|Rob van Gijzel|
The best description I have ever heard about ICF as an ideas-driving think tank for enabling Digital Age policy for cities and towns was from Rob van Gijzel, the former mayor of Eindhoven, The Netherlands and the ICF Foundation’s first chairman. He called us, “The method of transformational decision making for cities.”
And we are. Or at least “a method” for this. We are also a group that inspired communities to believe that, yes, they can.
The world has cooperated with the ICF vision. Thanks to broadband and satellite telecommunications the world became flat. Like the sound of a rail train’s whistle, people heard something familiar and it allowed them to rethink the proposition of the small and the midsized city especially. It dawned on them that “the middle of nowhere” was no longer their domain. They had places with a history and assets that could be transformed.
These cities and towns have begun to determine the course of the global economy because of how they have moved from using smart technology to become Intelligent places. This year’s Smart21 is laden with them, from Vietnam to Ohio to India.Read more
America’s government – representing 21% of its mighty economy – was shut down as those of us living here celebrated the arrival of the New Year. Nearly 800,000 federal employees were put out of work, including the transportation security agency tasked with ensuring that our flights to Quebec City to announce the world’s Top7 Intelligent Communities on February 11th will take off – I hate to use the word – without a bang!
Ronald Regan’s infamous, unfortunate political dictum, spoken on a January day in 1981 was not only put to the test, it was proved resoundingly wrong, but in a way that gnaws at you the way in which a platitudinous claim can reveal a nugget does. He got something right by forcing us to again rethink the virtues of government.
“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government IS the problem.”
Ahhh, but of which government was “The Gipper” speaking?Read more
Westerville is a northeastern suburb of Columbus, capital of the state of Ohio, and home to nearly 40,000 people. It takes its name from the Dutch family that founded it in the 1800s. It was a small place that eventually became known as the “Dry Capital of the World,” based on an 1859 law that forbid the sale of alcohol in the city and the decision of the Anti-Saloon League – which played a leading role in Prohibition – to move its national headquarters there in 1909. It was only in the 1990s, when Westerville annexed land that included alcohol-selling businesses, that local prohibition began to change.
In the more than two decades since, Westerville has made a career of embracing change. In 2007, the city began planning expansion of an existing government fiber network to support smart-grid applications. (Like many smaller US cities, it owns its own electric utility.) The planning process revealed a lack of affordable choices for broadband and data center services. That ultimately led City Council to found WeConnect: an underground fiber network connected to a community-owned data center and delivering 100 Gbps connectivity to municipal service providers, businesses, schools, the local university and research institutes.
The network and carrier-neutral community data center began operations in 2012. By 2018, more than 40 miles of the fiber network had been lit. After an investment of more than US$6 million, WeConnect has been profitable three out of the first six years of operation – and its impact has been much greater than mere speed or capacity. The city spent more than 85% of funds with businesses within a two-mile radius of City Hall, creating jobs and profits that benefited the community. The network and data center have saved customers more than $2 million since 2014, with one customer crediting the network with helping avoid a $1 million capital expense for its own data center. WeConnect has also become an important attractor to business that, when bundled into incentive packages, has helped persuade site selectors to give the community a closer look.
Benefits of the Smart Grid
The municipal utility, Westerville Electric Division, got smart-grid applications that sparked the network’s construction. The utility’s operations date back to 1898, but since WeConnect went live, it has rolled out services including advanced metering and an online portal, which let customers monitor electric and water usage by the hour, and a Rush Hour Rewards Program, that offers rebates to customer who let the utility adjust their air-conditioning to better manage peak loads. Realizing that most energy-saving programs target large corporations, it introduced a Small BusinessWISE program that provides energy-efficiency consultants to audit small businesses and recommend changes that will save money.
New Pathways to a Career
In 2014, Westerville was one of 14 central Ohio school districts that shared funding for initiatives called Career Pathways, which aim to create new post-secondary education options for students while closing workforce gaps. All are member of the Central Ohio Compact, an agreement among educational institutions to improve access to educational achievement for the next generation. The Health Career Pathways is a collaboration among nine school districts, Columbus State Community College (CSCC) and healthcare providers including Westville’s Mount Carmel Health System. Beginning as early as their first year in high school, students can enroll in the program, which combines high school and college coursework with shadowing of medical professionals. They earn dual credit and have the potential to finish high school with a credential as a clinical lab assistant. The program was piloted in the spring of 2018 with student rotations in two hospital departments; it proved so successful that the rotations have expanded to 16 different spots.
