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Monday, June 17, 2013
In Stratford Ontario, a Digital Economic Engine Revs Up

We all recognize the sound of an engine revving up.  But when that engine is digital, what sound does it make?


The question was prompted by a March visit to Stratford, Ontario, Canada.  I went there because this city of 32,000 was named as Top7 Intelligent Community for the third year in a row, and it was my turn to conduct the site inspection.  I went looking to see what was different: what program they had made on very ambitious goals announced three years before.

Back in 2011, Stratford was talking about decisions by its municipal electric utility, Festival Hydro, to build an open-access fiber network and spin it out as a separate business called Rhyzome Networks.  The network aimed to ensure that business had the advanced communications infrastructure it needed, while providing the backbone for the utility’s smart-grid project.  But there was a much greater ambition in the background.  The open access network had the potential to make the Stratford area much more attractive to competitive service providers by offering them a ready-made backbone for hire.  In a small city surrounded by farmland, they could offer big improvements in speed and price.

clientuploads/Images/Stratford-1-300.gifIn March, I met Tom Sullivan, CEO of Wightman Telecom, a well-regarded rural telecom operator with its own fiber network.  He had done a deal with the city to deliver broadband to businesses and residents over the Rhyzome network, and to begin building out from Rhyzome POPs to provide fiber to the premises at 1 Gbps throughout Stratford.  It has hard to imagine any other scenario that would bring “ultrabroadband” to such a place.

In 2011, Stratford had just completed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Waterloo – located about 90 minutes away – to create a Stratford campus specializing in business and digital arts.   It represented a big coup: a small city finding a way to bring a prestigious and effective higher-educational institution right into the center of town.  But at that point, it was little more than a handshake and a press release.  

In 2013, I visited the new building that houses the University of Waterloo Stratford and saw the early stages of an exciting vision being fulfilled.  The curriculum brings together students focused on engineering, arts and business to explore how digital media will transform them all.  The nearby Stratford Accelerator Centre offers a place to take that exploration one step farther.  So in three years, the city has reproduced at small scale the innovation triangle of education, business and government collaboration that powers economic growth worldwide.  

clientuploads/Images/Stratford_Shakespeare.jpgIn 2011, Stratford had an economy composed of separate pieces: an agricultural sector, a manufacturing sector specializing in automotive components, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (the city’s biggest employer), and related tourism industries in food and accommodations.  Except for manufacturing, all were seasonal businesses – and in Canada, the season was only 4 months long.  When I returned in 2013, I saw what had been separate pieces beginning to mesh like the gears in a good machine. A simple example is the success of online tourism promotion by the city, which has created a unified marketing program for individual small businesses.  It provides easy, online, mobile access to all of the city’s food, hotel, entertainment and culture resources.  The tourism season is now stretching out at both ends as a result.  

Nothing captured the transformation for me so well as attending a breakfast meeting of one of the two Rotary Clubs in Stratford.  It was a typical group: small business leaders, independent insurance agents, bankers, retirees.  It was a typical breakfast of steam-table eggs and weak coffee.  But the speaker was representing the city and he was there to tell these small town business folks about Intelligent Communities and Stratford’s programs.  It made me think of that famous line from The Wizard of Oz: “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

What I saw was a digital engine – designed and built over the past few years, with high hopes and false starts, big dreams and midcourse corrections – turning over and starting up.  I can’t describe the sound for you.  But thanks to Stratford, from now on, I will know it when I hear it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Five Words for the Top7 Intelligent Communities

When I visit our Top7 Intelligent Communities, I find myself repeating the same five words.  They are words that people need to hear, so I tend to say them over and over again.  


I visit these cities and regions because they are in the running to become the Intelligent Community of the Year.  After the Top7 site visit, they gather at the ICF Summit in New York City from June 5 through 7 to be honored for their achievements, to share their knowledge, and find out which one will win that prestigious award. 

It is entirely natural that they are focused on the afternoon of June 7.  That is when we announce the selection, based on rigorous analysis of data and the votes of an international jury.  But I’m afraid their enthusiasm is a bit misplaced.

Attending the ICF Summit is the culmination of an analysis lasting twelve months.  For the communities, it is a milestone on a much longer journey.  

