September 24, 2012 By Robert Bell
Rolling eastward by train, then flying westward across northern France in early September, I was blown away by a simple fact. It is overwhelmingly agricultural.
I didn’t know. Though I am often in Europe, I tend to see it through the lens of the cities I visit. But in truth, those cities – even ones as vast as London, Paris or Frankfurt – are small islands in a sea of farmland and forest.
As the sun dipped low in the golden afternoon, the shadows stood tall behind the long windbreaks of trees planted at the edge of fields green and brown, stretching away into the distance beyond sight. It was extraordinarily beautiful. People have been cultivating this land for more than a thousand years, and it shows in the ever-running pattern of village, field and carefully groomed woodland receding to a misted horizon.
Cities are all the rage right now, since we discovered that more than half of the world’s people live in them. Cities are where commerce and culture thrive, where the Creative Class sips its skinny lattes, where efficiencies of housing and transport reduce our impact on the climate. If you live in a small city, town or village out in the boondocks, it’s time to roll up your sidewalks, hitch up the mule and get yourself to an urban core.
But that’s not what I saw in my journey across and above the land. For the first time, I saw that the farms and forests represent more than an inconvenient distance between the places where the action is. They are the ecosystem that gives the cities life. They are the source of the air that cities breathe, the food they consume, the water they drink. In their quiet vastness, they are the balance that keeps the cities from imploding on their own spiraling energy.
That is why we must figure out how to give the rural areas of our nations a sustainable future. We must use the tools of information and communications technology (ICT) to give the kids a reason to stay on the farm. We need to plug them into the world, to bring them learning and culture, to make rural areas a vital, connected and exciting place to live and work. They already have the beauty, the peace and the sense of place that their residents treasure – they just need to have what the cities have. And for the first time in human history, ICT makes that possible.
We don’t yet know how to do it. But we can recognize that technology has given us the tools to make the attempt.
So let’s stop congratulating ourselves on how successful cities are. Cities are old news. We have been congregating in them since before Babylon. We know how they work and why they are important. Let’s focus on the real work to be done: to figure out how to export from the cities to the country the inspiration, energy and sense of limitless possibility that cities generate without even trying. Not just for the sake of those backward souls too uncool to abandon their fields and forests. For the sake of us all.
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 www.intelligentcommunity.org.
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.
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.
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.
This Digital Communities white paper highlights discussions with IT officials in four counties that have adopted shared services models. Our aim was to learn about the obstacles these governments have faced when it comes to shared services and what it takes to overcome those roadblocks. We also spoke with several members of the IT industry who have thought long and hard about these issues. The paper offers some best practices for shared government-to-government services, but also points out challenges that government and industry still must overcome before this model gains widespread adoption.