The Business Logistics Pathway – also a collaboration of CSCC and industry partners – leads to certification as a logistics associate and technician. This earned credit puts students on track to complete a two-year associates degree in supply chain management with only one year of additional coursework, and the opportunity to apply this education to completion of a four-year degree. The Engineering Pathways prepares students for careers in computer-assisted manufacturing, a sector that represents more than 86,000 jobs in central Ohio and is projected to continue growing. Ten school districts, Sinclair Community College and industry partners collaborate to build skills in advanced manufacturing, robotics, design and fabrication. In the most recent year, enrollment grew by 17% for Business Logistics and 100% for Health. Twenty-seven students earned a clinical laboratory assistant certificate in the program’s first two years.
Otterbein University in Westerville dates back to 1847 and was the first coeducational college in the United States to admit women to study alongside men in the same classes. In 2016, in another advance, it opened The Point, a new science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) innovation center that ties academics to the business and manufacturing needs of the community. The Point provides office space and support for startups, lab space and prototyping services for small-to-midsize manufacturers, a makerspace for the community and dedicated education spaces for school students. It does not claim ownership of the innovations developed there, a policy it shares with the University of Waterloo in Canada, which is renowned for its ability to generate new companies. The feasibility study for the center projected that it would create 200 new jobs in five years totaling US$16 million in payroll and $3.6 million in state and local taxes.
Welcoming the Stranger
Digital equality is the province of the Westerville Public Library. In 1994, it became the first library in the state to offer patrons full access to the internet. It now offers computer labs and training targeted at patrons from job seekers to senior citizens, as well as a Kid’s Center, Teen Center and Gaming Room. Anyone baffled by a technology program can get personalized help through the “Borrow a Librarian” program, while the “Borrow the Internet” program lets patrons without internet access at home borrow a Wi-Fi mobile hotspot.
In recent years, the library has targeted the immigrant population of the region. Central Ohio is home to the second largest Somali population in the US and the largest Bhutanese Nepali population outside Bhutan. In 2015-16, the library won a grant to host Somali language and culture classes, and in 2018, a grant that made it possible to launch technology classes in Somali and Nepali, taught by local Somali and Nepali teachers. Demand has been strong from immigrants eager to make a home in the community.
Rising to Challenge
In February 2018, two Westerville police officers were slain as they responded to a domestic violence call – the first deaths of active-duty officers in the city’s 160-year history. Over the next two weeks, the city’s handling of communications and logistics – largely enabled by technology – would prove critical in forging community unity around the tragedy.
As local and national media picked up the story, the city’s Community Affairs department used Google Drive to disseminate news and respond to media inquiries. City officials were assigned to social media listening to allow the city to respond to misinformation and share the facts. With the establishment of the #WestervilleStrong hashtag, people in the community gained a way to stay updated, express their grief and connect with others through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It also helped city officials monitor the social media conversation and set an appropriate tone.
Total social media reach during the period topped 2.5 million. The WestervilleStrong Facebook group grew to more than 6,000 followers and, seven months later, was still growing. But the daily number of attempted cyberattacks and phishing emails also doubled during the two weeks that followed the shootings. The city’s established cyber-monitoring systems and user protocols thwarted all attempts to hack the government’s network.
Westerville has benefited from its proximity to another Intelligent Community – Dublin, home of an ICF Global Institute. It was through the work of that Institute that first came to see its efforts as part of a comprehensive approach to economic and social development in the digital age, and to begin identifying ways to fill gaps and accelerate its progress. Proud of its heritage, Westerville is targeting a future in which suburban and even rural cities have the same opportunities as big cities to make the tech revolution pay off for its people.
Smart21 2019 | 2020
Top7 2019 | 2020
Sehl Mellouli is a professor at the department of Information Systems at Université Laval, Quebec City, Canada since June 2005. He obtained his Phd in Computer Science from Université Laval in 2005. He has an MBA in Management Information Systems from Université Laval. He is also an engineer in computer science from the Ecole Nationale des Sciences Informatiques, Tunis, Tunisia.
