated from an engineering perspective how they might be reached. Good stuff.

The second insight – the power of place to impact behavior – was very apparent when the class, made up of executives from around the world, especially Germany, which had sent several highly skilled real estate and investment executives to the class, discovered that the soccer match between Germany and the USA was on at Noon on day two of the class. Rick and Harvard accommodated the guests by streaming the game into the room during lunch hour. We even started the morning session early to buy time in the event that the match went long. (It did.)

For the sake of transparency (again), I was more interested in the results of the Yankees baseball game than in how my nation performed against Germany. I watched not the match but the people as they watched the match. What I saw was a completely different group of people than the one I’d been exchanging questions and answers with. The focus and passion for their countrymen was not surprising, of course, but the intensity on their faces; the degree of concern when a play or an official’s call went bad was so palpable. This – this connection to HOME – was real stuff. Tribal. It again revealed why communities and cultures matter. We are hardwired to them, and if we do not have the means to take positive shots on goal, to get places planned well and done with an open architecture, we will not score. We will, in fact, be speared.

That is what I learned in my class at Harvard!

Monday, June 23, 2014
Brain Gain - how innovative cities create job growth in an age of disruption


June 23, 2014 – Global launch of the latest book by Robert Bell, John G. Jung and Louis Zacharilla

“But one of Mayor Coleman’s first acts was convene a group of local business leaders and lead them on a mission to Toronto, Canada. He wanted them to see first-hand what that city had done to make itself a magnet for immigration, and the positive impact the new citizens had had on its economy. The Mayor believed that immigration, properly channeled, was a key to Columbus’s economic future and the re-energizing of its culture. He was persuasive enough that the business leaders – who were to form the core of a permanent public-private policy group called the Columbus Partnership – returned home convinced of this vision and ready to work on its implementation. Back at home, Mayor Coleman established a program called the New American Initiative, which aimed to give all immigrants living in Columbus access to services that would improve their lives. Its programs are designed to tackle the challenges of language, education, affordable housing, healthcare and employment.”

            Excerpt from Brain Gain, by Robert Bell, John G. Jung and Louis Zacharilla.

The story about Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and dozens upon dozens of others in Taichung, Eindhoven, Toronto, London and many other global communities are at the heart of a new book launched on June 23, 2014 by the Intelligent Community Forum in New York. Stories. Brain Gain is all about stories.

That is one of the things that differentiates this book, third in a series by Robert Bell, John G. Jung and Louis Zacharilla from any traditional book on economic development, strategic planning and community development in our cities.

For instance, learn how Stratford, Ontario Canada’s iconic Stratford Festival was created with a mere $125 investment. Back in 1952, Journalist Tom Patterson proposed to Stratford City Council that he could convince legendary British director Tyrone Guthrie to come to Stratford to establish a summer Shakespeare Festival in a tent in the park. It was obvious to Patterson that no one could resist attending Shakespeare in the park on the banks of the Avon River in a town called Stratford… now come on; doesn’t everyone agree? And besides, that was $25 more than Patterson originally asked for. His council offered the extra amount because New York City in 1952 was considered very expensive. Today, Stratford is a well-known Intelligent Community that excels in the arts and also now has a digital media focus at its University of Waterloo Stratford campus. Stories such as these penetrate Brain Gain as it 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 into the way communities solved their problems and hopefully will inspire others.

According to Panagiotis Tsarchopoulos who studies Intelligent and Smart cities at the Urban and Regional Innovation Research Centre in Greece, “Brain Gain offers the authors’ latest insights from more than a decade of research into the most Intelligent Communities on the planet. These cities have found ways to prosper from the relentless rise of Information Technology (IT) and connectivity that, in other places, is destroying jobs and making whole industries obsolete at an unprecedented rate …The book explores these issues, not in theory or at the global level, but through the experiences of cities and regions that have faced challenging problems and found imaginative solutions.” Furthermore, David Brunnen of Europe’s Groupe Intellex, writes: “ICT-inspired job growth is widely reported but for many folk the reality is the opposite – job destruction. Brain Gain considers how to manage the balance between Drain and Gain… More than any other book, Brain Gain rams home the reality that ‘collaborative advantage’ is the new ‘competitive advantage’ – and the winners will be those community leaders who best apply these global insights to their own local economies. This book could not have been written without the global insights that bubble up through the long-term knowledge sharing programs of the Intelligent Community Forum.”

