What is an Intelligent Community?

You probably know what a Smart City is.  But what is an Intelligent Community?  Do we really need another word for the same old thing?

“Smart” is about applying technology to make cities work better, faster and cheaper.  It is like automating a factory.  Install the sensors, cameras, computers and network connections.  Integrate them all with software, big data and artificial intelligence.  Better data leads to better decisions, and automation lets you do more with less labor.  It’s a win for the city, its residents and taxpayers. 

It's not good enough

But cities, of whatever size, are not just collections of technology and infrastructure.  They are stories, living and breathing.   They have their roots in the first decisions of people to settle in that place, to group together by a riverbank or lake or ocean, or at a sheltered place where roads crossed and both water and fuel could be found.  The visible parts of the city – and today, the invisible elements of the digital web being weaved within it – are the outward signs of an inward spirit.  The life of a city, the spirit of the place, begins with its people. 

That’s why, at ICF, we don’t think that being Smart is nearly good enough.  We think the real journey of the place called home should be from Smart to Intelligent. 

From Smart to Intelligent

Here’s an example.  Traffic studies show that 30% of the cars in congested central business districts are looking for parking.  So, if we can reduce the time they spend in that search, we should also be reducing congestion and air pollution.  A Smart City will specify its requirements, do an RFP, select vendors, install systems and start sending data to apps on phones that direct drivers to available parking.  Smart, right? 

Intelligent means something more.  It means engaging local universities and technical schools, entrepreneurs and established businesses as partners in planning and carrying out this innovation project.  What can be sourced in the municipality or the region?  Where is there expertise that can help?  It also means engaging the public in helping determine how and where the innovation should happen – or even if downtown congestion is really that big an issue. 

Solving problems that matter

Intelligent takes longer.  It is more complicated, because it requires so many different players to work together.  But it improves the odds that the solution will actually solve a problem that matters, and that the solution delivers benefits far beyond its scope.  Benefits like building the capacity of local companies in the fast-growing technologies of the Internet of Things.  Like giving birth to a new university or community college department that turns out graduates skilled in those technologies.  Like making the innovation project something that citizens think and talk about, take pride in or worry about, increasing their commitment to their community. 

In the end, the time spent saves money and time by avoiding investment in the wrong things and tapping local expertise to solve local problems.  It also generates a return on that investment that is vastly greater than any technology project.

So, by all means be as Smart as your ambition and budget allow.   But why settle for Smart when your community has what it takes to become Intelligent?

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