September 18, 2007 By Blake Harris
As we continue evolving Digital Communities as a publication, Web site and program - an exercise that will bring some exciting changes moving forward - we continue to explore the dimensions of the digital community. What does building communities for the 21st century really entail?
Like so much related to government and technology, the devil is in the details, and municipal Wi-Fi is no exception. Making municipal Wi-Fi sustainable so that local governments and citizens benefit is something that communities still struggle with. So in this issue, we look more closely at ways local governments might approach the task of creating a sustainable business model. And as we have in the past, we continue to explore other interesting and innovative uses of wireless.
However, we're also starting to stretch the magazine's scope in this issue, away from a predominant focus on wireless (which continues to offer exciting and important possibilities) to other technological issues that affect local governments and their communities. This expanded direction for Digital Communities will become all the more apparent in the months ahead.
The reason for emphasizing far more than just wireless is simple. A digital community isn't just a technologically savvy community that uses the latest IT innovation in one department or another. Rather, what truly defines a digital community is how successfully it uses all the tools at hand to meet whatever challenges this digital age throws in its path.
Ideally a digital community should be a safer, healthier, more vibrant community -- one that can thrive in our rapidly evolving globalized society because it effectively harnesses 21st-century IT tools to help meet current and looming challenges.
So for a publication like Digital Communities, it isn't enough simply to examine IT innovations such as wireless, and show how these can help improve government efficiency and service to the citizen.
To take an extreme example, we might as well have written stories in years past about how IT was helping a city like New Orleans deliver better service to its citizens. Then Katrina hits, changing the whole equation by wiping out entire sections of the city.A failure to adequately recognize serious challenges before they become crises usually means that we're not only left ill-prepared, but also missing the opportunity to mitigate many of the consequences. We live in turbulent times where change is the constant. So for a magazine dedicated to reinventing communities for the 21st century, it would be folly only to focus on technological innovations without putting such innovations in the broader context of all the social, economic and environmental challenges that lie before us. Hence, our expanding focus.
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.