|Sunday, July 1, 2012|
|In the Broadband Economy, Small Places Rule|
|I have had the pleasure to work with a dozen small communities over the past two years. They range from single towns of 5,000 people to entire counties of 40,000. They are mostly in rural areas but some serve as the hinterland of midsize cities. And they have convinced me that we may be entering the Age of the Small Place. |
In the Age of the Small Place, the size of your population matter much less than its skills and talents. Your geographic location counts for much less than your connectivity. Your scale – whether measured in money, size or people – has less impact on your future than your brains and determination.
The last 90 days have shown me three examples of Small Places, each amazingly different. The first is Oulu, Finland, one of our 2012 Top Seven communities, a place of 68,000 people living 200 km south of the Arctic Circle. The second is Stratford, Ontario, Canada, another Top Seven, with 32,000 people, a city that mixes Shakespeare, agriculture and digital technology into a potent economic brew. The third is Singapore, the city-state at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, a former Intelligent Community of the Year that is home to 5 million people living in one of the world's most modern economies.
Singapore is a Small Place? How can that be? As a city, it's big. But as a country – which is how it thinks of itself – it ranks 116th in the world, just behind Finland and ahead of Turkmenistan. It was thrown out of the Malay Federation in 1965 to find its way as an independent state. At that time, the consensus was that it was doomed to failure, thanks to lack of natural resources and land, as well as severe shortfalls in education, housing and employment.
But it had the attitude of a Small Place, and that attitude proved central to its success.
That attitude has three aspects. The first is being fearfully, compulsively open to the world. I use those adjectives advisedly. It is no easy thing to acknowledge how tightly our local economies are linked to the global one, and how much depends on decisions and random events far beyond our borders. Like children, we prefer to think ourselves safe within the familiar confines of home. But not these communities.
Singapore's leaders like to say that their only natural resources are the skills and industry of their people. The city transformed itself into a secure, efficient place for the world to do business, protected by the rule of law, in a part of the world where such things are still rare. In Oulu, they say that the entire nation of Finland is too small, population wise, to serve as a market, which is why since Viking times its people have looked outward. For Stratford, decades of recurring industrial transitions have sent them searching for opportunity from Silicon Valley to Tokyo, something very few cities of their size even consider.
The three communities are also determined to control their destiny. Being open to the world, they know that destiny often has the winning hand. But that does not stop them from playing to win. Sitting at dinner with officials and executives in Singapore in June, I recognized the same attitude I had seen in Stratford and Oulu in April. In every crisis, there may be a hidden opportunity. In every opportunity, there may be a chance to run the table.
The third attitude they share is an outsized pride. You will never meet people more quietly, impressively proud of what they have been able to accomplish together. Not self-satisfied, far from boastful, frankly admitting their flaws. But sure of the value of what they have built and confident of their ability to keep building.
In the Age of the Small Place, the value of size and scale has not vanished. Sitting on top of a major natural resource or a key trade route is still a good idea. But the penalties for being small and out-of-the-way are shrinking fast, as global broadband network becomes ever faster and cheaper, and improves our lives at an ever greater rate. Keep your eye on the Small Places. They may not be making headlines today but I suspect they will make history tomorrow.
|Saturday, June 16, 2012|
|Never Miss an Opportunity to ask your Driver …|
|Over the Winter and early Spring of 2012, the ICF Co-Founders split their duties to evaluate some of the Top 7 Intelligent Communities around the world. It is a daunting task to cover the globe over a three or 4 month period. But somehow we do it year after year and we are grateful to learn about each of the Top 7 Intelligent Communities. |
One of the tricks is to never miss an opportunity to ask your taxi driver from the airport about the community you are visiting. They are a font of frank knowledge and they can give you a perspective that concentrates the lens on a community like no other. For instance, in a matter of 40 minutes, I was given the overview of Austin by my driver that reads like a personal shopping list of interesting facts and figures. “Welcome to the home of Willie Nelson, Lance Armstrong, Kevin Costner and Sandra Bullock. Have you been to Bullock’s restaurant, Bess, yet? Ya gotta go! And the ancestral home of author O’Henry. Some of the Go-Go’s and the Dixie Chicks are also running around town. Ya know that George Bush was Governor here from 1995-2000 before he became President? And Lyndon Baines Johnson lay in state here in the Headliners Club after he passed on. That is where you get the buffet now.”
