Government Technology
By Robert Bell, John Jung, Louis Zacharilla: Intelligent Communities are those which have - whether through crisis or foresight - come to understand the enormous challenges of the Broadband Economy, and have taken conscious steps to create an economy capable of prospering in it. They are not necessarily big cities or famous technology hubs. They are located in developing nations as well as industrialized ones, suburbs as well as cities, the hinterland as well as the coast.

The Year Australia, Canada and Taiwan Became the Axis of Intelligence

November 1, 2013 By Louis Zacharilla


That sweet American folk singer James Taylor once said, “Our planet is impossibly perfect.” I have always remembered this, for it is so right.  While perfection may exist, we are imperfect agents attempting to make it visible for any length of time.  This is so in the case of our daily mission, which is nothing short of igniting a global attempt to re-energize communities for this new century.  We try mightily to find the right solutions to ensure that our special places are engineered to be economically sustainable, future-proof and home to all of the community’s children, if they wish to stay.  As with every attempt at perfection, falling short is not be confused with failure.

Last Monday evening the ICF Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community at Walsh University became home to the announcement of the world’s newest group of 21 cities, towns and counties deemed the most Intelligent for 2014.  The list offered-up six communities that had never before had a shot at being named Intelligent Community of the Year.  They include Montreal, which you know, and Coffs Harbour in New South Wales, which you do not.   Overall the group of semi-finalists for the BIG AWARD are an eclectic fraternity of overachievers.  If your travel agent reads this blog, he or she should figure out that the new six, combined in a package, would make a fascinating tour of the world’s future.  (Note to the traveler: set aside some time.  It’s a long flight to Australia.)  All of these places prove again that intelligence and economic development have less to do with size and much to do with planning, persistence and the ability to mobilize knowledge in service of economic output. 

If there is a connecting point among these new 21, it is their emphasis on culture as a natural resource.  From Walla Walla, Washington (USA) which has a “plow to plate” philosophy and is a go-to place for people seeking a quality of life, to Nairobi County in Africa, with it historic Yingge District, once the center of a $400 million ceramics production industry and is undergoing a revival led by entrepreneurs (with some help from a fellow Smart21 community from Taiwan!), these places understand that culture is the next natural resource to be extracted.

Few understand this better than this year’s “Axis of Intelligence.”  The Axis powers are Taiwan, Canada and Australia.  No fewer than 13 communities from these relatively thinly-populated nations made the list.  This suggests to me that there are places in the world whose work toward a perfect community is very real, and part of a national policy.  Each of the communities from these three nations is focused on two things, according to the analysts who elevated them: education and collaboration.  Quebec City (Canada), which returns to the list, has harnessed culture to produce a robust games industry.  Sunshine Coast in Australia has continued to break out of a cycle of re-circulating wealth among retail and construction industries, and is broadening its initiatives in a range of new vertical clusters.  Australia has begun to take advantage of several visits by our organization, as well as the visionary work and strong-armed efforts of Sen. Stephen Conroy to make sure that its communities connect themselves quickly and securely to the nation’s $43 billion National Broadband Network.  While I believe Australian communities are still in the planning and aspirational phase of development, you can observe their hunger to participate in the “Broadband Economy.”  The drive and passion are there.  So is the fear of slipping behind.  It is a motivator. Taiwan’s Intelligent Communities are those where knowledge and investment continue to layer traditional industries such as logistics, precision machinery and silicon chip development.  Taiwan communities have completely reversed a gear from the industrial past and are (very) aggressively pursuing green policies that lead Asia.  Yet they too worry about losing their children to other places, echoing a former football coach of Notre Dame who once said, “Getting to the top was easy, staying there is the hard work.”

If our goal is to create a perfect place to live, we will always be frustrated.  It is impossible.  But these 21 prove that the idea of the perfect place that we can call home makes this eternal frustration the most motivating and thrilling opportunity of our time.  Good luck to you if you live in any of these places on January 23rd, the date which we make our announcement, in Taichung City, of our Top7.