These communities are engaged in a process of major change.  Whether acting in response to crisis or out of foresight, they are working to build an economy that embraces information and communications technology as a path to prosperity, as a channel to solving social challenges, and as a means to strengthen their culture and quality of life.

clientuploads/Images/Awards-Glass-FR.gifIt is this hard work that I address when I repeat those same five words:  “It’s not about the award.”  They look at me funny when I say it, but I mean every one of those five words.
What is it about?  It is about the economic, social and cultural outcomes in those communities.  It is about the opportunities they create for individuals and organizations and the brilliant solutions they devise for long-standing problems shared by municipalities everywhere.  It is about what they have accomplished so far, and all that our global movement may inspire them to accomplish in the future.  These are the reasons we selected them as Top7 Intelligent Communities, and they are rewards much richer than any prize.
Monday, June 3, 2013
The “Go to Guy”


At the Memorial Golf Tournament last weekend in Dublin, Ohio, Tiger Woods shot his worst 9-hole round ever in a PGA tournament.  It made international headlines because, as you might imagine, someone associated with excellence at that level usually does not have many bad days, much less a triple bogey on the 18th hole.  

Over the course of his career, Woods has won more championships in Dublin than the guy who designed the course (Jack Nicklaus.)  Despite one tweet that said, “I guess he was overwhelmed to be playing in an Intelligent Community,” Tiger ultimately proves truly intelligent people right.  My dad used to say, “The crème will eventually rise to the top.”  Tiger’s mediocrity made news precisely because he played badly.  It would not be a headline if most of us shot a 44 at Muirfield Village.  (It would be a miracle.)

Indeed.  Over a lifetime of work and a dedication to excellence each hour of the day, results accumulate that seem impressive in retrospect, and lasts generations.  Rome was not built in a day the cliché goes, but modern Dublin, Ohio was built in less time than it took the Ceasars to assemble their masterpiece.  In fact, the work to plan the future of this once-tiny village, on the cusp of Columbus, began circa 1987 when it realized that its future would be very, very bright.  

One of the major reasons Dublin became Intelligent and remains successful was the arrival, first as an intern and then through the ranks as Deputy City Manager, of a stocky, unassuming guy with a sweet Irish grin and a dedication to a vision for the place he called home.  Working with a team of new urbanists, Dublin became - excuse me, Top7 Columbus and New Albany – a tail that today wags bigger dogs.   While the work of transforming Dublin into a modern small city has single-handedly led the Ohio Renaissance – with more Fortune 500 companies per capita there than any other city – might seem a parochial accomplishment, it was founded on global ideas.  Those ideas when put into motion, beginning with a broadband network, have generated international interest.   The international interest has come in business relocations and start-ups which flourish.  Despite the large corporations, which draw revenues that enhance the quality of life, Dublin’s average company employee size is a lucky seven people.  Dublin’s global ideas were embedded and constantly innovated upon.  In many ways, the city’s Intelligent Community champions, including attorney Greg Dunn and former City Manager Tom Hansley, understood the contours the emergent Intelligent Community movement before we started one!   

But the real force, in my view, is the quiet architect of Dublin.  The man is decidedly un-imperial, and cut from the green and wholesome cloth best described in an ad that Dublin ran about itself in site selection magazines shortly  after becoming an ICF Smart21 community in 2008 (it has gone on to become a Top7 – twice).  “Dublin,” the copy read, is a place with “an unrivaled Midwestern work ethic each and every day.”  That is the community anthem.  Get it done and don’t make a noise about it, even as you help change the world.  Think Neil Armstrong and John Glenn.  Each universally embraced and both products of the Ohio ethic.

clientuploads/Images/Dana-McDaniel.jpgLet me add a third.  Dana McDaniel.  Dana has been the Deputy City Manager of Dublin, Ohio since 2004.  Mr. McDaniel was in the crowd last Saturday when Tiger made bogey players everywhere feel 20 years younger.   Correction: to say he was “in the crowd” is like saying General George Patton was “somewhere in Europe” during the winter of 1944.  In fact he was in the middle of the action. 

