Cities are not static geographic entities. They are constantly changing environments where people live, work, explore and raise their families. They also have constantly changing requirements and must be resilient to challenges, sometimes threatening and others slowly transforming them. Communities of all shapes, sizes and locations share some common challenges that make them similar.
People are at their heart; they want their communities to be safe and desirable to keep their children near as they grow while being able to attract and retain investment necessary for their communities to thrive. They want safe, comfortable and efficient mobility of all kinds; access to clean air and water; to keep and share their culture and heritage; and opportunities for people to experience interesting streets, spaces, parks and wide-open spaces in and near their community. They want connectivity for their families and friends but they also want to be able to benefit from the latest technology and applications that can help their community to prosper in a globally competitive world. They also want to have a healthy, secure and enjoyable ecosystem in which technology enables their lives to benefit without it impacting their privacy or tying them to a solution that is costly or no longer meets their community’s needs.
In short: they want their communities to offer a high quality of life and transform into a very livable community for them, their families and their neighbours. In this, communities are almost always the same; just different in scale, location and attitude. Some have access to more capital, talent and leadership. Some have less crime, traffic stress and resources. But all may be impacted by climate change, constant disruption in the economy and changing demographics. The approach to solving many of these challenges have tended to be fragmented and solutions scattered as independent and loosely funded pilots. Interoperability is often not a consideration as one solution may not be designed to be replicated elsewhere. But not all is lost. We are still early in this game. Learning from failure and successes and identifying gaps and understanding opportunities through benchmarking, we may be able to find a way ahead that everyone may be able to benefit from.
Using the Intelligent Community model to build a successful and resilient community on may be a direction that every town, city and region could benefit from. Intelligent Communities are those which look toward holistic approaches and solutions that are scalable and replicable. All sizes and forms of communities could learn from each other. With this inspiration and shared wisdom, each of them can then solve their challenges in their own terms. Making available the opportunity to share the wisdom and access to affordable solutions is often the hard part. Sometimes getting started is what is needed. Understanding the big picture and just getting started within that context, no matter how small and perceptually insignificant it might appear, may be just the right thing to do. Even larger communities hesitate and can be inspired by what smaller communities have been able to achieve.
The Intelligent Community Forum started with the belief that the road to a city’s prosperity was a transformative attitude that came through a sense of community. People were always at the heart of this movement. Technology enabled people to do good things and through adoption and constant improvement of these technologies, people would develop the talent and experience to constantly innovate and help each other to collaborate and succeed. This would generate an appreciation of all members of society in the digital era and a sense of appreciation to create and retain the best aspects of the community possible through economic, social, environmental and cultural protection and enhancements. Advocating this sense of an inclusive community and sharing the benefits and responsibilities among all its citizens has also been core to the movement. Through good governance, public policies and a healthy public-private and institutional ecosystem, the entire community would benefit and its unique brand as a successful Intelligent Community could be highly attractive to external investment and talent to become part of it.
This recipe for success has been the core message of the Intelligent Community movement for two decades. The Intelligent Community Forum celebrated the success of communities from the very beginning through sharing the insights of successful communities annually in its awards program, often inspiring others to learn from these successful communities and apply their own solutions to local conditions. This has helped to transform numerous communities globally; nearly 160 of them to-date having been recognized by ICF as global models through its SMART21 and TOP7 Intelligent Community awards.
Building on the Intelligent Community platform is now another way for communities to benefit. ICF has always encouraged communities to work with each other, to learn from each other and potentially build relationships that could lead to cross fertilization of trade, education and other activities between and among these like-minded communities. Many ICF qualified communities have initiated contact to undertake two-way trade and investment through delegation visits and institutional linkages. But more can be done using the Intelligent Community platform to develop cross-city teams that could strategically develop initiatives leading to solutions for many common challenges that these cities might experience and be able to share. Through this approach many challenges associated with growing urbanization and the barriers to cost can potentially be overcome, leading to a better quality of living for all.
Research shows that our communities are interconnecting at a fast pace with billions of devices across cities being connected annually. Sensors, cameras and many other monitoring devices are being deployed, many of which are not able to be interoperable with others inside their city and externally. This fragmented approach has its roots in early adopter communities that have smart city pilots underway; others are in the early planning stages with a preferred vendor; while many are still scratching their heads trying not to fall into a cavern of technological uncertainty which might negatively impact their limited resources. Consequently, communities share another common trait. Their decision makers usually tend to be risk adverse. Sourcing funds for one project over another is a constant challenge. Another is the lack of internal municipal coordination and differing priorities among departments and civic leaders, making it difficult to come to an alignment of goals. A clear path through an agreed upon roadmap, often needing a champion to deliver, such as a strong mayor with a vision, can be the difference between success and mediocrity in a community. Empowering cities to work together to solve the challenges before them today and in the coming years is a necessary evolution from competing cities where the competitive advantage over other communities was the only direction available to them for success.