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Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Manti Te’o, the Aloha Economy and the Top7

Honolulu, Hawaii (USA) – On Monday morning, the local Hawaiian newspaper reported that the article with the most hits on its website over the last 24 hours was the story about Manti T’eo, a native son and a star football player at far-away Notre Dame University, a cold place situated on what Hawaiians call “the mainland.”  The young man had evidently been hoaxed.  He had been having an affair with a fake girlfriend on the Internet for three years.  The hoax went so far as to report her death, which generated national sympathy for him.  As a graduate of the same college as Manti, I don’t want to dwell on the story, but in a state that many describe as being “30 years behind” in terms of access and development of the type Intelligent Communities take for granted, one wonders if the locals might not want to bypass the 21st century altogether for a good reason.   


Of course, they do not.  They simply want to ensure that one of the world’s most alluring, diverse and remarkable spots in the known universe not lose what has been essential to it since volcanoes erupted and shaped this great jewel of the American union.   My idea of “surfing” and theirs need to find a happy medium.  (When I am here I lean toward theirs BTW…)

This challenge was central to a long and delightful discussion I had with the state’s CIO, Sanjeev Bhagowalia.  He has been brought over from a string of high profile jobs in Washington, DC, where he served another local resident and graduate of Punahou High School, Barack Obama, as a federal CIO.  Earlier in the day his new boss, Hawaii’s Governor Abercrombie, had started his annual address to the state saying: “Politics at its best is about community.”  It was made clear to me that community and tribalism are central to understanding Hawaii’s genius and also its resistance to broadband.   The governor has been pushing, with very limited success, to transform the islands into something at least approximating a Intelligent Community.  Honolulu has submitted several nominations to ICF, but has never come close to the Smart21 list.  The governor and the CIO want that to change.  That state is upgrading its information technology systems and spending US$20 million over the next 24 months to encourage innovation.  But will this be the secret sauce?  The trigger for transformation?  Maybe and maybe not.  Sanjeev and his team know that somehow, some way, the “Aloha” philosophy, which is central to culture and  its economic attitudes, must find its expression in a complex mix of broadband access, capacity building, collaboration and cultural “mining.”  There will be no Silicon Valley here.  Yet Hawaii is designed to be the “spear” of the new American approach to Asia and its vast opportunities.  What will that mean?  More technology for the American naval fleet?  Already 1 out of every 10 people in Hawaii is a military veteran.  (The rest appear to sunburned “mainlanders.”  Tourists.  Or so it seems.) Hawaii has a brain drain.  No urban planning.  No beta test communities, except a brief experiment with 100 gbs in one place, which ended.  It is challenged, but like most places, it is developing (slowly) the will to transform and seize its destiny.  We will see.

A few hours before I met with Sanjeev, I had a chance to meet Manti T’eo’s great-aunt.  She is the most lovely, charming woman imaginable.  She cannot understand how anyone could have a relationship “online.”  Rather than break the news to her that Facebook has allowed many people to befriend perfect strangers (trust me, she knows this because she’s very wise) I asked her about her community.  It is a closeknit clan on Maui.  Samoans who look out for each other, especially in a crisis.  They rally around their own, which is an instinct that in my view is very healthy.  Yet, as Sanjeev and his team reflect, it is also the challenge to bringing everyone together to summon the great gift of “Aloha” for the generations ahead.   

Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Smart or Intelligent? Why Not Be Both?

What’s the difference between a Smart City and an Intelligent Community?  For my third and final post on the topic, here’s a specific example from Riverside, California, USA, our 2012 Intelligent Community of the Year.

clientuploads/Images/Bell-Blog-Reboot-Comm-2.jpgSmart Cities turn to technology for the solution to their problems, from traffic congestion to leakage from water mains, public safety to parking tickets.  Intelligent Communities turn to technology as a fundamental enabler of transformation: a foundation for building a prosperous, inclusive and sustainable community in the 21st Century.

Intelligent Communities tend to be Smart without making a big deal about it.  The smartness comes as a byproduct of transformation – necessary steps on the path to something that makes a much greater difference in the lives of the people who live and work there. 