According to Hansley, who is McDaniel’s former boss, Dana was the person that he knew would be his “go to guy.”   To decipher that bit of American midwesternism, he is the type of person who superiors knew could lead the city into the future, manage its present needs, take risks, never back down and lead.  Leadership is much discussed.  Here is a good definition, straight from another of his direct reports, Major General Deborah Ashenhurst of the State of Ohio National Guard.  She says, “He leads in a way that others try to succeed so that they do not let him down.”   

He is a true leader.  In April 2012, even the United States government figured it out.  The Ohio Army National Guard recognized this special person, promoting him to the rank of Brigadier General.  The citizen-soldier, who served his beloved state as a member of the Guard, also served his nation.  In 2005-06 the man who had envisioned the Dublin Entrepreneurial Center and the father of two high-achieving daughters, became a Design Engineer in the 16th Engineer Brigade in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and went from his soon-to-be Intelligent Community to the sands and fury of war in Baghdad.  

He came back and continued the formation of Dublink, the city’s fiber network and most important gamble.  Leave it to say that the “go to guy” is still at it.  In the early days the city turned away companies that it felt did not fit into its vision of innovation, employment and future generation’s interests.  Hansley admits that to propose to do this, and to build a municipal network at a time when, frankly, it may not have even been legal, was something he trusted to McDaniel.   The network was the spear that flew and found its mark.  It keeps Dublin flying and on the fairway.  It had led to the citizens of Dublin becoming all that they can be.  

For this and much more, Dana McDaniel will join ICF in New York to receive our third-ever Lifetime Achievement Award on the afternoon 7 June.

Monday, May 27, 2013
Toronto: A City So Smart, It Just May Be Intelligent

Let’s say somebody asked you to spend $9 billion to make a once-in-a-century improvement in your nation’s biggest city.  What would you do with it?


For the past 10 years, answering that question has been the job of a gentleman named John Campbell, CEO of Waterfront Toronto (WT).  John and his Director of Intelligent Communities, Kristina Verner, were my hosts for a mid-April Top7 site visit to Canada’s financial and media capital and its largest metro area by population. 

clientuploads/Images/John Campbell.jpgNobody handed John (pictured right) a $9 billion check and told him to get to work.  The Federal, Provincial and city government joined force to provide $1.5 bn in funding. Private developers have invested another $2.5 bn to date.  The team he leads today will still be doing deals, raising money and plowing it back into the waterfront thirty years from now.

Like most older waterfront cities, Toronto located its heavy industries at lakeside.  The fading of manufacturing from the local economy left a vast brownfield site separating the heart of the city from the lake.  WT is an independent agency tasked with redeveloping 800 hectares of brownfield land to provide 40,000 residential units and one million square meters of commercial space.  A total of $3.7 bn has already gone into the ground, which is why there are more construction cranes on the WT site than any other location in North America.  

I have to say that projects like this do not ordinarily impress me.  They are big, they are imaginative, they are glittery.  But all too often, they turn out to be enormous investments of resource that benefit a small number of people.  You know the people I mean: the elite by income, occupation and personal wealth.

clientuploads/Images/Toronto Waterfront 2.jpgWhat impresses about WT is not its size, not its price tag – not even the ultrabroadband 1-10 Gbps fiber network that will connect every residential and commercial space.  What impresses is its vision.  Instead of having property builders in the driver’s seat, the project seems to be led by community builders.  Rather than creating a gated community for the uber-rich, Waterfront Toronto aims to transform the entire city in its image.  
The development team believes that public trust is the project’s greatest asset and has spent years gathering ideas, explaining decisions and reporting progress to citizens and local business.   Twenty percent of all housing is reserved for low-income residents – and they won’t be tucked into one low-rent corner of the waterfront but spread across its length.  The master plan devotes three-eighths of the total land to public parks.  It forbids the construction of a “wall of condos” blocking the water view, and takes such a sustainable approach to building that it has actually sparked an increase in the number of fish species in the lake.  
Its broadband network is funded by fees paid by every developer leasing property for construction.  Residential developers will bundle broadband service into condominium fees to encourage ubiquitous use, while low-income residents will receive it free.  The network is operated by a private partner, Beanfield, which is now being besieged by building owners outside the waterfront zone to be hooked up.  In this way, WT expects its network to drive demand for massive bandwidth across the city.  
My hosts showed me a dozen more ways in which they are driving a larger destiny for the city, from helping to reduce traffic congestion to bringing a community college campus onto the site.  
Smart this new urban center will definitely be.  But – unlike so many efforts to create instant Smart Cities or make already-successful urban centers a little smarter – the Waterfront has the potential to make Toronto truly intelligent. 
Monday, May 20, 2013
Rio de Janeiro’s Knowledge Squares take on Digital Inclusion