Austin is a city that is in the south, yet feels like it has four seasons. In late February, when I visited Austin, the trees had shed their leaves, yet you can spot the odd palm tree along the river as well. It is a car dominated city, yet a single Light Rapid Train passes in front of my taxi. I will never see it again during my visit to the city. My driver complains that it only services part of the inner city. “Transit is a controversial matter here, mainly due to the cost.” Everything gets weighed from a cost-benefit analysis. Austin is fiscally conservative, yet very liberal in all other senses.”
“Yep, we are the blueberry in a sea of red tomatoes. You’all will hear that many times over from the locals. And proud of it, too. Wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s the reason I came from Atlanta some twenty years ago. The rest of the state of Texas is very conservative, but Austin has always been liberal and attracts those kinds of folks.” We drive down Congress Avenue. It is a main boulevard like so many in thriving US cities today, robust but also in transition, especially at its core. New high-rises developed within the past decade have been built to meet the demand of the new service industries mixed with a growing condominium market to meet the demand of young and affluent purchasers. Mixed among the shiny new offices are parking lots with BBQ trucks selling brisket and beef ribs, BBQ chicken and sausage. The smell of hickory smoke fills your nose and you can’t wait for the next meal to come around. On 6th Street, the seedy bars become a magnet for music lovers in search of jazz, country, rock and roll all fusing in a mixture of sounds on the street as you pass by one open window to the next. Names like the Blind Pig, Coyote Ugly (yes! based on the movie of the same name) and The Alamo blast music into the mild winter air. “This is the center of the music and interactive digital world during Spring Break in March. Ever hear of South by Southwest? Hundreds of thousands of visitors, artists and producers will be here in the middle of March, just in time to welcome the bats to Austin. And oh, by the way, Twitter was launched here,” says my driver as we approach our hotel. “And Bruce Springsteen is the headliner this year. Anything else you want to know, don’t hesitate to ask – welcome to Austin!”
I was in Austin to validate their application, as my colleagues were in Stratford, Quebec City, Saint John, and Oulu. My other cities to evaluate this year were Riverside and Taichung City in Taiwan. Each visit is different and learning from community insiders like taxi drivers is usually among the best experiences.
And speaking of taxi drivers, have you ever heard of Mexico’s “Vigilante Taxi Driver” Program? Nearly 3,500 taxi drivers in the City of Tuxtla Gutiérrez (population 555,000) located in the Mexican state of Chiapas use their mobile phones to alert the Citizen Monitoring System about accidents, potholes, downed street lights and leaking water mains, as well as crimes in progress. Think of it as a 311 service on wheels, and more! Launched as the Vigilante Taxi Driver program, it involves citizens in improving public safety and quality of life in this community. Prior to the development of the program, crime was rampant and the city was challenged with this issue. The Vigilante Citizen Monitoring System consists of an integrated platform combining cell phones with multimedia, GPS and Web platform that city agencies use in making decisions regarding safety and local improvements. Since the program was initiated, drivers have reported on nearly 2,500 car accidents and 146 stolen vehicles. It has assisted in dismantling kidnapping and car-theft gangs, identified counterfeiters of license plates and official documents and saved the lives of more than 130 people injured in accidents or crimes.
So the next time you take a cab anywhere, don’t just think of these drivers as a simple means of getting from point A to point B. They are an integral part of the cities information base, tourism department, crime prevention service and veritable bastian of citizen participation at its best. As a result, ICF is giving the Tuxtla Gutiérrez Vigilante Taxi Drivers ICF’s Founders Award. ICF Co-Founders cite that the “program represents a near-perfect blend of technology and citizen participation. It is the essence of ordinary technology used to achieve a high level of innovation. It relies on the mobile phone—a simple technology—to engage citizens in improving their community.”