Riverside offers a great example.  It used to have a big problem with graffiti left by gangs, who like to “tag” their territory.  Graffiti matters, just as broken windows and boarded-up storefronts matter, because they signal to both the law-abiding and the law-breaking that things are out of control.  They tend to breed fear on the one hand and crime on the other. 

clientuploads/Images/Riverside-App-300.gifTo combat graffiti, the city worked with Microsoft to build an innovative system connecting multiple departments.  City workers take photos of graffiti with their smartphones and transmit them along with GPS data to the system, where pattern recognition software matches it to an ever-growing database of images.  In most cases, police can identify the “tagger” based on past examples of his work.  The system generates work orders for removal of the graffiti at the same time it supports preparation of criminal complaints by the City Attorney.  Since its introduction, successful prosecutions have generated $200,000 in restitution, which helps pay for the removal of a lot of gang tags.

But technology is also the foundation for a much more profound change.  A public-private SmartRiverside organization operates a Digital Inclusion Center that gets technology and training into the hands of low-income families.  The technology comes from a unique collaboration between a computer services company that collects e-waste, and a gang prevention program called Project Bridge. 

The company hires and trains former gang members recruited by Project Bridge to refurbish the used PCs.  Equipment that cannot be refurbished is sold to a certified local recycler.  Working equipment other than PCs is refurbished and sold on eBay, and these sources of revenue help pay for the program.  Former gang members gain marketable job skills while knowing they are contributing to their community.  And, like graffiti removal, the program returns revenue to cover its costs.

These are not technology solutions to public-sector problems.  They represent technology transforming government operations, the business environment, the educational system and the civic culture.  It is like the outcome of the first Internet revolution, which was supposed to doom brick-and-mortar businesses to obsolescence.  Instead, brick-and-mortar businesses embraced the technology and allowed the way they work to be transformed by it. 

Different definitions produce different results.  To him who holds a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  To her with a full box of tools, the problems are more diverse and subtle and the solutions infinitely more rewarding.

Post #2: Building the 'Shake 'n Bake' City  Post #1: ‘Smart’ or ‘Intelligent?’ – Which Should a City Try to Be?

Sunday, January 6, 2013
Building the ‘Shake ‘n Bake’ City

When we were first married, my wife and I lived off canned soup and other prepackaged delights, until the urge for survival drove us to begin experimenting with the culinary arts.  One of the first steps on our journey was a product called Shake ‘n Bake.  You bought chicken parts , put them in a plastic bag with the product, shook it thoroughly to coat the meat, then baked it.  What came out was a breaded entrée that tasted – well, at that time, I thought it tasted fine.  Now that I can actually cook, I have a different view. 

clientuploads/Images/Bell-Blog-Reboot-Comm-2.jpgShake ‘n Bake came to mind the first time I heard about ambitious plans for creating whole new cities to meet national economic development goals.  My first exposure was to the Multimedia Super Corridor in Malaysia, a 1996 plan to create a high-tech corridor 15 kilometers wide and 50 km long where only rubber plantations then existed.  The Corridor exists in name only but two Shake ‘n Bake cities were built: Putrajaya, where Malaysia’s government relocated in the last decade, and Cyberjaya, a vast technology park. 

In 2010, construction began on Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City, a $22 billion project that is designed to produce zero emissions or waste while becoming the core of a cleantech cluster in the Emirates.  In Russia, MIT is developing a new university that aims to be the heart of the Skolkovo Innovation Center, a brainchild of former President Dmitry Medvedev that aims to inject high-tech cool into the heart of Moscow.  Still on the drawing board are Charter Cities, a concept developed by economist Paul Romer for “reform cities” that, planted in developing nations with weak governance and poor infrastructure, are supposed to serve as inspirational islands that will jumpstart broader changes across the country.

These are magnificent visions: soaring above the mundane, challenging precedent and inspiring high ambition.  I think they may do some good.  But I am really grateful that nobody is investing my money in them.  The good they will do – those projects that ever get past the talking and planning stage, that is – will be a lot like the good done by America’s $40 billion investment in the Apollo program.  America got a lot of nice TV footage and a flag planted on the Moon.  America and the rest of the world also got an information and telecommunications industry that produced trillions of dollars in value and is still in the early stages of revolutionizing life on earth.  A pretty good investment overall – but you don’t see any lunar colonies, do you?