We all know that change is inevitable. What this book 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 Taichung, each home to millions of people as well as communities such as Stratford, Pirai and Mitchell, home to thousands of people. These centers, have benefited from the application of connectivity and IT to give their businesses, many of which are SME’s, a global competitive edge resulting in significant new employment for each of them. Through compelling insights and stories about communities as well as institutional and private sector champions, Brain Gain looks at how robust high speed connectivity is enabling and often driving global economic change and the shifts in our societies’ cultures and well-being. But no other city at this time can provide stories about its Intelligent Community better than Toronto. It is now the leading model in the world having been named on June 4, 2014 as this year’s Intelligent Community of the Year, succeeding Taichung, Taiwan. We will hear more about Toronto over the course of the year. Other success stories in Brain Gain come from the Intelligent Communities of Chattanooga, Eindhoven, Oulu, Riverside and Waterloo.

Each previous book has followed a theme. The theme of Brain Gain is all about talent, investment and jobs that are created, attracted, retained, but also those that may be disrupted. Pulling on a future theme, “Community as Canvas”, you will also read about Intelligent Communities that look differently at their communities and their culture that is built on rich and colourful lives and experiences. These Intelligent Communities are creating something new using new tools and ideas, but also by taking risks and accepting risk as necessary in an innovation ecosystem. The mayors and community champions in our 126 Intelligent Communities are the new entrepreneurs. The social capital that they generate will be returning on their investment 10-20 years from now. Intelligent Communities are the story of our era and Robert, Lou and I have the privilege to tell their stories. Brain Gain available in book or Kindle format at Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.

Monday, June 16, 2014
Intelligent Communities Find the Upside of Immigration

If you are an American and have not read “The Immigrant Advantage” by Anand Giridharadas, do yourself a favor. This editorial in The New York Times will take you four minutes to read and it may help you make sense of your own country.


The editorial concerns Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh, who was shot by Mark Stroman, a self-proclaimed 9/11 avenger, in the convenience store where Mr. Bhuiyan worked. It is a sad story of ignorance and rage playing out on an innocent victim – but one with a surprise ending. Mr. Byuiyan, who lost the sight in one eye in the attack, was moved to learn more about his attacker’s life. What he learned changed his view of himself.

Mr. Bhuiyan realized that he was among the lucky Americans. Even after the attack, he was able to pick up and remake himself, climbing from that convenience store to waiting tables at an Olive Garden to six-figure IT jobs. But Mr. Bhuiyan also saw the America that created Mr. Stroman, in which a battered working class was suffering from a dearth of work, community and hope, with many people failing to form strong bonds and filling the void with escapist chemicals, looping endlessly between prison and freedom. Eventually, Mr. Bhuiyan petitioned a Texas court to spare his attacker’s life because he lacked his victim’s advantages: a loving and sober family, pressure to strive and virtuous habits.

The story of two nations in one is not just American. Wherever you live, as the broadband revolution reshapes our economy, those with the skills and virtuous habits to compete live in one version of your nation, while those without live in another. And in every nation, the immigrants are there to point up the distinction.

In our new book, Brain Gain, we note how strange it is that most of us believe immigration is a bad thing. A 2013 international found that 64% percent of Britons think immigration makes their country a worse place to live, followed by 60% in Spain, 57% in Italy, 49% in the US and 44% in Germany.

That is truly impressive – because by every objective measure, immigrants make tremendous economic contributions to their new homelands. They create more jobs and wealth, have greater educational attainment, commit fewer crimes and use fewer social services than the native-born. But down in our unreasoning souls, we know that these objective facts are wrong. We know that immigrants are criminals or “welfare tourists” shopping for a new homeland offering the best deal on public assistance. We know they try to force their foreign ways onto us in the form of signs in shop windows, new kinds of foods in the grocery store and new ways to worship. It is the oldest of human impulses to fear and distrust the stranger and we are still at it today.