Chicago, on the shores of Lake Michigan, is a global city of 2.7 million. It is the center of America’s third largest metro economy, which produces more than US$690 billion in gross regional product. Almost one-quarter of households had earnings exceeding US$100,000 in 2016, according to the US Census. Chicago companies employ over four million people, many of them at the more than 400 major corporations that have their headquarters there. In March 2018, its unemployment rate was an enviable 5.3 percent, nearly the lowest since the government started tracking it.
The distribution of those riches, however, is far from equal. A long and often bitter history has made Chicago the most racially segregated city in America. The unemployment rate for African-Americans was 16.2 percent in 2018, compared with 4.7 percent for whites, due partly to that segregation and partly to the disappearance of industrial jobs in factories and logistics companies. From 2000 to 2010, 181,000 black residents moved out of Chicago, mostly middle-class people who could afford to move, leaving behind their poorer neighbors. About 40 percent of black 20-to-24-year-olds were out of school and work in 2018, compared with 7 percent of whites of the same age.
Rising to the Challenge
All big cities have big challenges. What distinguishes the successful ones is how they rise to those challenges. To build a better tomorrow for all its citizens, Chicago is focused on enlisting technology, education, engagement and demand for a better quality of life to open the doors of opportunity.
Chicago’s economic might makes it a prime market for broadband providers. Nearly 20 companies, including America’s biggest names in telecommunications, operate there. A gigabit broadband price war broke out in 2016, when the incumbent AT&T began to face competition from Comcast and RCN to deliver gig services for only US$70 per month, and promises to spread higher levels of service at lower prices across the well-to-do neighborhoods of Chicago.
While the private sector competes for existing residential and business customers, however, the city has targeted the 28% of households with no Internet subscription, predominantly in poor neighborhoods, with two programs.
Connections in the Community and To Go
Connect Chicago is a donor-advised fund managed by the City Tech Collaborative in partnership with city government. Launched in 2012, it is a network of over 250 locations where residents can access the internet and receive digital training. Each year, it delivers more than 8.6 million hours of training per year at libraries, senior centers, community service centers and workforce and youth centers. In recent years, it has opened 49 new centers, upgraded broadband at existing ones and deployed 3,000 new computers. In 2018, City Tech Collaborative launched the Connect Chicago Innovation Program. Funded by companies including Microsoft, Comcast, Sprint, the Lenovo Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, the program solicits applications from nonprofits for new ways to provide technology access, skills and engagement, and offers grants of up to US$50,000 to support pilots of selected projects.
The Chicago Public Library is making its own contribution to expanded access with the Internet to Go program. It lets patrons check out portable Wi-Fi hotspots for three-week periods to use at home, at work or on the go. The library system makes available nearly 1,000 of the portable hotspots at branches in communities with the lowest rates of broadband usage in the city.
Talent and Innovation Laboratory
Higher education has become the gateway to personal prosperity in the digital age. But low-income students face many barriers to completing education beyond high school, from finances to lack of understanding and support from families and friends who have no experience with higher education. To help lower these barriers, city government formed partnerships with colleges and universities in which the institutions committed to dedicating some of their scholarship funding to a program called Star.
Beginning in 2015, the Star Scholarship Program began offering graduates of the Chicago Public Schools a chance to attend the city’s colleges and universities at low or no cost. Students qualify by graduating from high school with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher (the third highest of four grading levels) and going through an application process. The scholarships cover all tuition, books and class material costs for up to three years or until the student receives an associate degree. As of February 2018, there were nearly three thousand Star Scholars enrolled at city colleges. More than half of the first 2015 cohort had either graduated or were enrolled with enough credits to be on track to complete their degrees in three years. That compares with a 22 percent average for community colleges in the United States and suggests that the city-college partnership is meeting a challenging goal: to give students who are the first in their families to attend college the support they need to succeed.
If Chicago is a laboratory for the cultivation of talent among those usually left behind, it is also setting itself up as a test-bed for innovation in the Internet of Things. In May 2018, Chicago installed its 100th node in what it calls the Array of Things. This is an urban sensing project made up of a network of interactive, modular sensor boxes that collect real-time, location-based data on the city’s environment, infrastructure and activity.