I just don’t think we are smart enough to build Shake ‘n Bake cities that will actually work.  The City of Tokyo used loans from the national government in the 1980s and 1990s to build a massive, $3 billion island in Tokyo Harbor to serve as a new high-tech district.  Ten years later, a city executive told me the money was largely wasted. 

clientuploads/Images/Trinket-NPR-300.gifI don’t think we know how to manage the long time span of the investments, the battle between vested interests, the legal and regulatory reforms needed, the national sensitivities and the personal egos involved.  If cities are, in the words of Richard Florida, “our greatest inventions,” they are inventions arrived at after thousands of years of trial and error.  They are complex in the same way that clouds are complex, and we apparently have no clue as to how those work. 

To really appreciate that complexity, you have only to listen to a news story that was broadcast by America's National Public Radio in October.  “Why New York Is A Hub In The Global Trinket Trade” explains the unlikely set of circumstances that have made 29th Street in Manhattan the hub of a global trade network in fake gold chains, souvenir lighters and plastic toys.  Listen to it and then tell me: who could have anticipated that?

I think we can figure out, with the help of great technology companies, how to make cities smarter.  I know we can rise to the greater challenge of the Intelligent Community: using information and communications technology to create new competitive advantages for your economy while solving big social problems and enriching the value of your culture.  But throw a plan for a city into a bag, shake it, bake it and a few years later see a fully-functioning Smart City?  I just don't think we're that smart. 

Post #3: Smart or Intelligent?  Why Not Be Both?   Post #1: ‘Smart’ or ‘Intelligent?’ – Which Should a City Try to Be?

Thursday, December 27, 2012
‘Smart’ or ‘Intelligent?’ – Which Should a City Try to Be?

Smart Cities are a big deal right now.   The European Union has a big and well-funded Smart Cities initiative.  Completely new smart cities are rising from the desert in oil-powered Middle Eastern economies.   In Asia’s often malfunctioning mega-cities, new urban oases (aka smart cities) are promising to replicate the efficiency and livability of the industrial world’s best urban centers for the privileged few. 

clientuploads/Images/Bell-Blog-Reboot-Comm-2.jpgSo here’s a question: what is the difference between a city being smart and being intelligent?  It sounds like a riddle – but it’s far more important.  

Creating a Smart City is like automating a factory.  It is about using information and communications technology (ICT) to do more with less.  In one end goes a lot of specialized ICT – sensors, actuators and servers run by sophisticated software developed and installed by brainy engineers.  Out the other end comes better, faster and cheaper performance.  Once-murky processes become visible and measurable.  Turnaround gets faster and more reliable.  Costs fall permanently because you are more efficient and need fewer people to run things.  Good for your factory, problematic for your people.   

Becoming an Intelligent Community is profoundly different.  It is about using ICT to create new competitive advantages for your economy, to solve big, hairy social problems, and to extend and enrich the value of your culture.  The goal is to do more with more: to generate more economic energy in the form of new employment from new employers.  To use ICT to break down social and cultural barriers that hold back part of your population, so that they can participate in the knowledge-based digital economy.  To turn local culture into a product for the global economy, and to preserve treasured languages, histories and ways of life that give life meaning.  ICT, properly applied, can’t help creating efficiencies, so Intelligent Communities also get better, faster and cheaper performance.  But that is a side effect of far more meaningful change. 

There is a potent word that comes to us from finance.  Leverage.  If you have ever borrowed money to buy something big and important, you have used it. The home mortgage that lets you live in a nice place where your family prospers and your kids receive a great education – even though you did not have the financial wherewithal to buy that home – that’s leverage.  Pushed to excess, it can also have a very dark side, as the financial crisis has so recently proven.

Being an Intelligent Community is about using ICT to leverage a better future for your town, city or region, so that it can have more and do more of all the things that make life rewarding. Being a Smart City is about squeezing more out of the assets you have by measuring better and responding better.  Being a smart city is about making the past – the accumulation of your physical infrastructure and government processes – work better. Being an Intelligent Community is about seizing a new and greater destiny.

Post #2: Building the ‘Shake ‘n Bake’ City   Post #3: Smart or Intelligent? Why Not Be Both?

