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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.

Monday, December 10, 2012
Feel the Fear

Oslo, Norway – Oslo is cold tonight.  As we were descending our pilot informed us that it is -10 C., with snow and blustery winds prevailing.  One hour after I arrived at my hotel lobby it was pitch dark.  This was 15:30 in the afternoon.  It made a cold city colder.  During Nobel Peace Prize week Norwegians joke that any guest who jumps from tall buildings here need never worry: They will freeze to death before they hit the ground.  Yet their city, like Oulu in Finland and Stockholm in nearby Sweden, keeps moving toward the light.  Oslo proves yet again that neither size nor geography matter all that much today.  Although Oslo is not an ICF Intelligent Community (or even part of the clientuploads/Images/Zach-NameCaption-2013-140.gifEuropean Union, which is being awarded the Nobel Prize tonight), it has gathered to it this week people who choose to ignore fear and, as a result, move us all toward political illumination and more open societies.  Good for Oslo.

I am here to take part in a Cisco-produced forum called, Visioning an Open Society.  I have been invited to represent ICF and to discuss what Intelligent Communities might do to enable a more open, creatively vigorous society.  I do my thing tomorrow after former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown opens the program.  I will join him and Jens Mortensen of Cisco’s Public Service group, to facilitate a deep dive into the issue.  There will 20 invited thought leaders from around the world.  Among them will be my guest, Mayor Rob van Gijzel of Eindhoven, as well Professor Ashish Lal of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Affairs in Singapore.  The mayor led his city to the Intelligent Community of the Year prize in 2011.  Recently Eindhoven also became a Cultural Capital of Europe.  These are two strong endorsements of the renaissance of a former “No-Name City.”  As with other places ICF represents here this week, Eindhoven and its leadership, including its Brainport organization, is an advocate of the global Intelligent Community movement.  Eindhoven’s efforts continue to reinforce new ideas about how we will build communities for the 21st Century, some of which I plan to discuss for the first time.

My experience here helps me form the basis for a new initiative at ICF.  The new initiative will depend a great deal on the degree to which creativity and open platforms can be part of 21st century community life.  What will that life to look like, in real terms, in the years ahead?  You will feel it when you see it.  But you must look.  Whenever I travel I seek out the rhythm and tone of a place.  I try to form an intuitive, impressionistic image.  I take no maps nor do I prepare a route.  I set out on foot or by public transportation, preferably alone, and head aimlessly out to seek the soul of a place. A path never fails to emerge.  What I find connects itself to other places that I have seen.  They connect as well to new ideas, which I am fortunate enough to be able take around the world.  It is the joy and the art of this work.  We then fill it in with facts; plenty of them.

A few hours ago I was walking around Oslo hoping to get a sense what I might say this week at the Nobel Peace Prize events about the special nature of Intelligent Communities.  You find stuff in the damndest places.  Or as my Jesuit friends might say, “grace finds you.”  But you must look and be available.  I did and I guess I am, for I looked at a sign above a small store in the Oslo City Mall, a well-traveled destination near the Sonja Heines Plass.  The sign had only the store’s name.  But what a name!  It articulated a fact about open societies and why Intelligent Communities are becoming transformative notions early in our new century. 

clientuploads/FeelTheFear.jpgThis small store has chosen a name that updates the famous phrase of former American President Roosevelt, who said famously during a great transitional period in world history, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  This hip store put a decidedly current twist on that by calling itself “Feel the Fear (and do it anyway.)” 

I love that name.  Sure we feel fear.   Cyberterror, fiscal cliffs and uncertain futures.  But fear has always been with us, like sun, cold, snow and sea.  So what?  The great artist Georgia O’Keefe said, “I am terrified every moment of my life, but it has not stopped me from doing anything.”

We do it anyway. 

Today communities re-energize in every sector of the planet.  If there is anything separating the light from the dark in our public sectors, it is the community that has retaken its destiny.  It is the one forcing illumination onto pitch black.  The ones using technology not to enslave or to make people more efficient economic units, but rather fully enabled human beings.  I will hopefully tell their story.  I will hopefully tell it as well as they are writing history for you.  They are doing it so forcefully that ICF gets invited to be in a place like this: in a place that honors peace and prosperity.

I only wish I had brought heavier socks!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

From One Community to a Smart Region, Part 2

clientuploads/Images/Scot Rourke 6-09.jpgBy Scot Rourke, CEO, OneCommunity and ICF's 2008 Visionary of the Year

In a previous Visionary Voices post, I shared some of the lessons we at OneCommunity and in Northeast Ohio have learned about leveraging technology to boost regional competitiveness. Continuing that discussion, I want to talk a bit about the critical success factors that must be addressed. In our particular case, I believe the single most important thing has been our emphasis on people/talent.

clientuploads/Images/VisionaryVoices-180.gifThat talent has come in three important layers:  First, we’ve been blessed with access to terrific, accomplished, and dedicated tech entrepreneurs over the years.  Their rather fearless leadership, resilience, resourcefulness, and ability to navigate the vast array of social, political, economic and technological challenges cannot be overstated.

Second, we've had terrific board support. Consisting of the region's top public and private leaders, our board has shifted from primarily tech experts, to rainmakers, to possessing professional skills needed to help manage rapid growth, and now to leaders that can ensure broadband technologies are an important part of all of our regional visions. We call this our Smart Region Task Force.  Collectively this leadership’s been crucial to providing credibility, key relationships, and access to resources that’s helped us be successful.

Lastly, we also have been fortunate to have very engaged local leaders, whom I like to call “local champions.”  They are passionate civic leaders who already recognize that our future is largely driven by our ability to compete in the knowledge society.  So find them, engage them, and give them the microphone as you showcase your innovative demonstration projects and collectively illustrate to the community how IT can favorably change lives.  This lends credibility, draws important new audiences, and helps scale your initiative.

My favorite recent examples of tools that might help inspire your vision and articulation of your own Smart Region goals are OneCommunity's recent annual report, Kansas City's Google Playbook and Portland's Strategic Plan. Think of it truly as a campaign.  You need to market your vision, showcase your successes, and bring in speakers and awards for much-needed outside validation.  And again, it's about impacts, not the technology.

Ultimately, this is all about getting the leadership and infrastructure in place so that you can start the process of aligning and coordinating your regional systems.  Among friends, we call this process "social choreography."  Yes, at times it may appear like cat herding, and it can be equally as frustrating, but clearly it's the most worthwhile journey a community can take.  As is usually the case, the first movers that can get the vision, leadership, and infrastructure all aligned stand to enjoy the bulk of the rewards.  And then the laggards, well, they’ll work nearly as hard, however they won’t be fighting for greatness. Instead they’ll be looking for relevance in the increasingly competitive global economy.

Here in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, we have a great history of using our infrastructure for competitive advantage. We once generated enormous wealth as leaders in the Industrial Revolution many decades ago. While it took us awhile, we now recognize that the Internet is the “new electricity” to scale our 21st-century production lines.  We see that fiber-optic broadband now serves as our deep shipping lanes to enable collaboration and innovation not possible in many other knowledge hubs around the world.  And we have a Smart Region vision, which is aligning our leaders and plans, and coordinating our resources to ensure our leadership role once again in this next great economic shift – except this one, the Information Revolution, has only just begun. We're wired for success.

I am glad for this opportunity to share the lessons we have learned.  I hope you will return the favor by sharing your own hard-won wisdom with your colleagues in the Intelligent Community movement.  

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