There is now conclusive evidence that a community seeking to provide its people with a long, healthy life and meaningful days does not necessarily need more broadband but more alcohol and good sidewalks. It also would benefit from fewer conveniences in the home and the elimination of the word “retirement” from the culture. In fact, what National Geographic Fellow and TEDMED superstar Dan Buettner (pictured right) refers to as “de-convenienced homes,” as well as a concept which the Japanese refer to as ikigai, are major contributing factors to the shockingly long lives with which the people in Okinawa, Japan are blessed. A few drinks each day, a walking lifestyle and Ikigai (which translates roughly into “that which makes life worth living”) are among the criteria at the heart of what Buettner and a group of extraordinary researchers discovered as the real secrets to the long lives people experience in place as diverse as Okinawa, Sardinia and, yes, 2007 Smart21 Intelligent Community Loma Linda, California. After seeing Buettner’s recent appearance on HBO and rereading some of his work, I am surprised that Loma Linda did not make it to the top of the ICF’s Awards that year!
Buettner’s TED Talks and his well-documented magazine article, “The Island Where People Forget to Die,” have begun to transform my thinking of what Intelligent Communities are and should ultimately become. When I first read his widely-read article I was stunned and saddened. Stunned because it was so remarkably simple, and it made such obvious sense that strong family ties, communal trust and a sense of purpose act as buffers against stress and diseases like the one I share with nearly every one of my fellow New Yorkers: hypertension. Saddened, too, because it reinforced what was lost and what remained when my own community, which long ago shared many of these so-called Blue Zone values, found itself in decline and trying to live without them.
Many communities have experienced the famous Roseto Effect. Roseto, Pennsylvania (USA) was, in 1962, one of the most remarkably healthy communities in America. But as the post-Industrial period and plagues of confusion, mobility, underemployment and the “unfamiliar” community took root, overall health declined. People cite a lot of reasons for this and, frankly, most of them remain anecdotal and the political solutions sucked. However, it is clear from the work of the Blue Zone folks that when an ecosystem of social cohesion and emotional collaboration are shredded, real damage takes to the roots like a disease. Intelligent Communities are a step back. While no technology solution could have restored Roseto, it sure would have helped if a group like ICF or the Blue Zones were around to at least give it a path forward. I truly believe that.
Better late than never. Today, ICF and people like Buettner’s organization are applying principles to cities and towns with results that are leading to, what I hope, will be a new type of mutual support network that provides precisely what people in Loma Linda, Sardinia, Okinawa and the island of Ikaria, Greece seem to need to go on to live long, healthy, fundamentally worry-free lives.
Oh yeah, another factor that the researchers cited in these truly “intelligent” places might surprise those of us who rush to one of our many specialists on a regular basis and look at the labels of every item of food that we buy: the people in these places are not concerned with living long lives so much as they are concerned with living Life fully and living it well. A meaningful life, short or long, is the only one worth living. One where ikigai - and not the 65-hour work week, twinned with the graceless demarcation of “retirement” at age 65 – rule. These two things may simply be the path to a shorter, grizzlier life. The community you surround yourself with counts a great deal when dealing your own hand in life.
With regard to creating an Intelligent Community to get you on the right path: try it, you’ll like it.
We invite any of you who believe that your community has gone beyond simple smart technology and is on the path toward becoming, well, a place full of old, healthy geezers, to try your hand at the ICF Award program. If you meet our criteria – and many of you will (take the Self-Test to find out) – the demonstration of a deliberately de-convenienced lifestyle that uses technology, rather than being used by it, might put you in the list of Smart21 with Loma Linda.
There are two webinars remaining for you to answer questions you may have about our 2016 Awards program. They are free and they take place on 25 and 27 August. I look forward to speaking with any of you who join the webinar. Let’s have a “happy hour” together.