Here’s to the taxi industry everywhere… Salute!
|Wednesday, June 13, 2012|
|Farewell, Eindhoven, Fare Forward Riverside|
It was a Summit that witnessed the return of the Intelligent Community of the Year award to North America, after a five year absence. I am not sure whether that sends a "signal," as some say, about this hemisphere's grasp of the importance of the Intelligent Community movement, or whether it was simply Riverside's excellence. Whatever it was, the last city to stand on that Brooklyn stage with the title "Intelligent Community of the Year," Waterloo, Canada, had been so grateful that afterward it presented ICF with a permanent stand for the Award. It is an iconic trophy, as you can see from the video. Until that time, no American city's name had been on the plaque since 2001. Since that time, New York has arguably devolved from Intelligent Community status.
But it all changed at around 2:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time on June 8 after a razor-thin margin brought the award to sunny, southern California and to the community that has seized its destiny. Congratulations to Riverside, California, USA. It succeeds the remarkable Eindhoven and is now the 2012 Intelligent Community of the Year. It is the first California community to be named by ICF and the first with a CIO, Steve Reneker, to have scaled Mount Everest. Oh yes, it also does many other things to scale new heights, such as allowing people to charge their electric cars at City Hall.
The climb to Intelligent Community of the Year was, arguably, as hard as it was for Reneker, who in many ways is the heart and soul of the City's excellence, to get up that icy mountain face. This is a place in California's historic Inland Empire that was not only near-dead, but nearly forgotten. It found its memory and its center. In his report to the selection Jury, John Jung reported that "Riverside is the first community in the region that feels complete, with a civic center and central city elements." [NOTE: Read more about John Jung's site visit to Riverside] It is a place where its founder was buried in a graveyard that had been largely abandoned, and was poorly groomed, to say the least. Symbols send signals. One of the first things the revivalists of Riverside did was to restore the cemetery and the grave, as if to say, "Rise up Riverside." The awakening was slow but it was a sure-footed climb.
Fifteen minutes before Riverside took the stage to accept the award (and go into a group tweet, which resembled a tribal prayer ceremony), another guy, once poised on a slippery political slope, ICF Visionary of the Year Senator Stephen Conroy of Australia fired-up the audience. He noted in his keynote that his persistent push to produce an affordable broadband infrastructure was consistent with the national culture of "The Fair Go." Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to get ahead and to get on with the business of being a fully productive member of their community, he said. On the surface, he appears to be a really, really tough guy. In the outback of Australian politics, he is. The truth is, however, Stephen is a truly nice guy whose heart and vision are aligned. The incumbent, Telstra, did not perform, and his communities were never going to become Riverside, Waterloo or Eindhoven. End of discussion. $43 billion later, Australia is getting back in the digital age hunt.
Three visionaries (from left): Communications Ministry of Afghanistan (2007); Senator Stephen Conroy, Australia's Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (2012); and Suvi Linden, former Minister of Communications, Finland and member United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development (2011)
So we have a new Intelligent Community of the Year. A new place on the map of the community renaissance to study and to learn more about; a new place for the rest of the world's communities to visit and to point to as they launch their voyage back, or further, toward excellence.
We have another Visionary of the Year, one who defines the movement and the path we need to follow if we are true to the mission of creating communities for the new century and unlocking economies with the fuel of human imagination.
The class of 2011, including Eindhoven and Suvi Linden, remain mentors. Strong ones. Eindhoven, led to New York yet again by Mayor Rob van Gijzel, a guy you just like being around because he exudes creativity and hope, closed its reign as only Eindhoven could.
As the mayor was handing-off the award, a crowd of 3,000 back home in the Eindhoven Beursgebouw briefly stopped their attempt to make the Guinness World Record for taking the largest quiz. It was the final event and the close of — what else? — Dutch Technology Week. They watched the trophy leave their mayor's hands, I am told, with great remorse. Champions hate to give it up. Eindhoven, another "no name" community that is now on the map and thriving, considered itself to be precisely what it will remain for as long as it can: one of the world's Intelligent Communities of the Year. I will bet you, however, that the visits to schools to tell the children what happened in New York on a day in 2011, and why, will continue. It is part of the history of a place which I salute and which I look to return to, for the purpose of creating an ICF Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community.