Rio de Janeiro’s story is the struggle between the rich and poor, the have’s and have-not’s and those digitally rich versus those technically deprived.

Rio has struggled with this for decades. However, in my estimation, Rio’s civic administration has emerged triumphant through the development of several Knowledge Squares (Praça do Conhecimento), an initiative with the goal of focusing on culture and education for the people living in the surrounding hillside slums, or favelas.

These favelas have been notorious in the past for the infamous Rio drug lords and their dangerous conflicts with the police force. In recent years, gun battles have given way to pacification, a program in which the citizens of the favelas support the government’s movement to create a better society for their citizens.

clientuploads/Images/rio1.pngOn my most recent visit to Rio, my friend Franklin Dias Coelho, the City of Rio’s CIO, took me to visit Bairro Carioca, a new urban area in Rio de Janeiro that contains one of 6 Knowledge Squares that the city government created in 2012. In these Knowledge Squares, local workers and students are offered access to technology and if qualified, to IT training through Cisco’s Networking Academy. Cisco's global education network serves 25,000 Brazilians and forms part of an initiative that involves over 1 million students in 165 countries. About 120 youngsters in Bairro Carioca participated in the training last year in program modules training for help desk support, internet specialists or to develop network technicians. Cisco also provides support for teacher training and various educational materials at the six Knowledge Squares throughout the region. Bairro Carioca also includes a housing project with over 2000 subsidized housing units, a school, kindergarten and other facilities. My friend also took me to another Knowledge Square in the Nova Brasília community, at Morro do Alemão, in Rio.

clientuploads/Images/rio2.pngThese Knowledge Squares are an example of one of the most dramatic and extensive opportunities to provide digital inclusion for its citizens anywhere I have ever seen. Knowledge Squares consist of a large central area with smaller pods serving as training facilities. In the center of one of the Knowledge Squares that I visited is a large electronic multimedia display in the shape of a tree in which people are able to play with icons and words to arouse curiosity and begin their quest for knowledge. Other displays provide information including the history of the area, information on its culture (in this case, it was the local center for Samba music and dancing) and other content. Surrounding the central space are classrooms, a library, language labs and recreation areas. Outside is an open area for films to be shown on weekend nights.

While the Knowledge Squares are intended primarily to capture the interest of young people in the favelas, their parents and siblings are often attracted to them for the opportunity to explore the technology provided by various technology providers. The Knowledge Squares I visited were packed with young people, some showing evidence of their poverty in their faces and the clothes on their back. The local teams of security guards were more like coaches and mentors. The staff who trained the local students in the computer labs seemed highly supportive and friendly. I recall years ago that these kids might form marauding youth gangs from the favelas. Today they are keen instead to be part of the excitement of the new age of enlightenment. 

clientuploads/Images/rio3.pngStanding among the students actively working on their computers in one of the labs I asked about the graduates of the training programs. I was told that about 30% of the graduates have found jobs; jobs that they did not and could not have had before related to technology and applications that could earn them a living. The trainer explained that the courses he was teaching included web design, IT management, graphic design and production and video production.  “We try to facilitate the entry of young people into the local labor market. This will be especially important when we need skilled workers and technology support for the World Cup, Olympic Games and Formula 1.” The Knowledge Squares were created by the city to stimulate the acquisition of knowledge, but my intuition says the trainer was spot on - they also saw a need to deal with an eventual requirement to develop knowledge workers for the massive events over the next several years in Rio, which will forever transform the city and region. And thanks to service providers and technology firms, like Cisco, the lives of individuals are also being transformed. Digital inclusion and not the physical sports facilities will be the greatest legacy of these games.
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