Leave a comment

Celebrating 120 (and growing) Intelligent Communities around the World

October 21, 2013 By John Jung

As we look forward to announcing the next Smart21 cities on October 21 from around the world in Canton Ohio at the ICF Institute at Walsh University, let’s celebrate all 120 Intelligent Communities that we have recognized globally since 1999. Every corner of the globe is represented and nearly every culture, whether Asian, Middle East, African, Oceania, Europeans as well as from the Americas. We have the far flung north represented by Oulu, Finland and Nunavut, Canada; the exotic in Pirai, Brazil; and the world’s biggest in Chongqing, China.

What cities, towns and regions have been represented over these years? Click here to see the list; and if you are among these wonderful Intelligent Communities - congratulations, you live in (and can boast that you do) an Intelligent Community! If not, and would like to share with the rest of the world the wonderful and intelligent community that you live in, you are encouraged to apply to be recognized as a Smart21 Intelligent Community next year.

Our list of intelligent communities is a list of super towns, cities and regions - highly innovative, with ecosystems that help to ensure that they will do better than most in economic downturns and communities that site selectors and investors are likely to look to first as being excellent choices to locate a business or to invest in. I look forward to the next batch of Smart21 Intelligent Communities being announced tonight and will gladly invite them to join the Intelligent Community Forum Foundation (ICFF), the association of Intelligent Communities. Only communities that have met ICF’s criteria and have at least made the Smart21 list, are eligible to join the ICFF.


Leave a comment

I Want to Keep Dreaming

October 18, 2013 By Louis Zacharilla


On my hotel room door in Amsterdam there was a sign that would let me signal to the cleaning person that I wanted to be left alone.  However, instead of reading “Do Not Disturb” or “Privacy Please,” mine read, “I Want to Keep Dreaming.”  I am not vain enough to believe that anyone made that sign for me.  Yet this one seemed meant for me.  It reawakened something.  It brought me out of a period of drift and back to the mission.  Above all else, I need to keep dreaming.  Dreaming and learning of ways to energize communities and cities is what gives me joy.  As we get closer to our 2014 Smart21 Announcement on 21 October I will again have a chance to share my dream and to learn about the dreams of others.  I will do it in a special place for the first time: the ICF Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community on the campus of Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio.  

I dream not for the sake of dreaming but because it cannot be any other way.  Freud believed that we dream to resolve, and that we are each of the characters in our dreams.  The work of developing better places is an incomplete act.  Yet it is being fulfilled each year.  The work we do is a state of grace into which we have been allowed.  Imaging better communities is not simple, does not bend to linear math or willful efforts at “smart engineering.” It cannot be done with assurance, always, of near-term economic results.  There are too many variables in the human ecosystem for that.  Yet a change is taking place and people’s lives are improving because of the work of our 120 communities.  Why?  Because they are approaching it in a new way.  This is a global effort done through the work of hundreds of thousands of committed people and in places that grasp the nature of the changes within our “Broadband Economy.”  In the words of Third Teacher Project Leader and a speaker at our Institute next week, architect Trung Le, it is about enabling “wonder by design.”  

As we arrive in Ohio to celebrate our new 21, I can report that our work has gone from a trickle to a steady stream.  In Canada, Taiwan, Finland and Mexico we see our method embraced by economic developers, community champions and leaders of all beliefs and political philosophies.  The five criteria, and our method of teaching around the digital campfire, where we share stories of places as diverse as Dublin, Ohio and Eindhoven, Holland has begun to find its way deeper into China and South America.  During a series of meetings in Washington last week I was briefed on the Inter-American Development Bank’s initiative, which is designed to give the “no name cities” of 25 nations a new burst of economic energy.  The bank meets this week to determine how they will work with the Intelligent Community Forum.

Yet as we dream, there are many places and people that experience nightmares.  A study earlier this year by economists at Wellesely College (USA) revealed that people who lost their jobs during this Global Recession, and were only a few years shy of becoming eligible for their Social Security, risk their overall life expectancy diminishing by three years, mainly because they no longer have access to affordable health care.  Nightmares can be self-induced.  We continue to see other communities stubbornly dig-in and assure themselves that somehow ghosts from the past will reappear and bring back businesses and industries and people who, you might think by listening to them, are still hovering around attics.  That is the kind of dream that will end in a cold sweat.  Or worse.