As they write at the bottom of their email to me, I now conclude in my blog to them: Farewell Eindhoven, met vriendelijke groeten. Fare forward Riverside. Tell the world how you seized your destiny.
|Wednesday, June 6, 2012|
|Early Thoughts on Summit|
The Fighting Seven – Plus One
As we head into the first day of the ICF Summit, I am looking for a word to describe this year’s eclectic list of Top Seven Intelligent Communities. I found it. It helped when I included my impression of our new Visionary of the Year as well.
The word I have settled on for this year’s group of Intelligent Community leaders is “spunky.”
I can thank at least one of the Top Seven for this idea. Mayor Dan Mathieson, who is leading the Stratford, Canada delegation to New York for the second year in a row, said in a speech and in a video made by Walsh University, site of the future ICF Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community, that small communities were on the rise.
When asked, during a luncheon of 350 business leaders in Northeast Ohio, what distinguished the new breed of communities, Intelligent Communities like his own from the others, he said, “We are staking our claim. We are going to show these big cities that they don’t have it all any more." Those were fighting words in tone, but not really. They were a fact of the Intelligent Community movement. The smaller cities are becoming the robust leaders. It is obvious as one studies Stratford, Oulu, Saint John, and Riverside that something else is driving this new era, and will impact this “new economy.”
Each of these communities, along with their fellow Top Seven colleagues, have a lot of fight – a lot of spunk as we used to say in Lyons, New York. The spunk comes from communities dedicated to investments in education and innovation. They simply believe collectively that their lives will be better if they adopt the principles others, like Eindhoven and Taipei and Suwon have adopted.
This is also what puts the fight in Stephen Conroy, our Visionary of the Year. On Friday we will hear from him as he gives his Visionary of the Year address at Steiner Film Studios. He said it simply, “In Australia, we were not headed toward a competitive economy because our digital infrastructure was lacking.”
So he did something about it. He helped lead the largest single infrastructure investment in the nation’s history. He is undertaking an experiment in political philosophy as well as moving his communities into the ranks of Intelligent – pronto. It is spunky stuff. Wait until you hear this guy. You can see him answer some of my questions on the Home Page of our website now.
Here we go. Summit 2012 is underway in two hours.
|Friday, June 1, 2012|
|How to Select Your Very Own Intelligent Community of the Year|
In seven days from today, ICF will name one of our Top Seven of 2012 as the Intelligent Community of the Year. Will it be Austin or Oulu? Saint John or Stratford? Taichung, Riverside or Quebec City? Tune into our Webcast on Friday, June 8 at approximately 1:30 pm ET to find out.
The answer will mean a great deal to our Top Seven Intelligent Communities, and the annual announcement always ends our Summit on a high note. But in fact, the margin separating the top honoree from the rest will be only a few percentage points on our rating scale, which is based on quantitative analysis and the votes of our international jury. By the time communities join the Top Seven, they are all winners and their stories contribute to better understanding around the world of local economic success in the 21st Century.
That understanding keeps growing – through our Awards program, the speeches we give, our Community Accelerator program and good old word of mouth. One of the more inspiring ways is through the work of educators like Don Flournoy.
A professor at Ohio University, Don is one of the Analysts who help select the Top Seven each year. He has also pioneered the use of our Awards program as a teaching tool in higher education.
From 2006 to 2008, Don had his Masters and Ph.D. students read files on our Smart21 Communities and reach consensus on their own list of the Top Seven. When we announced the real Top Seven, they read more data and divided into teams to present oral arguments on why each community deserved to receive the top honor. Then they voted on their own choice of Intelligent Community of the Year and tuned in to learn ours. "Reading the files was not only an extraordinary teaching and learning opportunity," Don reports, "it was motivational for them and for me because it was real."
In 2009, Don was invited to lead a workshop for the Connect Ohio initiative of the Governor of Ohio. He chose to take the model he had developed with his graduate students and apply it to this more prestigious group. He has repeated the exercise every year since, most recently with attendees including the Mayor of Athens, Ohio, members of the city council, county commissioners, Ohio University faculty and prominent citizens. They divide into seven teams, each of which develops oral arguments based on information provided by ICF. Once all presentations are made, a vote selects their Intelligent Community of the Year.
Don is no longer the only teacher using ICF's data to improve understanding of local economic success in the 21st Century. But he got there first, and we honor his imagination and persistence in changing how leaders in his region – both present and future – work to keep their communities vital in the global broadband economy.