Data generated by the Array of Things is open, with the first batch released in May 2018. The goal is to give researchers, policymakers, developers and residents high-value information to make the city operate better and improve quality of life for citizens. Chicago is publishing data on its sensor nodes and data collection tools on an open-source basis, so that other cities can replicate them. Seattle is expected to be the second Array of Things city, and cities in Mexico, the Netherlands, the UK and across Asia have expressed interest.
Sustainable and Responsive
The city introduced a Sustainable Chicago Action Agenda in 2012 to offer a vision for urban sustainability and a roadmap for residents and businesses to contribute to its achievement. Actions include rebuilding neighborhood playgrounds and parks, expanding access to recycling, improving non-automobile travel options from transit to biking, and encouraging sustainability-focused industries. The Greencorps Chicago Youth Program has provided summer jobs to over 2,000 high school students in such industries, and the first green manufacturing facility was approved for construction in 2018. Over 200 playgrounds have been rebuilt and nearly 20 community gardens have opened.
With each change at the neighborhood level, quality of life improves for residents. Another improvement comes with the city’s project to modernize its 311 non-emergency communication system. Before launching the project, Chicago convened community focus groups to learn what residents most wanted from a revamped 312 platform. From nearly 200 individuals, it learned that residents want transparency and accountability on service requests, timely response, clear and understandable language instead of “City-speak,” and choices of how they connect with 311. Implementation of the resulting design for Open311 began in 2018 with a goal of completion in early 2019.
Problems created over the generations take generations to resolve. Chicago has accepted the challenge, and is using technology, guided by a clear understanding of what its least-regarded citizens need most, to build a future of greater promise for all.
Abbotsford is the largest city, outside Vancouver, in the province of British Columbia and is among the most diverse in Canada. More than a quarter of its population of 150,000 hails from south Asia, mostly from the Indian state of Punjab. The city borders the United States to the south and is part of the Vancouver metroplex, which has gifted it with both an independent economy and participation in the economic sphere of western Canada’s gateway city.
Eighty percent of city lands are protected for agricultural use, and its farmers make good use of that land, earning the highest income per acre of any place in Canada. Other important industries are transportation, manufacturing and retail. The city is home to the University of the Fraser Valley and an international airport. The Abbotsford Regional Hospital is its largest employer. Given these assets, the challenge that Abbotsford has set itself is to leverage them for growth in a global economy that is dominated by digital while preserving an enviable quality of life and a culture whose roots date back to 1858.
Guiding the journey is Plan 200K, which envisions what the city will be like when its population grows to 200,000 residents. Plan 200K began with an intensely interactive work of advocacy, which drew on 8,000 interactions with residents over two years. From these conversations, Abbotsford established four cornerstones for the future: a vibrant economy, a complete community, fiscal discipline and alignment of all parts of local government in carrying out the vision.
Following community engagement, city government updated all of the master plans governing transportation, utilities, parks, the historic downtown and agricultural lands. Sustainability was an important issue because the projected growth in population will be concentrated in just 20% of the city’s land area. Sustainability goals are baked into Plan 200K, and projects have already achieved reduction in energy consumption by 320,000 kWh per year, diversion of nearly 16,000 tonnes of waste through recycling and composting, and expansion of water metering throughout the city.
Food is Not Just for Export
The planning exercise also uncovered a disconnect in the city’s economy and culture. Agriculture is a vital industry, yet the community exports nearly everything it grows and lacks a local food culture. Access to local food is limited and local businesses have little incentive to support local food producers.
To change the culture, the city partnered with a local brewer, the Chamber of Commerce, Regional District and a community market to create the Valley Field and Farm Collective. This nonprofit organization brings together a cross-section of people from the community to integrate food production into community life and boost local commerce in food. Not by coincidence, its founder also chairs Abbotsford’s Community Innovation Partnership, started by the Economic Development Department to foster an innovation ecosystem throughout the community.
