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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.

Are They Really the Seven MOST Intelligent? (Or Just Eye Candy?)

February 12, 2013 By

Are the Top7 Intelligent Communities of 2013 the seven best places to live in the universe? I seriously doubt it.

clientuploads/Images/Zach-NameCaption-2013-140.gifThere. I have said it in public.

Actually, I have been saying it in public for over 10 years. But let me ask a more important question: is Olivia Culpo, the reigning Miss Universe, beautiful? Yes. Is she also an exceptionally talented woman? I think so. (Let her photograph be your guide to the first question. Her performance in Carnegie Hall, as a cellist, is my answer to the second.) She is truly beautiful and talented, as millions of people now know, including the children of Cranston Public Library in Rhode Island, where she read them Shel Silver story time programs.

But is Olivia the most beautiful woman in the entire Universe? After all, she claimed the title of Miss Universe 2012. Here we get into the challenges and opportunities of global awards programs. She is certainly equal to Miss China and Miss Belgium and Miss Bolivia. But what about Miss Mars, Miss Jupiter and way out Miss Epsilon Eridani? The Universe is a BIG place, and it remains difficult to accurately assess every planet. So can we objectively say that Ms Culpo is THE ONE?


Why? Because what we do know is that she won the crown with credentials and a performance that exceeded all others based on a criteria that was established and agreed upon to measure her and the other entrants. She racked up the points. She now brings joy, optimism, intelligence, focus and physical beauty to a global audience. Isn’t it wonderful? She says that she seeks to develop herself and to discover her destiny, while having found herself in a position to help others. She sounds a lot like the leaders of ICF’s Top7.

Like them, she also arrived at her mountaintop through a competitive process. The process combined subjective judging with a quantitative evaluation. Every year the Top7 and Intelligent Community of the Year are similarly selected . Our process works exactly as intended. It is not designed to find the absolute greatest place on the face of the earth to live, but rather one that most communities in the world agree is a fine representative of what a community should be. That is essential when considering where to invest, build a future or remain when other parts of the world flirt with you.

Today, the current Top7 are preparing for an ICF site visit, to be followed in early June by their appearance in New York to see which will wear the ultimate crown. The great part about our awards program is how it fires- up communities, brings them together for a common cause and gives them a reward for their incredibly hard work. You see it in their media. The number of likes reported from today’s article in Estonian World, which reported on Tallinn’s return to the Top7, is “huge,” according to editor Silver Tambur. Similar reports have come in from the others, especially citizens in Columbus, Ohio and Toronto, Canada.

Our awards program goes a long way toward giving the Intelligent Community movement seven communities that demonstrate objective proof of accomplishment. More important, the data we glean from their multipart nomination forms, site visits and final evaluations enables us to draw a baseline for success. This is data helps others to accelerate and is central to our work and our Master Class project.

Like Miss Culpo, who was an unknown before the tournament, these often modest communities are no longer curiosities. Everyone knows, now, that Taiwan has committed itself to becoming a nation packed with Intelligent Communities. Ditto Canada. No longer are “no named” communities named Taichung, Stratford and Tallinn achieving at a very high level in relative darkness. They are a focus for study, celebration and inspiration.

True, not all Intelligent Communities are physically striking, proving that it takes more than a pretty face to succeed. It takes more than IT prowess, despite today’s overreliance on it. It even takes more than a technology park, academic patents or persistent innovation to become a truly successful community. It takes a new type of collective beauty and a redefinition of community altogether. I ask whether there is anything more beautiful and powerful than an attractive place, which is producing jobs, oozing with talent and is joyfully committed to telling itself and its children stories that they will pass on for generations about the year people stopped wanting them for their body, and instead became endlessly fascinated by their intelligence.

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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.