If there is a “simple solution,” it is to keep dreaming and, as Freud might say, to analyze the dreams.  We are in them all and we are all in this together.  The dream is not merely to create new jobs, nor to make sure that people stay in them.  As the UN’s Habitat Report on Cities states so clearly, the goal is to apply the communities’ resources and creativity in a way that produces entirely new industries from the familiar canvas of culture.  Work is a social enterprise.  That is the sustainable solution for chronic unemployment.  That is the reason we named former Blackberry founder and Chancellor of the University of Waterloo (Canada) Mike Lazaridis as our Visionary of the Year.  He is attempting to create Quantum Valley in Canada.  It will test whether investments spun from the triple helix of the region’s – and world’s cultures - will allow new industries to emerge.  As we will learn at our second symposium at the Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community next week, this attempt is underway everywhere.  Incubators in Columbus and Dublin, Ohio (USA) are attempting to prod new ideas to grow beyond tiny rooms where entrepreneurs give it all that they have all day for the sake of a dream.  It is the same in Taichung, Taiwan, where advances in industries ranging from agriculture to logistics will spawn and break out of those verticals to find new ground and new markets.  

When I report on the “state of the Intelligent Community,” I will say that it is growing.  When 21 new additions are made to our “alumni” of communities next Monday evening in a little city called North Canton, Ohio, you will see dreams and hopefully more of us will wake to them in the morning.

Leave a comment

How Committed Citizens Change the World

October 15, 2013 By Robert Bell

At an ICF workshop in Lafayette, Louisiana this week, I was asked a poignant question: “Are other countries far ahead of the US when it comes to broadband?”  The question came up as I was telling the story of an Intelligent Community in Europe to this group of mayors, members of council and city and parish staff from rural communities in the southern half of the state.


There are two answers to the question.  The first is that, according to objective experts like the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, the US is not behind at all.  ITIF’s most recent report states that “The US is near the top of the rankings in terms of the deployment and adoption of high-speed, wired networks and leads the OECD in adoption of advanced wireless LTE broadband networks.  US broadband speeds… also rank in the top 10 in the world.”

For the other answer, I can quote instead from science-fiction author William Gibson, who said that “the future is here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”   The US tolerates a much higher level of inequality in broadband distribution – as it does in most social matters – than most industrialized nations.  Market forces rule, and markets where providers can make lots of money win out over thinly-populated regions where the cost of deployment per user is high.  

And if that is all there was to it, we would have had a very short conversation.  Instead, half the workshop was spent talking about the ways in which market power translates into political power.  The City of Lafayette built a fiber-to-the-premise network beginning in 2004 and wound up fighting a $4.5 million legal battle with incumbents to win the right to compete with them.   Following their inability to shut down the city, the incumbents went to the legislature, where they succeeded in guiding the Local Government Fair Competition Act into law.  More properly termed the Cartel Protection Act, the law blocks every other Louisiana municipality from owning and operating a network offering service to the public – which effectively frees the incumbents not to compete where they don’t want to.  

I use the term “cartel” advisedly.  By rights, I think telecom providers should be the Intelligent Community’s best allies, and I salute those with the vision and courage to be exactly that.  But so many of them seem to prefer instead the economics of the cartel, which are at the root of most of the world’s under-development problems in both rich nations and poor ones.  When the guys with the money can also control politics to protect their interests, progress stops.  Or it would if the cartels had things all their own way.  

What the Lafayette workshop revealed was the great, shared frustration of rural parishes and cities with their inability to get the “high-speed wired network…and advanced wireless LTE broadband networks” that their urban peers enjoy.  There was talk of forming an action committee to educate rural mayors and councils and to develop policy recommendations that could spark a genuine debate – not the one behind closed doors that cartels prefer – on the state’s broadband policies.  

Who knows how far it can go?  The anthropologist Margaret Mead once wrote words that still send chills up my spine, despite they’re being so widely quoted.  “Never doubt,” she said, “that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”  

Why?  This is the part that gets those chills rippling upward: because, she wrote “it's the only thing that ever has.”