And yet, there are Intelligent Communities that have made the attraction and integration of immigrants the foundation of their success. Toronto, our 2014 Intelligent Community of the Year, is one. Columbus in the US state of Ohio is another. So are the Eindhoven region of the Netherlands and the cities of Hsinchu and New Taipei City in Taiwan.

In all of their nations, these cities are beacons of hope, places where the “facts” that our unreasoning souls know are proven false. By working hard to open themselves to the world, they ensure that their people, native and immigrant, reap the benefits of a global economy.

Friday, June 6, 2014
Reclaiming their Oxygen & Letting Emotions Show


I saw something that I have never, ever seen during an ICF awards announcement: I saw people from a new Intelligent Community of the Year crying on the stage. Congratulations to Toronto, Ontario, Canada on its success Thursday night, as well as for its successes on the 364 days and nights before then. Toronto has become our new standard bearer and articulates what is possible in our cities and towns. I can tell from your emotional outbursts, Toronto, that this really means something to you. All of your citizens should be happy today, and I am sure most are.

I sensed what was going on emotionally the moment after Mayor Rob van Gijzel of Eindhoven and I announced Toronto as the successor to Taichung. The Toronto table at Guastavino’s erupted, and there were shrieks and roars. There was a large delegation from many sectors of the city, as well as fans of Toronto living in New York, who were cheering.

To be fair, most communities have that reaction when I call out their name. Taichung did last June. Eindhoven did in 2011. And in 2012 Riverside, California – the epitome of West Coast USA-laid-back-cool – jogged to the stage and began tweeting! But as one of Toronto’s bright lights, City Councillor Michael Thompson, began reading his acceptance remarks, which he had typed in advance (“How’s that for confidence?” I whispered to Taichung’s representative on the stage), I looked around me and saw people (I will not name names) crying or trying to hold back the tears.

What I sensed were tears of joy and relief. Toronto was celebrating what it has been for the past year, which is a city that is using broadband effectively to move its economy forward, and its creative and academic capacity to give knowledge workers and start-ups the tools to build the city’s future. It is a place that has been on a roll of accomplishments and economic expansion, but has been getting attention for the wrong reasons. Most people know what this is, but I am betting that Mayor Ford, who is struggling and who I hope overcomes his own personal suffering, is also celebrating and honoring the fine work for which his community has been recognized by the universal body of communities and jurors.

ICF’s fifth criteria for assessing candidate communities is “Advocacy.” This means the degree to which a community markets itself publicly to the world for the purposes of attracting inward investment, joint venture partners and media coverage. It also means the degree to which it communicates internally to its citizens and its youth with regard to its plans for the future, its strengths and its weaknesses.

In 2014, the oxygen needed from the media and Internet to get the story out was often unavailable, and the Intelligent Community leadership in Toronto had to do what my mom and dad said I needed to do if I was ever going to be recognized for doing anything worthy with my life: work hard and trust that in a free and fair society, merit ultimately tips the scale in your favor. Toronto proved to an international jury and an evaluation company in India that with our six factors weighed in the balance, the degree of difficulty for the Advocacy criteria was high and yet was overcome by performance.

That is the simple story of Toronto being named the first Canadian Intelligent Community of the Year since 2007. To some degree, I suppose, Toronto was seeking its redemption and wanted, finally, for the story that they have been struggling to get out to the world for the past two years to be told. It was. And we now know who leads Toronto into the future: a collaborative body of political leaders, a rich academic and entrepreneurial community, as well as folks such as the leaders of Regent Park, the Daniels Spectrum and Waterfront Toronto. Anecdotally, what made Toronto appealing to the majority of ICF’s jurors (the majority of whom are from outside North America) was the intensity of its collaboration and its absolute commitment to achieving an economically and socially diverse and fair place for all to live.

Shortly before Toronto was called to the stage, our 2014 Visionary of the Year, Suneet Singh Tuli, the CEO of Datawind, received a standing ovation for his simple, straightforward claim that he had built the world’s cheapest computer not because he was a “visionary,” but because it was simply and “obviously” the right thing to do.

In the razor-thin margin that raised Toronto to the top of the group of seven true champions, it is obvious that oxygen is returning. Well done and congratulations.

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