Funded by private investors, government grants and community banking partners, the Collective launched a summer farmers market in 2018, where local growers sold directly to the public and local businesses. Later in the same year, the Collective began executing a more ambitious plan to create a central kitchen and food innovation hub, communal brewhouse, local food café, music venue and community rental space.
On its base of traditional industries, Abbotsford is also laying the foundations of an innovation ecosystem for the city. It decided to focus on youth. In 2010, Vancouver established a program called CityStudio and in 2018, Abbotsford imported the program in partnership with University of Fraser Valley (UFV) and a secondary school. CityStudio is an innovation hub where students, city staff and community volunteers co-create experimental projects – online services and prototype products – that aim to make the city more sustainable, livable and joyful.
For secondary and university students, Abbotsford’s CityStudio provides practical learning about real-world challenges, career training, exposure to local business and the chance to gain valuable skills. For city government, the dialogue with students and experimental projects are shifting the culture of City Hall from perpetuating the past to innovating for the future. In its first year, CityStudio held 18 classes for students and city staff and launched 11 experimental projects, of which one on reducing littering in city parks won an award from UFV and was featured in a TedX event in Abbotsford.
Fiber to the Premise
Abbotsford represents an attractive market for communication carriers, because so much of its population is concentrated in a small share of its land. As a result, the incumbent phone company Telus has invested more than C$80 million to connect over 90% of homes and businesses to its fiber optic network at no cost to taxpayers. Completed in 2017, the fiber-to-the-premise network provides upload and download speeds of 300 Mbps with the potential to increase to 1 Gbps. Another fiber network has been deployed by Zayo to serve the high-capacity needs of data centers and technology companies. And as a result of a partnership with ICF Canada, Shaw approached the city with an offer to expand its public Wi-Fi capacity, so that by the middle of 2018, the company had 1,000 hotspots acrss the city including in all city-owned facilities.
With this kind of capacity, the city’s digital equality efforts have focused less on access and more on programs to help citizens use the connectivity to improve their lives. The library system offers an online learning collection featuring thousands of video courses, including language education. E-books and audiobooks are available online, as is a database of magazines, a car repair database and free music library. About half of Abbotsford residents are regular users of these services, each developing skills and experience with digital platforms that will pay dividends in the future.
Abbotsford’s Intelligent Community project is in the early stages of implementation, but it is grounded in careful plans developed in close collaboration with the community. The culture of that community draws on the best of farming tradition: hard and steady work toward the goal, staying steadfast in the face of setbacks, and caring for the land. In the plans and early results, it is possible to see the vision of an Abbotsford of 200,000 people ready to prosper in the decades ahead.
As we approach the 2018 Smart21 Announcement in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada on October 25, 2018, there is an added twist to this event this year, a Community Roundtable. It will be a great opportunity for communities to showcase their cities, towns and regions, but equally important is the fact that these are all Canadian communities, big and small, urban and rural, that had previously been recognized by ICF’s adjudicators as a SMART21, TOP7 or Intelligent Community of the Year. They will each speak to what makes their community smart and intelligent and what some of their key challenges were and what solutions they applied to resolve these challenges. Some may even brag about how this process has helped their community focus their transformation to become smart cities and intelligent communities. And some may even boast about how their use of the brand as a SMART21 city or TOP7 Intelligent Community may have helped them attract investors, jobs and talent to their communities.Read more
“There are few things in life that are free. Being recognized as an Intelligent Community may just be one of them.”
That was the beginning of the blog on August 5, 2015 about the benefits that communities can expect by successfully applying to be recognized as a SMART21 Intelligent Community via https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/nominations. I have often been asked what the benefits are from the unique ICF Awards Program and I have referred them to the original blog from August 2015. But three years later, I felt we needed to update the original. Besides, the original listed only 12 benefits. Today, we are listing an amazing Top 20 Reasons.Read more
The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) has named the world’s Top7 Intelligent Communities of 2018. This is the think tank’s 16th annual Top7 list of regions, cities or towns that have gone, in ICF’s words, “from smart city to intelligent community.”
This year’s list includes communities from four nations, with Taiwan contributing three, Canada two communities and Australia and Finland one each. The seven will travel to London in June where one will go on to be named the Intelligent Community of the Year, succeeding Melbourne, Australia, the reigning community.Read more