Leave a comment

Wanted: Champions of Change

October 7, 2013 By Robert Bell

Last week, I led a workshop for about twenty people in a graceful Civil War-era building in the beautiful city of Natchitoches, Louisiana, USA.  In my opening remarks, I thanked the anonymous resident who posted a video to YouTube explaining how to say what it called the hardest place name to pronounce in the USA.  Say “NAK-eh-tish” and you have it about right.


Twenty people: mayors and members of Council from small rural cities and towns, economic development directors, librarians, social workers and telecom executives.  They had agreed to attend one of ICF’s Master Classes on the promise that it would address “Making Broadband Pay Off for Rural Louisiana.”  It is part of a year-long project funded by a federal grant and the state’s Office of Information Technology and administered by a tri-state economic development organization called the Coordinating and Development Corporation.  

The rural places of Louisiana are behind the curve when it comes to adopting broadband.  According to a state study, the adoption rate is 58% compared with 68% nationwide.  Of the 42% that do not have broadband at home, nearly two-thirds said that it was available – they have just not subscribed to it.  Which means they are missing out on the $262 billion in US consumer e-commerce spending, and the $559 billion in online purchasing by business and government.  They are missing out on business attraction and retention, on educational opportunities, and on the chance to use social media to bridge the distances separating people in rural locations.  

The people in that room want to change this situation for the communities they call home.  We discussed the challenges of explaining why broadband matters to people who don’t have it.  We talked about education gaps and the need for small businesses to get technical help to put their businesses online.  And I did what we always do: tell stories of places not too different from theirs, where ingenuity, commitment and smart decisions are building communities able to prosper in our new century.  

I suggest you keep your eye on the rural areas of your nation.  The scale is small, the distances large, the progress incremental.   But there is innovation rising in rural places as people choose not to let global economics overwhelm cherished ways of life.  They are choosing instead to embrace change – but change  that they create, change that creates economic growth while serving the community’s needs and values.  We launched the Rural Imperative project to track their progress, and I asked the twenty champions of change in that ropom to help us show the world what is possible in rural Louisiana.

Next week I am in the coastal Louisiana city of Lafayette – known for its community broadband network – conducting another Master Class.  We’ll see what a more urban area has to say about the challenges of making broadband pay off.

Leave a comment

Featured Papers

Intelligent Communities

About the Intelligent Community Forum
The Intelligent Community Forum is a think tank that studies the economic and social development of the 21st Century community. Whether in industrialized or developing nations, communities are challenged to create prosperity, stability and cultural meaning in a world where jobs, investment and knowledge increasingly depend on advances in communications. For the 21st Century community, connectivity is a double-edge sword: threatening established ways of life on the one hand, and offering powerful new tools to build prosperous, inclusive and sustainable economies on the other. ICF seeks to share the best practices of the world's Intelligent Communities in adapting to the demands of the Broadband Economy, in order to help communities everywhere find sustainable renewal and growth. More information can be found at

Robert Bell
Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.

John Jung
ICF co-founder John G. Jung originated the Intelligent Community concept and continues to serve as the Forum's leading visionary. Formerly President and CEO of the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance and Calgary Economic Development Authority, he is a registered professional urban planner, urban designer and economic developer. He leads regular international business missions to US, European, Asian, Indian and Australian cities, and originated the ICF Immersion Lab program. John is a regular speaker at universities and conferences and serves as an advisor to regional and national leaders on Intelligent Community development. The author of numerous articles in planning and economic development journals, he has received global and Toronto-based awards for his work in collaboration and strategic development and sits on numerous task forces and international advisory boards.

Louis Zacharilla
ICF co-founder Louis Zacharilla is the creator and presenter of the annual Smart21, Top Seven and Intelligent Community Awards and oversees ICF's media communications and development programs. He is a frequent keynote and motivational speaker and panelist, addressing audiences of tech, academic and community leaders around the world, and writes extensively for publications including American City & County, Continental Airline's in-flight magazine and Municipal World. His frequent appearances in the electronic media have included both television and radio in South Korea, China and Canada. He has served as an adjunct professor at Fordham University in New York and is a Guest Lecturer at Polytechnic University's Distinguished Speaker Series. He holds a Masters Degree from the University of Notre Dame.