Friday, December 21, 2012
Why the Nobel Peace Prize Matters to Communities

A deceased man from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, by way of Lomza, Poland, has been very much on my mind since returning from Oslo and the Nobel Peace Prize events last week.  I was invited to Oslo to speak about visions for an Open Society.   Since returning I have been asked one million questions.  They range from “Who won the Peace Prize? “ (I’m serious), to “who was your favorite performer at the Peace Prize concert?” 

First the easy stuff:  The European Union received the Prize.  

clientuploads/Images/Zach-NameCaption-2013-140.gifThe 11 performers who honored this year’s recipient were a collective salute to Peace Prize laureates past and present.  The evening was an eclectic, beautiful mix of cultural power and the beauty of non-linear human experience.  In a few hours I was able to sip the diversity of world culture and to see how it stirs us in ways far too deep to describe.  That is the point, of course.   We are all from somewhere, and pride of place can be evoked from the sound of one musical phrase.  I experienced this personally.  No doubt because of my Italian ancestry, I thought Il Volo (Italy) was the best act of the night.  They reminded me of kids with whom I grew up, although they sang a lot better.  Their music felt and tasted like my grandmother’s kitchen.   Most of the others were great too, with the possible exception of Jennifer Hudson.  I am not a music critic, but she could have stayed home.   (I am also a New Yorker and, as you know, we are ALL critics!  Sorry Jennifer.)

The harder questions followed.  The selection by Geir Lundestad’s Nobel committee of the EU was controversial, or at least the timing was.  But it begged a larger question.  Why?  And what does it mean for communities?   I spent my time attempting to explain and to understand what the Peace Prize does mean to communities who were represented by ICF’s presence there.   Much of the discussion centered on technology and the economy.  But that only scratches the surface.

clientuploads/Images/LAZ-Gordon Brown.jpgHow will the shift in the global economy impact the people in a neighborhood?  How do we attempt to grasp how communities and nations adapt to our “broadband economy?”  The former UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, helped start us off.  His long and interesting meditation on how we might respond to what he calls “the first crisis of globalization” took an interesting turn.  Following the theme of his new book, he suggested that this is as much a crisis of “ethics” as it is of banking.  As we spoke at a photo-op  I learned that he is the son of a Presbyterian minister.  His culture informs him.  His belief that religion and ethics, now in decline, must form the basis from which to walk toward the future made me think – and to think about Zelig. 

Ezriel Zelig ben Chaim Zev, Zelig Wesbard, lived in an apartment on Grand Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  His neighborhood remains an ethnic community so tightly bound that a visitor from his own country might think they need a passport to be served in a coffee shop when there.   While it may not look like “Americana,” it is the real thing.  It is a community. 

Each day he would walk to open the East Side Torah Center for service.    He had been doing this since 1948 and for many generations of rabbis and neighbors when his twilight and end came.  By then, Zelig had become what I call a “tribal elder.”  He was the one to whom all waved and was acknowledged.  True communities produce these unelected “mayors.”  His apartment was a rent-subsidized pilgrimage site and perhaps a touch City Hall.  Children went there for candies and their parents went for stories, gossip and wisdom.  His wisdom came from his enlightened experience and true human development.   As I sat at his eulogy last year I thought, he is among the blessed.  A peacemaker.

Blessed he was but lucky he had not always been.

Zelig was among those who fled a continent where darkness had descended.  It had descended in the 1940’s in Europe in ways unimaginable to those kids eating Milky Way bars in his living room in 2000.  Like other Jews, he had escaped the sure death of a continent plunged and savaged.  Eventually 60 million acts of daily darkness would descend.   His mother, father and five siblings had vanished into this man-made black hole called “The Holocaust.”  I thought of this in Oslo and so did everyone else there.

The European Union was cited for having helped lay the foundation for a Europe at peace.  27 nations now form a “fraternity of nations” and met the criteria Alfred Nobel, who had set them for his prize back in 1895.  A recipient could represent or have brought into being a “peace congress.”  Three generations of people at peace is beyond deserving.

Peace is what Zelig brought to his world and it too was upheld for many generations, including the generation of his only daughter, my friend Rochelle.   Without peace and freedom, no family and no society is truly open, and no neighborhood evolved into a place where a man, having suffered through the hell of war, can walk to his beloved temple and reactivate for us all the music that goes far deeper than our words.

Happy holidays everyone.  Peace to people of good will.

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